2

Late last year, I had accepted a research fellowship/startup position tied to a PhD position. The advisers were extremely supportive and I got my visa and was ready to move abroad. However, after working just a couple of weeks of joining, disaster struck and I had to leave abruptly due to a personal family emergency. My advisors were naturally upset but understanding of the situation. After a while, my personal situation got better and so I tried to reapply but by that time, the PhD position had already been filled. The advisers were kind enough to offer to possibly create a PhD position but wanted me to work at the startup in the meantime.

I had anticipated that the position would be unavailable and applied to other schools just in case; also, I was nervous about moving across the world to join a very small startup with a vague possibility of a PhD so I had to decline, especially since I wanted to prioritize securing a sure PhD position. Regrettably, I made the unfortunate mistake of telling my potential supervisors about exploring alternative options (I tend to be too transparent to a fault) and they became extremely upset. They sent a short but angry email telling me to stop absolutely wasting ("abusing") their time.

Honestly, the whole situation has caused me severe anxiety and depression, and I feel terrible. I'm seeing a mental health professional, but I'm plagued by a constant sinking feeling and dread. I'm sure I irrevocably burnt bridges here, but I was wondering if there's anyway to recover from the situation? Has anyone else gone through a similar experience of burning bridges in the academia? How badly will this affect my future career or has my academic career been destroyed completely?

3
  • 6
    You wanted a PhD. They didn't have one. That's their fault, not yours.
    – Taw
    Apr 7 at 16:54
  • 2
    What's "the startup"? How is it related to the position in question? Apr 7 at 18:04
  • 2
    Hmmm. You were the one abused, actually. You will do well to avoid them.
    – Buffy
    Apr 7 at 18:24

2 Answers 2

10

Exploring multiple options before committing to any of them does not itself burn bridges. Of course, you cannot control how other people react, but if someone else sees this as an affront to them, that's their fault, not yours. I would see this as a red flag/indication you've dodged a bullet in ordinary circumstances.

However,

The advisers were kind enough to offer to possibly create a PhD position but wanted me to work at the startup in the meantime

sounds like a bait-and-switch. I would run away, and look for PhD positions tied to reputable institutions of higher education, not startup companies. Universities offer PhD training, not startup companies. If a company wants to work with a university to fund a student position, that should be done through the university to protect the student.

Continue with your other prospects; your future career will depend on the success/failure of those prospects, not this one. It seems like perhaps this one never really existed in the first place, so absolutely nothing is lost except the risk of wasted time.

3
  • Thanks for the response! Just noting that the startup is connected to a university where the PhD would have taken place. I'm anxious about the possible repercussions of angering them given their network in the academia.
    – flipflop81
    Apr 7 at 16:58
  • 4
    @flipflop81 "Connections" to a university is not an impressive credential. You have absolutely nothing to worry about. These people couldn't even unilaterally create a PhD position for you, they have no power over anyone else. No one cares what they think.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 7 at 17:02
  • Company-funded PhDs work the other way around in here, because pretty much only state-funded positions are limited in quantity. But I assume this is an exception, because the very meaning of "funding" is different (students basically get salaried by the company, not the university in this case).
    – Lodinn
    Apr 8 at 5:20
4

I had anticipated that the position would be unavailable

You were right, hope for the best prepare for the worse.

and applied to other schools just in case

You were very right.

also, I was nervous about moving across the world to join a very small startup with a vague possibility of a PhD so I had to decline, especially since I wanted to prioritize securing a sure PhD position

It is strange how an obvious thing such as this is misunderstood by the clever people in academia as "he/she is not that hardworking and confident" while exactly the opposite is true, saying no to such uncertain terms is exactly confidence.

Regrettably, I made the unfortunate mistake of telling my potential supervisors about exploring alternative options

Ok, that is the only error, what you did is the only reasonable things to do, because no one is applying to one PhD and then waiting for the response from the sacred guard of that Phd position. Such a simple concept unfortunately cannot be expressed, because who knows that, knows that, there is no need to express it, but who does not know that got all upset when you try to not waste your time. Unfortunately many idiots in the academia thinks that only their time is worthwhile, while the others have plenty of free time and can afford to wait weeks or months for them.

You burned bridges with them? yes, you were lucky that this happened before starting working with them :) . Academia is a connected world, but there is way too much to do, there is no time to cultivate revenge and to proactively act against a minion like you.

Repeating what @Bryan Krause said in a comment " These people couldn't even unilaterally create a PhD position for you, they have no power over anyone else. No one cares what they think. "

2
  • 2
    Agree with @EarlGrey, but would add that admitting to exploring other opportunities is not an error at all. Anyone who is hiring should assume that the potential hire is exploring different ways of getting a salary, and nothing is guaranteed until a contract is signed... Apr 8 at 12:20
  • 1
    @littleraspberry I may have been not clear, it is an error in the sense of "saying this thing to someone that do not understand this thing is an error", not because it is an error in itself, but because it leads to the unpleasant situation of having to deal with the idiocy of the other persons.
    – EarlGrey
    Apr 8 at 15:28

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .