I completed my Engineering PhD in 2019 and started working in a small startup. Things did not work out as expected. A few months ago I signed a job offer for a postdoc at a (great) US institution. I would have started immideately but couldn't because of visa. They applied for an H1B visa with premium processing for me, which is a big ask and big cost. And takes a few months.

I've been pondering about this over the past months since I signed and I came to the conclusion that I do not really want to do this any more. I loved my PhD, I loved doing research but the output wasn't super great (which means I'd need great output in the postdoc to be competitive).

My main reasons are that I just feel exploited by the system: The pay is about 3x less of what I would make in industry, yet I would continue live PhD life: Working like a pig without weekends and little money. Once I am through, no guarantee to find a (good) faculty position, specifically given my sub-optimal PhD outputs. And even then, five years tenure, again with little pay. Finally, 10 years later, MAYBE a bit more quiet but still little pay. Likely in a location where I do not want to live.

I am getting towards 40 years, I am married and want to start a family. I have full support from my wife for this way but I feel I am having trouble "providing" for the family and once I have kids life will be so stressful. I was so energetic during my PhD but now I would feel so much more doing a nice but exciting job in a big company. Finally starting to make real money. Starting savings. Starting a family and buying a house.

I think it's not really "ok" to withdraw from an offer once it's signed. Here in particular, it's worse since they put so much money & effort with the visa in and my PhD advisor (I have a wonderful relationship with him) vouched for me and made this (partially) happen.

I am torn: I could be honest, bite the bullet, destroy bridges and maybe need to pay for the visa fees (not sure?).

Or I could give it a shot: I love doing research, I'm sure I'd like the work itself and the group and university is amazing and world class. Maybe it turns out great. And if not, I could still leave after a few months.

Is it "ethical" to retract the offer? Should I try to contact the international department or HR first about the visa status (maybe the fees have not been paid yet)? Or talk with the prof first?

Should I share my thoughts first or be upfront from the beginning?

Any advice appreciated!


2 Answers 2


I’m not seeing a huge dilemma here. Given that you have decided on a change of direction in your career, your choice is between disappointing the people who hired you now, versus disappointing them in a few months’ time once you finally work up the courage to tell them that you don’t want to do this anymore. Avoiding the disappointment and possible bridge burning is simply impossible, unless you are willing to sacrifice the next couple of years of your life doing something that you decided you don’t want to do. This stuff about “giving it a shot” sounds more like it’s about you looking for a face-saving excuse to avoid admitting to the people who hired you that you made a mistake than about having a genuine desire to continue to explore the option of staying in academia. You don’t sound to me like you have any such desire.

It’s best to pull off the band aid now, apologize for wasting people’s time and money, and allow everyone to move on. It’s not completely “ok”, and you can’t realistically expect people not to be upset at you, but it’s the most mature, honest and professional way to handle the situation you’ve found yourself in.

P.S. since an H1B visa is involved, make sure to check the legal and immigration implications of withdrawing your acceptance before making any official moves. You don’t want to end up having to leave the country or being ruled ineligible for future work visas, etc. Good luck!


By reading your post, it seems clear that you prefer to go in the industry and it has advantages for you. So this is what you should do. Of course, it would have been best if you would have known earlier and you you would have declined the offer, as it would have saved time and money for the visa and other things. But now you are here. So the best is to talk directly with HR and the professor and tell them the truth that you have changed your mind and you will not do the post-doc to avoid wasting more time. There is some chance that the professor may be upset, or he may understand. For example, there was a post-doc who was supposed to join my team, and I spent quite a lot of time to prepare documents and provide an invitation letter for him and he was supposed to come. But then, he told me that he took another offer in another country at the last minute. Thus, it appeared that although he accepted my offer he was at the same time taking other interviews and still looking for other offers. I was a bit upset but I can also understand the motivation to look for the best job, so we still had some collaboration after that. But other people may be more upset.

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