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I am a Ph.D. student, close to finishing up. I am looking for a post doc position and have been in talks with multiple professors in various universities. However, most of them want me to visit their lab for a talk or a presentation, without having directly confirmed anything. Although they sound positive about me, there is no confirmation yet. Moreover, this being a relatively early stage of my post-doc job hunt, I haven't truly made up my mind yet.

I would like to know if it is unethical to accept reimbursement for travel and stay to these labs and subsequently refuse the offer, since obviously I can't accept all of them (if they happen to confirm me). Please share your opinion on this.

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    Are these job talks (i.e. part of a formal job interview process) or just a "hey, why don't you come and meet us and give a talk" kind of thing? Either way I don't think you'd have any obligation to accept an offer, but if it's the latter you can just think of it as networking - if their work is relevant to you it will help you to get to know their group even if you don't end up working with them. – Nathaniel Mar 8 at 11:26
  • Yeah, its mostly the later.... the invitation to give a presentation was casual and did not sound very formal in an interview-ish way. – anon Mar 8 at 11:34
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    Though these visits may not be advertised as formal interviews, you'd be well advised to treat them as such. The host will definitely use the visit to evaluate you and determine whether they would want to extend you an offer. – mmeent Mar 9 at 8:55
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There are no ethical considerations here. They are willing to spend the money to get a look at you as well as let you look at them. Just be honest with them so that you don't seem to be leading them on.

Thinking of it any other way would imply that a small expenditure from them would lock you in. That would be unethical.

Good luck.

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    It is what will become for them a regular job interview. – Jon Custer Mar 8 at 2:44
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    +1 Also: Always remember that in interviews you are interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you. (And come prepared to ask questions, observe the work environment, etc. with the idea that in your judgement they may not be a good fit for you regardless of how good a fit you are for them.) – Alexis Mar 9 at 19:29
  • Note also that it is much cheaper for them to bring you in and see if you are a good fit now than to discover it after they hire you. – Nathan S. Mar 10 at 16:42
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There’s nothing unethical about visiting a lab, giving a talk, and expecting to be reimbursed for expenses you incurred for this visit.

The lab will get something out of your visit: the talk and the interaction with other members of the lab. Of course if you promise a talk and don’t deliver that’s another matter.

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I agree with the other answers that there's no ethical problem here, and I'd add that, even if these visits had been official job interviews, there still would be no ethical problem. I think it's understood (certainly in my field but I think in other fields too) that people who are finishing a Ph.D. will apply to many places, will go to interviews, might get several offers, and will decline all but one of the offers. No one thinks that, just because they invited a candidate (whether for an "interview" or "just a talk") and reimbursed expenses, the candidate is required to accept whatever offer they might make.

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Interviews are two way things. It would cost nothing for the lab., and they would benefit from a talk from you. It's only fair they reimburse at least some of your expenses. If they like what they see, an offer may be forthcoming. If not, nothing. You may like what you see, and accept, if not, nothing. Ethics don't get involved here. It's a two way thing. And they realise that you, in your position, want the best for you. If it's not that lab., that's life.

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At my work, we often have recent PhDs give a talk when interviewing. They usually pick the topic, but every now and then a lab head asks for a particular subject. The talks give the team insight as to the applicant's approach, style and personality.

The interview team conducts interviews, takes the applicant to lunch, designates a host, and the convenes after the visit to review the candidate.

At one point, when hosting candidates, my lab head encouraged me to spend money on them. Nice dinner, slightly upgraded hotel, business class seating, whatever. His point was they are coming here to see if there is a mutual fit, and they are contributing at least a day of their time (usually two or three when travel is factored in) and the company can contribute their share. Both parties have skin in it.

Just because you go on one date, doesn't mean that you will marry that person. This is an exercise in finding the level of mutual interest.

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