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How much a postdoctoral offer by email can be trusted? Did you face any issues for example bluffing or changing the mind of PI at the last moment ? Is it likely to happen ? Please share your experience.

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  • I don't think e-mail offer is only verbal. However, I am not a lawyer. Also, This question sounds like a polling question. Vote to close as off-topic.
    – Nobody
    Sep 14, 2023 at 13:21
  • If this is about India, what does the law there say about such things? Are they binding as they are some places? Do you have some level of distrust in the one making the offer? Or just general paranoia.
    – Buffy
    Sep 14, 2023 at 14:01
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    If it is a random email from somewhere you’ve never interviewed at, it isn’t real. If you’ve applied, been interviewed, visited, the usual job selection stuff, well, it is highly likely. As one weird HR thing, I’m supposed to make a verbal offer to candidates before HR will release the ‘real’ offer through their portal. I often do it by email because scheduling a call may be difficult and I want them to have the ‘real’ offer as soon as possible. And then their is my postdoc offer that was given verbally at a conference and some months later I flew across an ocean to start, no paperwork at all.
    – Jon Custer
    Sep 14, 2023 at 14:05
  • @Buffy It's just being anxious, skeptical about the delay, which is making me little bit frustrated at this moment.
    – Yohana
    Sep 14, 2023 at 14:23

3 Answers 3

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A friend once told me that "the best contract is dealing with honest people." With this he meant that if you are dealing with an honest person who cares about their reputation, their word is the best contract you can have. With the opposite type of person, no amount of written documents will stop them from wiggling out of a commitment.

So,

How much a postdoctoral offer by email can be trusted?

It ranges from not at all to fully.

I did two postdocs, and both offers were verbal (not email, but verbal in the literal sense), and both came through.

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Verbal or emailed job offers from a PI are not reliable contracts. Normal university policy would forbid a PI from making job offers. Job offers are usually signed by a dean or provost.

Bluffing and change of mind are not things you need to worry about. Job offers run into trouble when the PI thinks there is money to pay you but actually there is not.

Examples:

The funding agency did not deliver the funding it awarded to the university. Maybe the legislature did not pass the budget. Maybe parliament was dissolved and the caretaker government will not deliver funding until there is a new government. Maybe the university leadership suddenly announces a hiring freeze. Maybe the university had a natural disaster and needs to reallocate money to emergency repairs.

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  • I think that this is confusing two issues: one thing is the PI telling you "you've got the job", which means that you can stop looking for jobs and start looking for an apartment near the university. Another thing is the formal job offer from the university, which can only come from HR. Of course the verbal offer can fall through because of funding, etc., but the OP is asking about the PI changing its mind.
    – Cheery
    Sep 14, 2023 at 15:11
  • @Cheery That's addressed in the fourth sentence. I do not agree that these are separate issues. Sep 14, 2023 at 17:24
  • There is no funding issue, rest are all assured. I am only worried about the PI, nothing else.
    – Yohana
    Sep 14, 2023 at 17:51
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I've had "unofficial" offers before. But that was a few days after the interview. The professor told me that the HRs take forever to process and wanted to know if I was interested. I told the professor that I wanted to read a formal contract before accepting. This was a university in the UK. The professor turned out to be nice and a trustworthy person - no problems there at all. That said, a communication from the HR on a letterhead is always a reliable offer.

It's unheard of, that a professor would bluff about a postdoctoral position. Finding a postdoc position itself is a difficult task, given the number of PhDs graduating every year, bluffing an offer would come across as sadistic at the best. Would the PI change their mind ? You said there are no funding issues. I don't know if you got the verbal offer after an interview. However, if you haven't applied yet then the professor should advert the job and conduct an "open" search. Some countries expect the University to advertise for atleast 30 days min (I think UK does that), in order to sponsor immigration - I don't know the country specific rules. If a person with a better set of skills do apply, then the professor has to make an offer to them. Universities do not like to give postdoc jobs without an ad, nepotism being one of the issues.

It's not uncommon for a professor to contact a potential candidate and ask them to apply or make a "verbal" offer. One of the reason could be that they read your paper somewhere and contacted you or your PhD advisor or sat through a conference talk you gave somewhere. All of these can happen. Professors look for talented people. That said, nothing is stopping you from applying elsewhere, incase things go south. Even if you accept a verbal offer, I don't think you are legally bound unless they type the contract and ask you to accept it (I'm not a lawyer).

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