I am in the shortlist for a postdoc at a great place and I highly admire my future mentor. He will try to argue for my application in front of the hiring committee in a few days.

The only concern I have is that this postdoc position is for 3 years. I have a girlfriend in another country and she cannot come with me where the postdoc will be. My long term plan was to spend 1 or 2 years as a postdoc, then some years in industry near my girlfriend and then the two of us to go back in my country, where I can easily find a permanent tenure-track position. I want to be honest with my future mentor and communicate the situation with him without losing the opportunity (the other potential offers I could have are way worse). In any case, I want to keep my good relation with the mentor. I see two main options:

  1. Communicating the situation with the mentor right now. The risk is that it may look that I am not motivated enough and this could lead to me not getting an offer at all.

  2. Share this with the mentor after an offer and 1 or 2 years spent at the postdoc place. Then, I will first have higher chances to get the position and second - if the mentor understands me, I will keep the good relation with him and he can even recommend me for another academic position where my girlfriend is (that could be even better, but I don't know whether it's possible given that I will still have 1 year of my current postdoc contract).

Which option would you choose at my place?

[Remark: Having a family is a priority for me. I am already 33 years old and I am afraid that if I lose my girlfriend, I will end up being single forever, as many people choosing the academia career track.]

  • 3
    Not what you are asking about, but a comment on; "I am afraid that if I lose my girlfriend, I will end up being single forever". While I'm all for making career sacrifices for the sake of relationships, this is not a healthy perspective, or particularly fair to your girlfriend. Being scared of being single is, ironically enough, a potential relationship killer.
    – Clumsy cat
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 15:23
  • 1
    My personal opinion is that you should prioritize your long term personal relationships over your career. The vast majority of academics have only been single briefly. Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 16:10

2 Answers 2


I would suggest that you don't say anything prior to the interview. It might prejudice your case. Depending on what you hear in an interview (how enthusiastic they are about you) you might consider saying that it is hard to commit in advance for the third year for personal reasons. Or continue to keep that private.

If you get an actual offer, then you can attempt to amend it in advance for, say, two years with an optional third. Their rules may permit such flexibility or not.

Also, it is likely that you can resign a position early either by local law or by mutual consent. Long term employment contracts are likely to have exit clauses. Be aware of them. Universities in the US generally are able to set their own policies and the national rules/laws that do exist tend to favor individuals.

My main advice is to keep your options open until you can't. A lot can happen both personally and professionally in a couple of years.


Three years is the standard postdoc "term" in the USA. But you in fact can defer the appointment by, say, a year. And you can leave the position a year before it formally ends. Both are very common and happen in my department all the time. Just do not leave in the middle of academic year.

  • 5
    You state all of this as standard for the US. I seriously doubt that is true. There are no national standards for such things. Every university "system" has its own rules. A system might be a single university or a number of state sponsored places.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 14:34
  • Mine is a well known private University. I know that the same policy exists in Stanford and in the University of Illinois. What I described happened to several people I personally know.
    – markvs
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 14:36
  • 2
    I don't question that such rules exist, only that they are observed nationally. It is hard to make general statements about university policy in the US since there are so many "systems", and most are small - even single universities.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 14:48
  • 1
    In my field in the US the standard postdoc term is 1 year. It may be renewable if everyone is on board, but the standard is 1 year, not 3. It's also uncommon to "defer" a postdoc since these are usually funded by grants with a limited term; they're hiring someone because they have money to spend now.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 15:03
  • 1
    "Just do not leave in the middle of academic year." This might apply in math, but not in the vast majority of postdocs that don't have teaching duties. Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 16:07

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