I was awarded a rather prestigious postdoctoral fellowship that guarantees a generous salary, research expenses etc. for 2 years. It is in the same institution where I am working as a postdoc now, but would increase my salary by quite a bit and of course give me complete freedom over my research. I have not yet accepted the offer because I am struggling with a particular problem.

It is likely that in a year's time I will need to relocate to another country (for personal reasons). How bad is it to take the fellowship, knowing that there is a chance I will have to quit early? How frowned upon is quitting in the middle of a fellowship that explicitly specifies a 2-year tenure? Of course quitting a regular contracted postdoc job is straightforward, but I am not sure how it works with a personal fellowship—are there any additional consequences I haven't considered?

Edit: Just to provide some additional context, this is an individual fellowship (i.e. awarded directly to me) and the funding is internal (i.e. comes from the university itself).

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    Some contracts will require you to pay the money back if you don't finish. Particularly if it involves some kind of "service", not just doing your thing. More likely, though, you just need to give some amount of notice, and I've seen anything between two weeks and 4 months (with most everyone consistently ignoring the latter). Mar 29, 2019 at 21:53
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    The job of a postdoc is to get a job. If a funding agency holds getting a good job against you, well, why are they funding postdocs?
    – Jon Custer
    Mar 29, 2019 at 22:53
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    I commented on an answer below, but you really need to contact your local research administrator. There are policies and procedures that they will help you maneuver. Ask your PI if you don't know who this is. Mar 30, 2019 at 5:07
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    @JonCuster The problem is that if the OP quits the fellowship, say 3 months into a year, government funding agencies don't get to fund a new position with those 9 unspent months or spend that money elsewhere. The funding agency has effectively lost that money from its budget. Arguably, it would be a better use of their limited resources to fund somebody who did stay the entire time, or at least leaving on a one year boundary, thereby producing 9 more months of research results.
    – user71659
    Mar 30, 2019 at 8:17

3 Answers 3


Obviously, you need to see the contract, and preferably go over it with an attorney. There may be a repayment agreement. You don't know until you look.

As to whether you can leave this postdoc early, I recommend thinking about how public the info would be, and how your colleagues in your field would look at it if they knew about it.

Personally, I could never hold it against a postdoc if they left to grab a dream faculty position. I imagine this happens with some regularity. That said, I would personally think less of a person that accepted a two-year position with the secret intent of leaving after a year. An institution is making an investment in you, and you would be letting them down. I would think of it as you entering an agreement in poor faith.

Needing to relocate for personal reasons after a year is a decision that only you can make. If it's important to you, you might consider honestly discussing your situation with the manager of whatever program you're involved with before you sign on the bottom line. It may be fine with them. They might even be amenable to some form of telecommuting! If you choose to do this, you should do it knowing that a revocation of the offer is a real possibility.

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    I wouldn't necessarily go to an attorney. Contact your local research administrator or go to your Office of Sponsored Projects (or equivalent). This is not their first rodeo; there are procedures for such things. It is important to know if the fellowship is made directly to the institution or the fellow. It also depends on who the sponsor is and where you relocate to. Research administrators deal with such complications all the time and must be consulted ASAP. They need time to work out your exact situation. Mar 30, 2019 at 5:05
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    "That said, I would personally think less of a person that accepted a two-year position with the secret intent of leaving after a year." I disagree. Leaving a job after one year is ordinary professional conduct. Mar 30, 2019 at 5:09

Quitting a fellowship is the same as quitting any other job. Your colleagues should congratulate you on finding a new opportunity which will let you move on to something better.

The ethical issue here is not quitting. It is applying for a fellowship you do not intend to use. Do not do that. It wastes the funding agency's time. Since you intend to use a major portion of the fellowship, your conduct is fine.

Since the funding agency has put effort into determining that you are the best person to take their money, you should view it as your responsibility to make maximum use of the fellowship between now and when you need to move on.

  • This poster specifically says they would not be leaving because they identified a better position. Mar 30, 2019 at 12:26
  • @ScottSeidman Neither I nor the poster mentioned a "better position." I said "something better" and they said wanted to move for "personal reasons," which can easily make "something" be better. Mar 30, 2019 at 23:23

I left a very prestigious fellowship for a job, it was fine and they congratulated me. However, the research budget was pro-rated, (i.e. divided by number of days of my tenure). If I had spent more of the budget than allotted for based on the actual length of my time as a fellow, my host would have been responsible for reimbursing the over-spent amount. Just check to be clear how it works. Postdocs are pretty much always on the job market, so leaving before the end is super common. Good luck!

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