I am an Indian student in the United States and I am a Lawful Permanent Resident (Green Card). After my PhD in STEM (computer science), I had a postdoc offer from a professor in a new university (I'll call him Prof. A).

I'm really looking forward to start that project, as it totally fit my skills and expertise.

Another professor, Prof. B, stepped in proposing to be a second advisor. Prof. A and B and their colleagues met many times to figure out a co-advised project.

After a while, Prof. B proposed to work only with him, saying that my citizenship would be an issue to get a tenured position and work in the same research field as Prof. A's (due to sensitive information-->clearance). I turned down Prof. B's offer because I want to work with A.

After some days, I met Prof. A, and he seemed to be almost convinced by Prof. B that it is in my best interest to go on with Prof. B, for the same reason as above.

What Prof. B is forgetting (or, most likely, pretending to) is that in a year I will apply for US Citizenship and that I will be a Citizen by the end of the postdoc. I had to be very insistent on this to re-convince A to hire me again. He still accepted to hire me, but I've seen him somewhat doubtful (he was always so enthusiast about me).

Two questions:

1) Is Prof. B's behavior ethical?

2) Is it legal to talk on my behalf about my alleged "best interest", without informing me and without my consent?

3) Should I cut B out?

As stated above, the country is the USA.

Thank you all.


  • 1
    Very unethical behavior. I would just let know Prof A. about process because many natives don't know procedures for obtaining citizenship
    – SSimon
    Aug 23, 2019 at 2:56
  • 5
    "my citizenship would be an issue to get a tenured position in Prof. A's group" This part does not make sense to me. In the USA tenured positions are not in somebody's group. Aug 23, 2019 at 3:07
  • 2
    I'm really having trouble understanding what's going on here. This is a postdoc, what does it have anything to do with tenured positions? Why would the groups be different with respect to immigration? I just don't understand the question. Aug 23, 2019 at 3:07
  • @Noah Snyder does "clearance" say something?
    – CyberGuy
    Aug 23, 2019 at 3:24
  • I suspect there are details that you are unaware of. One charitable interpretation of these events is that ProfB is looking out for ProfA's welfare. It's possible (if only remotely) that hiring a non-citizen postdoc may put constraints on ProfA's research or funding that endanger ProfA's future tenure or promotion case, especially if national security issues are at play. Or maybe ProfB is just a nosy jerk.
    – JeffE
    Aug 23, 2019 at 14:16

2 Answers 2


Prof. A's (due to sensitive information-->clearance)

CyberGuy, I am really not convinced that there is bad or malevolent intent by either Professor A or B but Professor B's discouragement resulting in Professor A to withdraw his offer does seem unethical and patronizing.

The security clearance issue is significant though, in Australia, there is a difference between a citizen working on sensitive material compared a permanent resident or a visa holder, and I would imagine it is similar in America. The fact that you are about to apply for citizenship may not be appreciated by Professor B. Professor B overly forceful because he may be worried that you would pigeon-hole yourself into a narrow field and become unable to work if your citizenship is delayed. Professor B may have your best intentions when he advocated for you to work in a field that is still viable without citizenship, which is his field. I do not think that that is morally wrong, he seems to concerned about your long term employability (but unfortunately minimizing your passions and interests). However, Professor B's lack of responsibility for taking responsibility for Professor A to withdraw his offer seems unethical and wrong. But Professor B may not be aware of the seriousness of Professor's A withdrawal of the offer.

Why did Professor B insert himself into your negotiations? Professor B may be interested in collaborating with Professor A as well, the same way as you were keen to work with Professor A. You must also be an impressive candidate for Professor B to have been interested in working with you and wanting you to work with him alone. Now that you have an offer from Professor A, it may worthwhile clarifying how your skills and expertise fits better with Professor A and that you are soon to apply for citizenship. Professor A's lack of enthusiasm may improve if Professor B understands the situation better and their concerns are clarified. You may also be able to return to work with Professor B if you are unable to get security clearance at a later stage if you are able to smooth things over between them.

Other things that would clearly be unethical would be if Professor B misrepresented your Green Card status and implied that citizenship is not achievable for you. If Professor B misrepresented you as being more enthusiastic for his work instead of Professor A than that would be quite unethical. Also if Professor B lies and misrepresents the Green card or citizenship process to Professor A as a way of pouching you for himself. I am not sure that is the case and they both genuinely seem to want the best for you. I hope Professor B apologizes for the impact of his behaviour and your distress and he turns around support you in your decision CyberGuy.

  • 1
    CyberGuy is a grown adult and does not need anyone advocating on their behalf without their consent. Prof. B took the liberty of doing so and is violating several ethical norms in my opinion.
    – Spark
    Aug 23, 2019 at 5:18
  • 1
    Definitely a reasonable interpretation of events Spark. I am just proposing a more generous interpretation and clarified the ethics and gave examples of what I would consider unethical.
    – Poidah
    Aug 23, 2019 at 6:13
  • Yes, I do think you are right though. The more I read the events, the more the interaction between Professor B and A was unethical. It was unethical for Professor B to discourage and not support Professor A's offer. That was quite unethical. I will edit my answer.
    – Poidah
    Aug 23, 2019 at 6:25

Professor B’s behavior sounds highly unethical.

The only consideration one should make during such deliberations is your fit as a researcher. What you plan on doing after, what your long term visa plans are (except of course in cases where you wouldn’t be able to legally work in the USA, which isn’t the case for you), or anything else should not be discussed at all. In fact, Professor B might be engaging in outright illegal discrimination by doing so.

If you can secure a postdoc with A with no repercussions from B is a different matter. It depends on both their standing in the community, and their personalities. I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable working with B after this, but perhaps you are more forgiving. It could very well be a simple miscommunication that could be cleared up over a cup of coffee.

  • 1
    I am also not very prone to have him around. A misunderstanding may happen but I had in the first place the impression that is a "bossy" type.
    – CyberGuy
    Aug 23, 2019 at 3:08
  • 1
    You need to spend a significant amount of time with this person in a close working relationship. If it doesn’t feel like a good fit- just don’t go for it
    – Spark
    Aug 23, 2019 at 3:52

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