I accepted a verbal post-doc offer from my future PI through email in late January. The university has asked me to fill out some forms for paperwork and visa application from time to time since then (the position is in the US and I need to apply for a J1 visa for it) but I never received an official offer.

Unfortunately, all US visa services have been halt due to COVID-19. I am really unsure when I will be able to start the visa application and when I may enter the US. The planned starting date was in April which is definitely impossible now -- I do not know how long the PI is willing to hold the position for me. Given all this uncertainty (also chaos from recent family issues), I am reconsidering applying for some local jobs.

  1. I know that in the industry, it is commonly advised to continue looking without a written offer. Is this also the case in academia?

  2. Will it be unethical to start looking, potentially rescinding my acceptance of the verbal offer if I secured another one? I have not signed anything and the circumstances are quite special, but breaking a commitment feels wrong. I do not know if this will burn bridges with the PI.

What will you do if you were in my shoes? Any advice will be much appreciated.

  • 1
    You accepted a verbal post-doc offer from my future PI through email in late January. Did they acknowledge?
    – user2768
    Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 11:09
  • To be clear, the professor offered in person or over the phone, then you followed up over email? Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 14:31
  • 4
    You should stay in touch with the person who offered you a job, but you should also keep looking for jobs that you can actually start. If a PI who can't get you into the country gets mad when you have no choice but to take a different job, you didn't want to work for that PI anyway.
    – user120011
    Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 15:58
  • @user2768 Yes they did, and I have been followed up by the university staff about visa application, etc.
    – guessit
    Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 14:47
  • @AzorAhai She offered over email and I replied over email as well.
    – guessit
    Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 14:48

1 Answer 1


You should only accept formal written offers. If you follow that practice, you will never be in this situation.

Since it is too late for that, you should request a formal written offer immediately. Yes, you should look for alternate employment. There are several possibilities:

  • You never get the formal offer. In this case, get a job elsewhere.
  • You get the offer and can start the job. Then start the job.
  • You get the offer and cannot start the job because you cannot get a visa. Since you do not have a visa, even if you accept the offer the agreement is invalid. Find a job elsewhere.
  • You do not get the offer, but do get a job elsewhere. In this case, inform the university that, if you do not get the offer in a reasonable period of time, you will no longer be available.
  • You get a job elsewhere, and after a long time you get the written offer and visa. Now you have the opportunity to experience both jobs!
  • Thank you so much for your advice. It is just a matter of time before I get the visa once everything is back to normal. The problem is I have no idea how soon that will be since it depends on how the pandemic unfolds. I can wait for several months more but perhaps not for over half a year :(
    – guessit
    Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 15:01
  • 1
    A formal written offer in academia (in the US) can be arbitrarily changed or withdrawn at any time by the university or PI if situations change before you start the job. If you had a formal written offer you'd be in the same position with an additional piece of paper that could be folded into a hat or a brooch or a pterodactyl.
    – user120011
    Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 17:28
  • 1
    @CJR True that it could happen, but at greater risk of legal and reputational harm, so it is very unlikely. Commented Apr 11, 2020 at 0:06

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