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I'm currently doing my third postdoc at an Ivy league university. My supervisor is very famous in his area of research and he was very supportive for me during the first year. However, he waited until the end of the first year before offering me an extension so I applied to a few tenure-track positions just in case he wanted me out of the lab. I got two visit campus so I told him about that because I mentionned him as one of the three references. I also reassured him that I will be staying in the lab until the end of my contract (completion of the 2nd year). He said that he is happy for me and that he will gladly write a recommendation letter and support my applications.

Then, his behavior became very strange. For example, he will not communicate with me or answer my emails unless it has something to do with what he needs for some project. He also started excluding from the different projects and the key meetings. Meanwhile, I passed the first campus interview and the chair of the search committee told me in the end of the visit that they didn't receive a letter from my supervisor. So I asked him about that and sent him two remainders so he can send the reference letter. He did not respond to any of my e-mails or messages. So I contacted the search committee and told them that my supervisor is busy. I asked them to change my reference and use my PhD co-supervisor as a reference and they accepted my request. My PhD co-supervisor sent them a strong recommendation letter immedialtey.

A few days ago, I got a verbal offer from the college dean and I'm currently negociating with them the details with her. But I'm still cannot understand what motivated the change in my supervisor's behavior, and wether I should stay in my lab until the end of the my contract or terminate it sooner (I am not sure that it's going to be a nice experience without my supervisor support).

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    Are you able to meet with your current supervisor, phone him, knock on his door, or ask someone else in the group about his behavior? And would the new university allow you to finish your current contract and delay starting the new tenure-track job?
    – gib
    Feb 27 at 21:01
  • I can't don't think I will be able to meet with my supervisor in such circumstances but I'm willing to have a one-to-one interview with him in two weeks. Yes I have told the university that I want to delay the starting date during the campus visit and they said that they can accomodate that. Feb 28 at 0:36
  • In your comment your first sentence says two opposite things
    – gib
    Feb 28 at 8:48

3 Answers 3

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If you can meet with your current supervisor, you can ask him why he stopped replying to your emails, didn't send the reference letter, etc.

If he apologizes and has a good reason, and if you are sure that he will invite you to meetings, reply to emails, etc in the future, then maybe could stay in your current job till the end of the contract. But I would say you should only do this if you are sure everything will be fine.

If that doesn't happen, then I think you should start the new job as soon as possible.

If you don't get a few more answers on this website, it would be good to ask some people you know for their opinions, even if they do not work in academia.

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  • Thanks. Given how passive aggressive he can be, I am not sure he will apologize or give me a good reason. Feb 28 at 11:13
  • @Postdog4ever I think you should ask him if he wants you to stay apart of the research group until the end of your contract. Unless there is something unrelated going on, his behavior suggests that he no longer wants you on board and in that case he may just be carrying on because he is contractually obliged to do so. This new development with the tenure track job provides a good time for you both to reassess whether it makes sense to continue working together for the next year.
    – psithurism
    Mar 1 at 1:00
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I guess it can be multiple things. Depending on your field, your supervisor can now see you as a potential competitor, whence your exclusion from the projects you are not directly involved in and the limitations of your email exchanges to your projects only.

For the recommendation letter, I do not have any answer. I think it is quite low to accept to write a recommendation letter and then not do it. If he did not want to write you one, he could have just said no.

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Your supervisor has many things in their life that are more important to them than your campus visit. It's most likely the change in behavior is caused by something unrelated.

I've seen faculty suddenly change their behavior quite a few times, and most often the cause was a sick relative.

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