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I applied last year for a MSCA individual fellowship and was waitlisted. Last week my proposal was moved from the waitlist into the grant preparation phase. Due to this delay I have committed myself to a different position and would defer the MSCA fellowship start date by 1 year. The grant preparation phase including the final signatures of all parties is not affected by this shift and ideally would proceed in the next weeks. This is well over a year before the start date of the fellowship.

This is all a great success, however, if possible, I would still want to apply to a select number of positions in the coming year. One reasons for this is mostly to secure a postdoc of length 3 years or more. The MSCA fellowship is capped at 2 years. I will not be able to complete these applications before the date set for finalization of the MSCA fellowship.

What are the consequences of accepting and fully finalizing an MSCA fellowship and then withdrawing in favor of a different academic position? Is it (legally) possible? Does it make a difference if this position is a postdoc or faculty position?

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    We can read the fine print of MSCA for you, but it is in the best of your interest if you do read them and come back with a more precise question.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 19:10

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I don’t want to sound blunt, but what do you think your chances are of securing three year funding? There are very few guarantees, so with a Marie Curie fellowship you are very well set and also well positioned for future up funding at this point in your career.

As you undoubtedly know many postdoc fellowships will not allow you to be in your new host lab for more than a year, so I can see that you would want to apply for them asap. But don’t burn a bridge you cannot afford to burn yet. In the wonderful case where you do get another 3 year fellowship you might even defer that one so you can finish the Marie curie first or at least half way. Pretty sure you are not the first to do that with postdoc fellowships.

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  • Thanks, BioBrains! This is good advice.
    – MEH
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 15:58
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Ill leave others to discuss if its a good idea or not, but of course you can accept a fellowship and then not end up taking it.

In the end, a fellowship is just a contract. We don't have bonded labour in the modern age, and so of course these is no legal obligation to work for someone with the possibility of escape.

just about possible people involved could sue for breach of contract,but this is highly unlikely, as their costs for sueing would be higher than any damages they might be awarded by at least one order of magnitude. And that is only if the contact doesnt contain a break clause, which it almost certainly does.

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  • Thanks for your response, Ian! I need to understand the break clause.
    – MEH
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 15:56
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MSCA postdocs can be terminated during or before the fellowship even after the final signature in the grant agreement process by the researcher. There is no administrative obstruction and it usually occurs when researchers are offered a better, for example permanent, position. In particular when the fellowship is deferred by a year, I encourage to continue applying to positions leading up to and throughout the fellowship.

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Important point: a PostDoc position is a transition from what is often the most stable position in research (PhD) to something even more stable (professorship or moving outside of academia).

There are exceptions to this (i.e. postdoc staying so long in one institution that they become really needed and therefore will be employed as full-time technicians or researchers) but they are statistically negligible, so do not count on them.

After a 2-year MSCA you have much higher chances to land a professorship of some sort, somewhere.

A postdoc time of 3 years Postdoc does not help more than that. And 2 years postdoc are enough to make up your mind if you want to stay in the academia or go away from it.

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    I did not downvote, but I disagree with this interpretation. The extra year certainly helps in that you have more time to apply for positions and more time to build your CV. Moreover, at least in some disciplines more than one postdoc is the norm, whereas your answer seems to assume that the path is PhD > one postdoc > stable position (otherwise I cannot make sense of your last paragraph). Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 22:00
  • I agree in general with your interpretation, but in this specific case 2 years of MSCA are the best of the best, in those 2 years you must surely make up your mind about staying in the academia (and living some years with the related uncertainty, maybe going through other 3 postdocs) or leave it for good. But picking 3 years postdoc instead of 2 of MSCA brings nothing. Even that additional year is in my view, detrimental (it may make you think you are "safe").
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 9:43
  • Thanks for your response, EarlGrey! I didn't downvote, but I agree with Adam. Perhaps I should have given more details. Due to crowdedness in my field this will be the second of (expected) three (if unlucky four) post-PhD but pre-Prof positions. My first position was 3 years and I believe it made a massive difference to my mental. Fundamentally the question I'm asking is: is there a way I can keep my options open?
    – MEH
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 15:54
  • @MEH no. Every year that passes, the more options are closing. You can open more options open with quality in research, or "quality" in research, where the brackets means quality = your own fundings. So MSCA is the best option, to keep (and possibly even bring new) options open. By the way, since you already spent 2-year as a postdoc, you already confirmed my last point (you made up your mind and you want to stay in the academia). Unfortunately the system is "go up or go out". If you make clear you want to be a postdoc to stay postdoc ... they will prefer someone with the ambition of
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 16:14
  • @MEH going up. Because even the 5 years postdocs are given with the knowledge that the Postdoc is unlikely to stay there for 5 years (and rationally so). Usually it is some rigid funding that force such opening, but no one is expecting a person to stay postdoc for 5 years (although they will be happy to have such a long time worker)
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 16:17

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