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I'm a PhD candidate who applied to a mix of postdocs and tenure track assistant professor positions. I've received an offer for a postdoc fellowship (2-3 year institutional training fellowship) that won't begin until summer 2022, and they've given me a 3 week deadline to respond. However, I have an final round interview for my top tenure track choice a bit beyond their 3-week deadline.

How should I go about negotiating an extension on the postdoc offer, given I don't know when my last tenure track interview option will be making their decision/extending an offer. Also, at this point, would you suggest being open with them and disclosing that you're interviewing for tenure track positions?

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    Related, possible duplicate: Interview for a faculty position after accepting a postdoc offer
    – cag51
    Jan 4 at 3:34
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    Does "postdoc fellowship" imply that it would be your own funding or the supervisor's? That would make a big difference for me. Jan 4 at 14:28
  • @lighthousekeeper their funding. It's an institutional training grant so you have multiple mentors/professors working with you.
    – PsiOn
    Jan 4 at 21:53
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    Would you want to take the postdoc even if you get the tenure track offer? Often (at least in my circles) you can defer tenure track offers for a semester or a year.
    – Kimball
    Jan 5 at 23:04
  • @Kimball that could work but I really don't want to move someplace for one year only to move again one year later.
    – PsiOn
    Jan 6 at 4:02

5 Answers 5

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How should I go about negotiating an extension on the postdoc offer

You should not. There are two possible outcomes. If you don't get the tenure track job, the extension does you no good. If you do get the tenure track job, the sequence of events will be:

  • You wait four weeks for an interview
  • You wait six more weeks to get an offer
  • You negotiate for a week, and an agreement is reached after about 11 weeks
  • You wait 4 to 50 weeks for the tenure-track job to actually start

If you can start the postdoc job immediately, just start it. At a minimum, you will get two months pay and experience.

This advice may not apply if you are already postponing the postdoc start date for some other reason; but in any case, most postdoc supervisors will not wait ten weeks to see if you get that offer. Four weeks is really the longest reasonable time for them to wait.

This all assumes the tenure-track interview is a final interview, and not the first interview.

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    Which parts of the answer change if this is the first interview? The timeline? Jan 4 at 17:15
  • @overfullhbox Yes, often there are 4 to 8 weeks between a first and second interview. Jan 4 at 17:39
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    OP here. The interview for the tenure track position is a final round interview; I am a finalist. And I can't start the postdoc until after June/beginning of July.
    – PsiOn
    Jan 4 at 21:56
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    "wait six more weeks to get an offer", "negotiate for a week": You seem to live in a part of the world where hiring of professors is a pretty quick process... Jan 5 at 0:08
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    @MartinArgerami I'd point out that getting a tenure-track position makes your supervisor look really good. And if you continue to help them with their research after they stop paying you, well, that's the opposite of burning bridges. Jan 5 at 22:47
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I was in a similar position a couple of years ago. I think departments are aware that they take an unreasonable amount of time to make these decisions and that candidates need to have backup plans. At my department at least, it is common for a successful tenure-track hire to delay their start by a year. In fact, I think most successful hires in our department do this. (I have no idea how common or acceptable this would be at more teaching-oriented departments who might need the tenure-track position filled immediately to cover teaching. Perhaps people can provide their thoughts on that in the comments.)

With this in mind, it might be possible to accept the postdoc with the open understanding with them that if you receive a tenure-track offer then you would leave the postdoc after one year (delaying the start of the tenure-track position by one year).

That is what I did. Before accepting the postdoc offer, I explained my situation openly and honestly with the postdoc PI, explained that I was interviewing for tenure-track positions, and suggested the above compromise. She was more than happy to have me come for one year of the postdoc rather than zero!

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  • Thanks Beren! I do see others negotiating a delay to their tenure track start date and a truncated postdoc length to make both options work.
    – PsiOn
    Jan 5 at 15:42
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    This is by far the best answer. I was looking for it and surprised to see it third.
    – Dawn
    Jan 5 at 23:30
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These are delicate situations, and there is no definitive answer for how to deal with them. On the one hand it is reasonable to want to progress your career, but it is also costly/annoying to institutions when you accept a position there and then leave shortly afterwards for another position. Ultimately, this will come down to whether or not you are comfortable accepting a position with the intention that you are going to keep looking for other positions while you work there (and possibly leave early). I've never felt comfortable doing that, but I know others who have no qualms about it.

As specific advice on your situation, the first thing to note is that it will probably be a while before you hear back about the tenure-track position. (It is not unusual for universities to take many months post-interviews to make decisions on these hires.) So if you accept a postdoc position it will probably be a reasonably long while before you have any other offer. Contrarily, if you reject it, you probably won't have a position at all for quite a while. This militates in favour of accepting the postdoc offer, safe in the knowledge that you will get a substantial amount of time there before you have to make a decision with a competing offer.

If you do get an offer of a tenure-track position you could also ask your present institution to match it if they want to keep you (i.e., giving them first option to keep you if they can match the offer). It is costly and inconvenient to replace staff, so your postdoc institution are not going to be thrilled at the fact you've applied elsewhere, but if they have first option to keep you then this might soften the blow.

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  • Hi Ben. Thanks for your reply. I'm kind of like you: preferring not to leave until toward the end of the postdoc tenure. Thanks for providing a longer term perspective.
    – PsiOn
    Jan 4 at 3:59
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    I've never heard of a postdoc employer matching a tenure-track offer. The funding mechanisms are too different. Jan 4 at 14:14
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    That's probably true, but it is the offer of first-option-to-keep that matters here, not whether they accept it. If their funding mechanisms don't allow them to retain staff who are offered better positions elsewhere, they can hardly blame the staff for that situation.
    – Ben
    Jan 4 at 21:35
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When it comes to job searching, even in academia, there are no illusions that your position is permanent. (Not even if it's tenure-track!) At this point, your objective as a postdoc is to qualify for tenure-track offers.

So, in my mind, the question is really one of honesty. If you're worried about getting a job at all, then honesty will help you, but it can also hurt you short term. If you're going to be okay applying for more jobs for a few months, then you're probably in a position to let the institution that made the postdoc offer know that you're a finalist for a tenure-track position, and don't know your long term prospects as a postdoc.

They'll likely do one of three things:

  1. Hire you anyway, because there will be several finalists but only one assistant professor, and if they like you they'll have a chance to show you that the postdoc with them might actually accelerate your career faster than the professorship.
  2. Go with someone else, because they need the position filled and have (unrealistic) ideas about postdoc retention. (Postdocs are horribly underpaid experts with little to no governmental protection. It's not very hard to convince most postdocs to leave their position for a better-paying, higher-impact industry job)
  3. Make you an offer for a much shorter period, with far less favorable benefits, since they need the help, and can keep looking for another replacement while you're with them.

If you're okay with all three options, I personally prefer honesty both as an employee as an employer. It's normal to have different goals in life, and the question is if your goals align well enough to work together for a while.

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  • "your objective as a postdoc is to qualify for tenure-track offers." Your objective should be to do good research and/or teaching. Getting tenure does not make someone a good person. Jan 4 at 23:05
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    @AnonymousPhysicist Being able to pay for their food and for their kids' needs or, in the most favourable circumstances, to even get a house instead of a small appartment, a better person, but is totaly a legitimate target in anyone's life. Being in a precarious situation or being a poor person does not make someone a good person, no matter what fairy tales say. Jan 5 at 7:43
  • "Postdocs are horribly underpaid experts with little to no governmental protection"? I think you are making some unwarranted assumptions about where the OP is located. At least where I work (western Europe) postdocs are paid quite well (though not as well as in STEM industries) and are covered under collective agreements, as well as national labour laws.
    – Psychonaut
    Jan 5 at 9:11
  • @VladimirF Yes, being economically productive is a good thing too, but getting tenure is far from the most efficient way to do that. Jan 5 at 14:12
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    I'm in the US. I'm a woman of color from a poor SES background. No kids or partner but I do support my elderly parents who have chronic illnesses and still live in poverty. Stability is extremely important to me. I understand I may not get wealthy at this point in time (and to me, what counts as rich is subjective and relative), but I don't want to get stuck in a holding pattern of temporary, typically low(er) paying positions with inconsistent benefits (e.g. medical, dental, retirement, etc.). Those are some of my personal concerns.
    – PsiOn
    Jan 5 at 15:44
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The best answer may depend on your field of study. My answer may be biased because I am most familiar with the mathematical sciences (including applications and statistics). Also, I'm assuming you're a US citizen and both positions are in the US.

Especially if 'PhD candidate' is a euphemism for 'still working on my thesis', then take the post-doc job, finish your thesis, and try to use the post doc environment to get ideas for good starts on a couple of publications. That extra experience and record of accomplishments will put you in a strong position to get hired for a tenure track position and to get tenure (in amongst dealing with class preparations and advising students). If you start the tenure track position with finishing part of your thesis still hanging over you, your chances of getting tenure may seriously reduced. (Almost no university departments will grant tenure to someone who is still working on a thesis and with no publications.)

I made the mistake of taking a tenure track position when my Ph.D. thesis was "not quite finished". The environment there was not quite as promised, the teaching load way high, and after one year it was clear that the thesis was just as far off as before. 'Wasted year' would be putting it gently.

Then, I was fortunate enough to be able to transition to a post doc at a major university during my second year. There I learned most of the applied skills I have used in my 40-some years since. Also, I made contacts that turned out to be of amazing benefit as my career progressed. After the post doc I took a tenure track job I have enjoyed enormously until my recent retirement in my 80's (interrupted only by a few years working for the Federal government on leaves of absence).

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  • Are you saying you started the tenure track position before you graduated from your PhD program? Jan 6 at 0:40
  • Yes, but that was in the 1060's. Mathematicians were in short supply, and it was clear that tenure would depend on finishing the Ph.D.
    – BruceET
    Jan 6 at 2:01

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