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I accepted a postdoctoral offer a few months before but couldn't join immediately as the visa was delayed by 4 months (now the visa interview date is very close). I informed them that I'll join once the visa arrives. In the meantime, I got a regular position from a research firm and a postdoc offer from a really prestigious university. What should I do now? I like the earlier professor; he's brilliant and humble. Again, joining the research firm will give a stable future and later university a significant weightage to my career.

What should I do? The earlier professor may feel offended. I don't want to hurt anyone.


PS: Now I have declined the earlier offer and informed the professor about the development. He is very disappointed as it has jeopardized his project progress. I honestly apologized; but he is taking it very seriously. What should I do now? I am feeling really bad. Can anyone help? Was my decision right?

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  • Has the visa situation been resolved?
    – Jon Custer
    Sep 30, 2022 at 13:39
  • What do you mean, what should I do now? If you promised that you will join him once you have your visa, then you did in fact break that promise. You made a conscious decision to go with a different offer, now you get to live with the consequences, both positive (the position that you preferred) and negative (damage to your relationship with this professor). You don't get to avoid the natural negative consequences of your decision and only reap the benefit of the positive ones. Oct 7, 2022 at 15:29

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Here is a sample email you can send:

Dear Prof [insert his name],

Thanks again for offering me a position in your lab. However, I've been offered another position which more closely aligns with my skillsets and research interests. Hence, unfortunately I can no longer proceed in this direction. However, I really hope to keep in touch with you and will be more than happy to collaborate on research in the future.

Sincerely,

[your name]

Please don't lie about it and say it's for "personal reasons"- the professor you rejected will find out and it may be awkward.

Pro-tip: unless the difference in school prestige is too wide, it's always better to optimize for quality of mentor/PI/advisor than school.

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This is a difficult situation, and I am not sure if I would choose the "really prestigious university" over a "brilliant postdoc mentor" (e.g. a post doctoral fellowship with absent mentors, even if in a prestigious university, can be a waste of time), but let's assume that it is your choice.

On one hand, postdoctoral fellowship are often used as "temporary" positions while the fellow applies for tenure-track positions, and it is in no way a "breach" of contract to interrupt a 2 year postdoctoral position in order to accept a tenure-track one. On the other hand, breaking a promise is never nice (and should never be easy), and leaving a postdoctoral position for another one is borderline.

A polite way to manage such a situation would be to include the professor who was offering you the first postdoctoral position into your decision process, by writing to him an email honestly describing the situation and asking for his advice. He might be able to point out arguments that you did not think about, and/or he might advise you himself to accept the new position. (As a bonus, if his answer does not show that he has your best interest in mind, then he was not the right mentor for you anyway.) In the end you will make your own decision (as it should be), but including the professor in the decision process make it a joint decision, showing respect.

As a (second) bonus, if the professor is brilliant and nice, do try to make plans for collaborating with him even if you are a postdoctoral fellow at another university (discuss it with the people who fund your postdoctoral fellowship if this collaboration will quite time from the work you do with/for them): for one, the postdoctoral period should be an occasion to collaborate as broadly as you can; and for two, the university of this professor might be where you will apply for jobs after your fellowship!

Hope it helps!

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