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My current situation is the following:

On the positive aspects:

  1. I am currently working in a lab "X". There, my boss is a really great person. She gives me a lot of freedom in my research and doesn't put any pressure. On the human aspect it would be hard to find someone better, this is a real chance.
  2. I am very interested in my current work and I think it could give rise to (perhaps?) nice publications.

On the negative aspects:

  1. I did not realize when I apply, but the research done in the group of my boss is actually a bit far from my interests. Basically I am mostly working "alone" on projects. This was hard to realize when I applied because it "looked nice" from the outside but this was likely a naïve understanding from my side.
  2. My social life outside of the lab is really, really not great.

The points 1+2 start to have a real impact on my "mental health".

Basically from 1 I am afraid to clearly loose in competitiveness on the publication record because I don't collaborate. I am trying to mitigate this by finding collaborations abroad but no guarantee that I succeed.

The point 2 is also really annoying and participates to increase my "depressed" feeling from time to time. I basically work, sleep, work sleep and on the long run it starts to heavily impact my mental health.


At the beginning of my post-doc, I applied without much hope to get it to an MSCA post-doctoral fellowship. To my great surprise it was succesfull, and I then have the opportunity to prolongate for 2 years my contract in this current lab.

This kind of grant offers a very generous funding for visit and it is a great opportunity to take. However, while I am currently inclined to accept it, because the negative points 1+2 really start to impact my mental health (sometime at work I can really be depressed, which obviously impacts the quality of my work), I am wondering what will happen in a few months.

Maybe I will completely get depressed and will have the real need to find another place to work... But maybe my situation will improve (I could find new collaborators elsewhere, I could meet new people improving the social aspects etc). Right now my situation is still manageable but this is really the unknown about the future that annoys me.

What I am afraid of is what happens if I terminate my contract a few months into the program. By accepting it now, I remove the opportunity to some person in the waiting list to get it. It could also be really badly viewed to terminate the contract a few months after having accepted it. The thing is really that I don't know how I will feel in the next months, it really depends: my situation could either improve or get worse...

My question: Is terminating this kind of grant for "personal reasons" (that I could describe in an analog way as I am expressing here) could impact my academic career. Basically would I be seen as someone not serious that declined a grant just after having accepted it (closing the door to another candidate). How is this kind of things usually perceived by (i) people working in academia (ii) the people managing the grants.

One of the thing I am afraid of is if it could reduce my success of applying for later grant as they would consider "yeah, this person terminated a grant just after a few months work, we shouldn't fund him, he is not trustable at all".

[edit]: I found that there is a "terminated improperly" category for terminating a contract (article 50), in case the justification provided is not considered as "good". What are the concrete consequences of this?

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    Weighing up a good career opportunity against your deep unhappiness with your lack of social life is something that makes sense and requires serious consideration on your part. Weighing up either of those against some vague speculation about "how this kind of things [is] usually perceived by [...] people working in academia" is, in my frank opinion, non-sense. Feb 24, 2023 at 20:27
  • @AdamPřenosil thanks for your comment. If resigning from a contract only a few months after being employed can have serious consequence on your future employability, I think this is a very important information to get as it could influence my choice to make.
    – someBioGuy
    Feb 24, 2023 at 23:44
  • Sure. Let me also add that you seem to be treating your mental health as a random variable whose outcome is beyond your ability to influence or predict ("Maybe I will completely get depressed [...] But maybe my situation will improve"), which it very much is not. At the risk of saying something obvious that you're already perfectly aware of, if you do decide to stay, hoping that maybe things will just get better on their own does not seem like a good strategy. Unless you actively change something, it's a pretty safe bet that things will continue along their current trajectory. Feb 25, 2023 at 0:20
  • @AdamPřenosil I am not saying I am not trying to change things. I am trying to, this is why I don't know if I will feel the same in a few months (things could definitely improve). Also I could decide to decline the grant and go in another place where it could be equal or worse as well, declining doesn't guarantee that it would get better either. Anyway, my question is strictly speaking about how the fact to decline a grant a few months after using it is perceived by academics or grant institutions. This is important to know for my decision.
    – someBioGuy
    Feb 25, 2023 at 1:06
  • To clarify, perhaps. Of course if my life is going bad while I am involved in the grant, I would terminate it. My question is the decision I have to take now. If it happens that it is "really bad" to terminate a grant once you are already paid by it since, only, a few months, I prefer to know it now, as maybe I wouldn't sign the contract (I still have a short time window to decide). I probably used a bad english which confused my question.
    – someBioGuy
    Feb 25, 2023 at 1:11

1 Answer 1

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Your question comes from your personal situation. Even one of your concerns (am I taking this grant away from someone else?) is at a very personal level, and I think it is really great that you are thinking about this - you know how competitive these fellowships are and you are considering that another candidate could benefit if you decline the fellowship now.

Yet you ask for how the system as a whole (academics, grant institutions) will perceive this. At this level, things are far less personal. I doubt that at the EU grant office someone is thinking hmmm let's remember him for later.

I don't think giving back the fellowship will affect your future funding opportunities. Your next applications will be reviewed by different referees and a different committee.

In that case, you could put the grant down on your CV as 'MSCA (declined)' in this case - this can happen for multiple reasons and is not uncommon. Of course you should then be prepare to ask questions when they come up.

But this is far far into the future. Right now, take the decision that is best for you, your mental health and your life as a whole at this moment in time.

So I would take this question back to the personal level - you cannot predict how others (let alone a whole system) will respond. You also have no direct obligations to another anonymous applicant.

Sketch out your options: Say you reject the grant now. What would that mean for you in your current lab? Would it be logical for you to then continue there without the fellowship?

Most importantly: Did you already talk to your supervisor? You sound pretty positive about them, do they know you are struggling? If they do not know they also cannot think along about possible solutions!

Maybe you can accept the fellowship and visit a collaborator for a few months, or find a lab close by where you can sit in on lab meetings closer to your interests, maybe you can defer accepting the fellowship until you know whether you want to continue in this lab or in academia? Maybe you need to take sick leave? Or just a break/holiday? Maybe you need to meet new people outside of work?

If you cannot talk to your supervisor about this, find someone else to talk to or ask if you can take a professional development course/training - this can help with discovering/finding back what you really like about your work in the first place or make you realize you need to switch labs or leave academia, who knows.

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  • Thanks a lot for your answer. So you seem to believe that it is unlikely that terminating my contract early could have any serious consequences on the future (I mostly need to be ready for questions that people might ask on this). About your suggestions: yes my advisor knows about this issue and she is very supportive. There are still potential ways of improvements like the ones in your suggestions (visiting other groups, meeting new peoples): this is the main reason why this is clearly possible that my situation improves (and why I would be annoyed to reject the funding now).
    – someBioGuy
    Feb 25, 2023 at 21:20

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