I am PhD student in my final months, and I know that I don't want to stay in academia forever. However, I wouldn't mind doing a postdoc for two or three years, because I really like the academic work.

I have written a postdoctoral fellowship proposal together with my potential future host. The host has agreed to fund 1 year from her own funds, while the fellowship pays for another year. A few days ago, I have been awarded this fellowship.

In the meantime, I have also applied for industry positions (as I wasn't sure whether I get the fellowship), have recently had an interview and just now I got a job offer ready to sign.

Now, I have to choose between the two, and I am inclined to take the industry position and to leave academia for good - because the company has been on my "wish list" for many years and I potentially might regret having declined the job offer in a few years.

However, I am not sure whether this is fair towards the professor, as she has invested a fair amount of time into the proposal. I have not told her anything about the fellowship outcome nor the job offer. Could I still decline the fellowship without bad feelings, or have I already committed myself into this postdoc?

somewhat related: How to politely decline a postdoc job offer after signing the offer letter? Please note, I have not signed anything yet, so I am asking from a moral rather than a legal perspective.

3 Answers 3


Life is too short to throw away several years of your career doing something you don’t want to do in order to protect someone from mild disappointment. It is nice of you to worry about the professor, but she is responsible for her decisions, and knew that the work she was putting into the fellowship application might not yield any return, either due to you not getting the fellowship or for other reasons. So in my opinion your moral obligation in this situation is no different from your legal obligation. By the way, the legal obligation would also be pretty minimal even if you had signed acceptance of the fellowship, considering that having a postdoc is not the same as being an indentured servant, and it is quite common for postdocs to decide on a change of career direction.

Good luck!


At the end of the day is your life and your decision based on what is best for you.

Sure it is not nice for the PI the time lost, but this is something that could bother her for a couple of hours. In the other hand, if you choose the fellowship instead of your dream job just to be nice it could haunt you for a lifetime.

If she is a reasonable person she will understand. After all in the academic life we are always gambling: submitting projects, papers and investing time in things that sometimes do not work out.

Of course, do not forget to be greatful by the opportunity she gave to you and decline politely the fellowship, if this is your decision. Be honest with her.

  • "this is something that could bother her for a couple of hours" - that might drastically underplay the problem for the PI, especially if this requires a specialised skill. I completely agree that OP should go ahead and take the best decision for their own life instead of doing favours to someone at the price of their own careers, but it is grossly incorrect to pretend it can not be a serious problem for the PI in quite a few cases. Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 1:33
  • Would you have an example where this kind of situation may cause a serious problem for the PI?
    – The Doctor
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 1:00
  • 1
    Assume there is one specialist who can do something particular, and that person co-writes the proposal and is named in the latter. The proposal is accepted (named postdocs can sway a panel), the postdoc leaves and now there is no-one approximately capable of replacing the very particular skill; the project dies; either the money is returned or the project fails or near-fails at review stage; any of these are not good for the PI's reputation. Don't get me wrong: OP should still do what's good for them, but let's not pretend it's a minor issue for the PI. It can be a serious problem. Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 2:18
  • Sure, I just wanted to understand your point of view. Thanks.
    – The Doctor
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 10:55

Is the fellowship bound to the host institution or to you personally? If the former, the PI will be sorry to see you go, but she can hire someone else and has the grant to show for her troubles. If the latter, she may feel that you have abused her kindness. Indeed, if you do not port the grant to another academic institute, the money will revert to the funder.

General remark: if the person decides right at the beginning that they want to do something else, a PI would rather cut their losses right there and then rather than have an unhappy postdoc who will walk after 6 or 12 or 18 months.

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