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I recently got a postdoc offer from the mathematics department of University X. Many mathematics departments in the US agree not to require responses to postdoc offers before a certain date. University X appears in the list on the American Mathematical Society (AMS) website as one of the universities that has agreed the the common deadline.

Quoting from the website of the AMS,

The following departments in the U.S. have formally adopted an agreement to coordinate their earliest deadline for responding to postdoctoral job offers for those jobs that begin in the fall of 2023. This agreement specifically excludes tenure-track offers, and it applies only to candidates who are less than or equal to two years past the receipt of the Ph.D. The departments listed below have agreed not to require responses to postdoctoral job offers before Monday, February 6, 2023.

My application and the associated offer fit the description in this paragraph, and yet University X has required a response significantly earlier than February 6th in their offer letter.

The offer from University X is good, but I am interested in other schools whose offers may come later (between University X's deadline and Feb. 6). I also applied for the National Science Foundation postdoc which will be announced after University X's deadline (and which is a reason for the common deadline).

Given that University X agreed the the Feb. 6 deadline, but now gives an earlier deadline, what should I do? I don't want to make waves at University X, but I also don't want to pass up other opportunities.

Edit: I did reach out to some other schools to which I have applied. Not all will be able to make a decision early enough for the University X deadline.

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3 Answers 3

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Here is what I would write to the math department at University X:

"Dear Professor/Chair/...

First of all, I am excited to receive an offer of a postdoctoral position from your department! I noticed that the deadline for my decision on this offer is January **. At the same time, according to the information that I found on the AMS site [...], Mathematics Department at the University X participates in the Coordination of Postdoctoral Job Offer Deadlines Program, with the common deadline of February 6. Therefore, I would like to inquire if the deadline of January ** from my offer letter is the result of a clerical error. If not, would it be possible to extend this deadline to the common deadline of February 6?"

One more thing: In the US postdocs salaries are fixed (and frequently are even listed in job ads). Thus, avoid salary discussion (as well as the teaching load). But you can try to negotiate other things if you first accept a postdoctoral position at X but then receive a postdoctoral offer from Y which is, say, a research institute (IAS, MSRI, MPIM, IHES, etc.) with no teaching duties: You can ask if the department would agree to let you go to Y for a year before coming to X. (I know some instances when the answer was positive.)

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    Since when are postdoc salaries fixed in the US? I did mine in the early 2000nds (in physics) and back then everyone negotiated their salary up. Usually not by much, e.g. $1000-$2000/year, but it definitely wasn't fixed. Jan 12, 2023 at 17:42
  • @Marianne013 I was talking about math. Was your postdoc in a lab? Those are paid for by soft money and the game is quite different from the one in math. Jan 12, 2023 at 17:46
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    Even departmental postdocs in math departments do not necessarily have fixed salaries or teaching loads. I negotiated +$5000 on an offer last cycle and a reduced teaching load on another. Regardless, I cannot really see a situation in which it is not advantageous to ask, so even if the chance is low, people should not be discouraged from trying to negotiate a salary increase. Jan 12, 2023 at 19:35
  • @MoisheKohan No, we were all employed by universities. Jan 13, 2023 at 2:32
  • To nitpick another point very slightly: I personally wouldn't ask if the stated deadline is a clerical error. It sounds stilted-- is there any evidence it's an error? Rather, I'd say briefly: "I've relied upon that mechanism during my job search this year. Would it be possible..."
    – user137975
    Jan 13, 2023 at 4:17
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Anything you do or don't do carries risk here. One simple possibility is that they just made a mistake. Here is an option (though not without risk)...

Reply to them that you are (very) interested but won't be able to make a firm decision until the common deadline that they seem to have agreed to adhere to.

To assure yourself of some position, you could accept it, of course, which only risks the possibility of a better offer.

You could also accept it (fingers crossed behind your back) and then back out if you get a better offer, though you have to weigh the consequences (legal, ethical, practical, ...) of that. That wouldn't be my recommendation, though.

Good luck. Hopefully they aren't being unethical themselves, but if they are, then rejecting it might be wise.

Fraught.

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  • this is a great answer. thanks for posting this @Buffy! Jan 12, 2023 at 13:12
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You can say to them:

Would you please extend the deadline to the date recommended by the AMS, which is February 6?

Ask for higher pay, or something like that, too. Negotiating sometimes gets you what you request. It sometimes creates useful delays. I once allowed a postdoc job offer to expire and then had the offer reissued after my questions were answered.

I think it would be very appropriate to criticize them publicly for their dishonesty. You can wait until after the hiring cycle is complete if that feels more comfortable to you.

The AMS agreement probably has no enforcement mechanism. It might be interesting to think about what the law says about agreements not to compete. Maybe your offer comes from a department that has decided to compete. Maybe it comes from a department that expects to have any unspent budget taken away on February 5th.

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