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I have been seeking a full time research position in psychological research since I graduated and moved to a new city. Breaking into it without any connections was hard, so I took a part-time temporary position doing educational research in the public school system. The work is challenging but meaningful, and I have a very supportive advisor and research team. I recently got offered a full time research position in a field I am really excited about, and thus am facing the choice to leave this current research project to chase something more stable and better for graduate school, or staying and having integrity to my current PI.

Many people have been telling me "it's just a job, he's just your boss, and it's his job to figure it out" But it doesn't feel that way. It feels as if I am screwing him over in the middle of a complicated project that requires constant hands on work in the schools. It's an odd schedule (adhering to all the breaks in the public school schedule), and again, it is temporary (only through March). So I feel like if I leave, he will have a very hard time filling my position.

I respect this PI, and his project. This is the last year of his data collection on a four year study. I guess I'm just feeling emotional and guilty for leaving, and am looking to see if anyone has had a similar experience. Is leaving research truly just business, and I should do what's best for me? Or should I try to buy as much time on this project out of respect for my PI?

I am planning on giving him 4 weeks notice, have found two leads in replacing myself, and offered to train in the new employee and do anything that would make the transition easier for him, and am planning on asking him if he needs even more than four weeks and I'll see what I can do. But damn, that guilt is killing me!

I appreciate any and all advice, insight, or criticism. Thanks in advance.

Sincerely, Sensitive new researcher :)

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  • 4 weeks notice seems to be a bit short, if you were going to do data collection, but having found two possible successor is very helpful and already more than enough. On one hand 4 weeks is short because it is very hard to start the "head-hunting" process and conclude it by the time you leave ... on the other hand, if the data collection you were planning will be done in 5-6 months time, then 4 weeks is not an issue.
    – EarlGrey
    Nov 4, 2022 at 10:03

3 Answers 3

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Anyone who employs someone else in a temporary fashion should expect that person to leave at any time for a more permanent job.

I am planning on giving him 4 weeks notice, have found two leads in replacing myself, and offered to train in the new employee and do anything that would make the transition easier for him

This is very generous of you, and should be more than acceptable to your boss unless they're actually a jerk and you haven't found out yet. I think the most useful thing to do will be to be available and receptive for questions when your replacement takes over, whenever they take over. It won't really be your job anymore, so don't let this past obligation get in the way of your new position. I know some people will say you shouldn't do anything at all for a past employer, but I think that's an overly cutthroat approach to business that doesn't really fit the world of academia or public service. As long as you can help out a bit with minimal time investment I think you're doing the right thing.

It's likely that your contributions warrant authorship on any publications that result from your research, and you shouldn't lose that authorship opportunity (though someone else may need to take a primary role) by leaving - this is something you will likely want to discuss so everyone is clear on expectations.

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With regards to giving 4 weeks notice. It's not really your choice as it will be specified in your contract how much notice is needed. It may be 4 weeks, it may not, so check what the minimum will be.

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    This is location-specific. Nov 3, 2022 at 21:32
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    My postdoc had to give three months' notice to resign, as per the contract. The computer system literally wouldn't accept a resignation date less into the future than that. Check contract. (In an emergency I guess I could have allowed it earlier, but he knew he wanted to resign early enough that it wasn't a problem.) Nov 3, 2022 at 21:55
  • @DavidA.Craven In most jurisdictions there is always the option of a mutual termination agreement.
    – user9482
    Nov 4, 2022 at 6:34
  • Furthermore, in most juristdictions, the only recourse the employer would have to an employee leaveing earlier than their notice period would be for the employer to sue the employee for damages. This would almost certainly cost more than they could ever hope to gain, and so is very unlikely to happen. Nov 4, 2022 at 11:44
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Breaking into it without any connections was hard, so I took a part-time temporary position doing educational research in the public school system.

Congratulations for enduring these harsh conditions ( I am honest, I am not being sarcastic)!

he will have a very hard time filling my position.

Sure, finding someone that is working so hard for so cheap it will be difficult (please note: hard-working is just the other side of exploitation [Earlgrey, 2022]).

Dataset are always incomplete, if the research depends so badly on the collection of 4 years of data, then a bigger effort should have been done by the PI at the planning stage. Maybe one less conference for them, 6 more months for a redundant PhD to collect data.

If PI really needs the data, they can go and collect them themselves. If PI does not need the data, but their PhDs need them, well PI is an idiot exploiting the others and putting them in unnecessarily hard conditions for PI own ego/career only (what's the point of this 4 years research, if not substantiating the research theme of interest of the PI?).

You are doing extremely well, with your offer.

You can do more than that. But you should not. Stop exploiting yourself, otherwise you will unconsciounsly exploit the others, too.

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