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I applied for several postdoc positions recently. One made an offer which I accepted. Since then I've been invited for an interview for one of the other positions. Is there any benefit to attending? Is it an opportunity to make potentially useful contacts (in a relatively small field)? I should add that I have no experience with academic interviews (the position I secured was through contacts). Expenses will be paid.

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Your mistake was accepting a position without taking some time to "think about it." Usually they won't force you to decide right away, and you needn't accept immediately. Ideally you'd have waited long enough to have interviewed several positions before selecting the one that best fits you. –  Adam Davis Mar 5 at 16:14
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@AdamDavis isn't this an ideal case? to wait long enough to be interviewed by others? Who knows whether they will interview you in 1 week/month –  seteropere Mar 8 at 8:01

8 Answers 8

up vote 44 down vote accepted

Once you've accepted a job offer, you are supposed to inform other places that you've applied that you would like to withdraw from consideration.

If they still want to invite you over to give a talk knowing that you can not be considered for the position, go ahead. But, you must tell them.

To do otherwise would be a serious breach of ethics. You do not want to gain a reputation as someone who engages in unethical behavior (don't assume they won't find out).

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Let me emphasize a point made in other answers.

As soon as you accepted one offer, you should have withdrawn your application from the other employers immediately. If you had done so, this situation would not have arisen.

You should immediately write an email to the school offering this interview, saying you have accepted another offer, and apologizing for not letting them know sooner. They have a right to be a little annoyed with you; you've wasted some of their time, and if they'd known you were off the market, they could have moved on to pursue other candidates.

So you made a mistake; well, people are human and these things happen, but you should act quickly to put it right.

In a comment on another answer, you consider the possibility of not telling them, and attending the interview anyway for the experience (and the free trip). Don't do that. In academia, attending an interview for a job you know you won't take would be considered extremely unprofessional and possibly unethical. Interviewing a candidate is expensive, in terms of time, money, and opportunity cost (time they spend interviewing you is time they don't spend interviewing candiates who might actually come; the longer they take to get to those candidates, the greater the chance they will take another job first). Don't think they won't find out; academia is a small world, people talk, and you can easily make enemies doing something like this. Moreover, the people at your chosen instituion can find out too (the other institution's colloquium schedule is probably public) and it won't make them think well of you.

In principle they could ask you to come anyway just to give the talk, but it's unlikely. They will probably want to use that time and money right now to speak with another candidate. It's quite possible they are still interested in hearing about your work, but they'd be more likely to invite you to visit sometime in the future, after job season.

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In my school, when they have the budget (and they usually do), every year they invite some top job candidates with whom they don't have a shot, just so they can hear a good seminar and also to advertise the school for future interactions and for potential co-authoring opportunities. –  Amatya Mar 4 at 22:04
    
Nate Eldredge this is my first time going through this process and I hadn't considered some of the points you raised. I appreciate the advice. –  SoB Mar 4 at 22:04
    
@Amatya candidates with whom they don't have a shot. Then how did they become candidates? –  gerrit Mar 5 at 14:47
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@gerrit Say you are graduating for Harvard. We interview with you at the meetings. We are your safety school and with 99% probability you won't join us. We invite you for a flyout anyway, just to hear a good paper and you might come visit us because you will get great feedback from an A grade faculty and make contacts. On paper you are a candidate and 3 sigma events do happen in real life. –  Amatya Mar 6 at 15:12

< But why not take advantage of those benefits by not telling them I've already accepted a position?

The fact that you are asking that question after seeing the answers here, and acknowledging that it is "unfair" (actually it is dishonest), raises serious questions in my mind about your integrity and character. To be fair, you are possibly a young man who haven't quite made up your mind whether you are also going to be an honest one.

If you feel that you have something to gain by dishonesty, you're in a great deal of company (see Nick's answer, for example). You will always find those who applaud your dishonesty as willingness to make "tough decisions", "take on the grey areas", "get the job done" and so on, who all the while find ways to manipulate you in dishonest ways for their own perceived gain, and to your perceived loss. If you wish to be that sort of person, then you may expect to draw persons of like mind into your circle of acquaintances.

You will also find that honest people do not respect and trust you; you will furthermore find that dishonest people pretend to respect and trust everyone and actually respect and trust noone.

We are in a phase of existence where we as a society are deciding whether to base our actions on "survival of the fittest" or "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." To not decide is to decide for the former. Cast your lot and reap as you sow.

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You must inform them that you've accepted a position.

If they still invite you for a talk, you should go because presenting to new people will give you more visibility, more feedback on your work, and if you make a good impression then a potential place of employment in the future.

They might still invite you for a talk because it is fun for them to attend good talks and learn about interesting papers. Even if you don't work for them, by spending a day there you might meet someone interesting and you might wind up co-authoring with someone there on something in the future. Only good things can come out of spending a day with other researchers who are excited about stuff similar to yours.

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Thank you that's very helpful. I agree that there are several benefits. But why not take advantage of those benefits by not telling them I've already accepted a position? Although it's unfair to mislead them they won't know otherwise and I would gain valuable interview experience. –  SoB Mar 4 at 21:47
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@SeamusO'Bairead You may gain interview experience, but you will also gain a reputation for engaging in extremely unethical behavior (don't assume they won't find out) –  ff524 Mar 4 at 21:49
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@SeamusO'Bairead what ff524 said. It is unethical to waste the time and resources of a department and it will not be good for your career if you get found out. Academia is a small place and reputation is very important. –  Amatya Mar 4 at 21:58
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I accept your points. Thank you your guidance. –  SoB Mar 4 at 22:02
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@SeamusO'Bairead Even if they don't find out, personally I wouldn't really want that on my conscience. Besides, if you start going down a path of doing things like that, eventually it becomes easier, until one day you do something you truly wish you hadn't done. Best start down a good path now! –  Jason C Mar 5 at 2:40

You must tell them. You won't be postdoc for life. Put yourself in their shoes. Simply think if you didn't have this job. What would you have made of this behavior?

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You did not answer the OP's question: should he attend the job interview? –  scaaahu Mar 20 at 5:21

For reasons everyone has mentioned, you must let the second place know that you've accepted another offer. In addition once you have accepted that offer, you really must commit to it.

However, if this second place is truly amazing, you can inform them that (1) you've already accepted another offer and (2) would still be interested in giving a talk (as people have mentioned) and (3) would be interested in taking this position if it were deferred for a year, in the chance that they don't find a good candidate this year (this is rare for post docs but does happen on occasion, depending on the funding source). This assumes that your current job only has a 1 year commitment (many jobs these days are 1 year with a possible extra year of support). This is a huge long shot. They most likely will say no, unless they have no other qualified candidate. This is the only situation I could imagine it being ethical for you do do the interview (with their knowledge).

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I personally don't see the harm. However, if that interview went well and you were to be offered the job, accepting it would obviously be a crappy thing to do.

But I don't see any issue in going for an interview, even with no intentions of accepting the role. Experience in interviews is really important. And on the plus side, you don't have to go in completely nervous because you've already got a job, so it'd be easy for you to sit back and relax!

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My answer applies to you as well, and to anyone upvoting your answer. –  BobRodes Mar 5 at 15:54
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I'm not sure if you realize that the institution in question is paying the OP's expenses for the interview (and also expending their time and effort on the interview), on the premise that he is a candidate for the job. –  ff524 Mar 5 at 16:18
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In addition to what's in my answer, I'd add that experience in postdoc interviews is not really that valuable, once you have a postdoc position. It depends on your field, but there's a good chance you won't do a second postdoc, or if you do, that you won't have to interview for it. You certainly might want to have experience with tenure-track interviews, since there's a good chance you'll be doing some of those in a couple years, but that's a very different event from a postdoc interview. –  Nate Eldredge Mar 5 at 19:33

The second interview: Of course you can't tell ahead of time if they will make you an offer, or if their offer would be one you would accept, but the question is, if the second interview resulted in a job offer, would you consider accepting their offer?

Perhaps for you, the second place is the place you'd rather work. Maybe it's the place you've always dreamed of working. If this is the case, you should go to the second interview, without telling them about the other position you have accepted, and see what comes of it.

In regards to the "second place", there is nothing wrong with that. In light of their offer to interview you, you are reconsidering your acceptance of the previous job offer. It is not a "wasted effort" on their part.

In regards to the "first place": If the second place offers you a position, and you accept it, you will have to tell the people at the first place that you have reconsidered their offer and have decided to accept another position. I can tell you that this should not shake them up too badly. I'm sure it's happened to them before.

They are free, and many places often do, continue interviews in spite of making an offer to you that you have accepted. You may not work out for them, or they might find someone "better" that they would rather have working for them. Unless there is some sort of "contractual obligation" that you have not described, if you were to go and work for them, they could replace you, and you could move on to another position, at any time.

On the other hand, if you really want to work at the first position, or if you feel you have some "social obligation" to proceed with the position at the "first place" due to your relationship with your "contacts" there, and wouldn't consider any offer the second place might make, you should tell the second place you have accepted another offer before the second interview so they could decide if they want to proceed. And they might... If for some reason, they really want you, they might feel they could woo you away from the other position with a great offer.

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What you describe is how things work in some industries, but not academia. –  Anonymous Mathematician Mar 5 at 18:42
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@AnonymousMathematician What is academia afraid of? Healthy competition? –  George Reith Mar 5 at 19:09
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@GeorgeReith: However you think academia ought to work, the relevant issue here is how it actually does work. Relying on theories based on other industries (e.g., that nobody will be too upset if you continue to seek other jobs after having accepted an offer) is a terrible career move. –  Anonymous Mathematician Mar 5 at 19:22
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@GeorgeReith It's more a practical matter than a fear of competition matter. You leave, they have to cancel your classes because they can't find someone at the last minute to prepare and teach your classes, students who need your class don't get to take it and have to possibly take longer to graduate. So, you get the professional reputation of being willing to leave people in the lurch for selfish reasons. –  BobRodes Mar 6 at 16:19
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@GeorgeReith The other explanation is that academic jobs run on an annual cycle where everyone is making offers around the same time. Thus, if you make a job offer, it's accepted and then the person changes their mind and accepts a job offer somewhere else, all your other candidates are gone. So, changing your mind often means that the original position goes unfilled; thus you're doing damage to the original school, and all the people who actually wanted that job. –  Ben Webster Mar 8 at 10:56

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