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I have a classical situation, but as it is the first in my live, I would like to know: if it is acceptable to refuse a postdoctoral offer. The contract is not signed, the paperwork are going to start, my official commitment was 'Yes, I am taking your offer' by email). The reason is having an up-to-the-minute offer from the other University, which I like more. That offer however is agreed only by email, no papers are prepared. Thank you for any tips.

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Officially, you're always allowed to walk out. Particularly before signing any papers. Just make sure you let everyone know as soon as possible to avoid creating expectations and preparations.

Now, you're probably asking whether your peers will be happy if you walk out. Usually they will not appreciate anyone dropping a postdoctoral offer. If you understand exactly why they're pushy about you taking the offer, you will be in a better position to take this decision.

Don't worry about making others happy. Do what you must.

Good luck!

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    I'm not sure that this is the correct answer everywhere. Laws on what constitutes a contract vary widely around the world. I doubt that the university would press the issue, but if they do, you need to be aware of what the possible consequences might be. In the old days, a simple handshake could constitute a contract even before anything was signed.
    – Buffy
    Nov 20, 2018 at 14:17
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    @Buffy An informal offer/acceptance is surely just that? Such offers/acceptances are based on incomplete information, e.g., in the absence of a formal employment contract. As such, either party can surely withdrawal. That said, perhaps there exists a jurisdiction where that isn't true...
    – user2768
    Nov 20, 2018 at 15:30
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    Agreed. Though I find the email informal exchange unlikely to hold a postdoctoral agreement in Academia. Still, some particularly pushy professor seeking to retaliate might resort to just about anything.
    – Scientist
    Nov 20, 2018 at 15:30

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