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I've found a call for PhD students or data scientists at a certain university. The instructions were very clear that applications would be accepted until Oct 12th 2023, and only then they would be reviewed.

However, around Oct 8th 2023, when I was going to send my application, I've noticed that the page for the call had been removed. I've managed to search the university's website and found that there was a listing of all open positions at the university, so I got the e-mail address I needed and sent it anyway.

Needless to say, I didn't even get a reply saying that that application was received nor if I was rejected, leaving the impression that the position was already occupied even before the deadline for applicants ended.

I've been spending endless hours gathering all the documentation, writing motivational letters, convincing former supervisors to give their names as reference and I feel it's extremely unfair to do so. I'd like to do something about it. However, I also understand that someone's probably already working on the project, and even if I am a better fit, little will be actually done about it.

What would be the mature decision here? I'm unsure whether the position have been cancelled or filled. Either way, I'd like to get in touch with them and see this through without damaging any possibility of applying for another new position in the future.

Also, as a follow-up question: is it common to have things like this happen, completely out of the original time table?

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    Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Academia Meta, or in Academia Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed. Please avoid posting answers in the comments section.
    – cag51
    Oct 28, 2023 at 17:22
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    Where in the world is this? Oct 30, 2023 at 14:55

8 Answers 8

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The instructions were very clear that applications would be accepted until Oct 12th, and only then they would be reviewed. However, around Oct 8th, when I was going to send my application, I've noticed that the page for the call had been removed.

Unlike other people, I do think it is somewhat unethical to do this. Dozens of people might have been spending long hours crafting their applications.

If something changed so that the position was no longer available, the university should have posted an apology. For example, perhaps they could edit the page to put a message at the top, and disable the Apply button. If the system does not allow this, perhaps they could post messages to the relevant mailing lists, or think of some other way of doing it.

But as the person who was writing an application, there is not much you can do. It would be OK to ask why it was taken down. But make your message very concise and clear, and don't sound like you are complaining.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Academia Meta, or in Academia Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – cag51
    Oct 30, 2023 at 0:12
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You have no basis for appeal, and no basis for saying anything is unethical here. Sorry.

You haven't been treated unfairly. The position is no longer open at the moment for reasons you don't know. Yes, it might have been filled. It might have been put up in error. The money might have disappeared. Someone who was expected to leave is now staying. Lots of possibilities.

But they were wise to take down the notice if the job isn't still open. Much better than to string people along thinking that they have a chance that they really don't.

You can enquire why it was taken down, but you have no basis for making a change to the situation, so an "appeal" is not possible.

Your timeline also suggests that the notice had disappeared already when you sent your mail, giving you even less basis for any appeal.

Sorry that you are disappointed, but you need to take constructive action for your career and this isn't it. Move on.


Let me also add, just for completeness, is that the withdrawal of the announcement might be a temporary thing while they reevaluate their needs and resources. If it appears again, you can apply again. But it would be worse if you complain to them and claim they are unethical.

Moreover, if you really think they are unethical, you should surely search elsewhere. I've worked at places that are, indeed, unethical in their process and it isn't fun.

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    Good answer. I think the most important thing to emphasise is that the asker does not know why the posting was taken down and jumping to conclusions is a bad idea. Oct 29, 2023 at 15:44
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    @toby544, what I would say is that they need to be honest with people who ask. But I'd also expect anyone with an interest who saw the ad disappear to ask. And for the others, they wouldn't likely see the apology anyway if they haven't looked again. Don't make it different or more complicated than it is. The OP saw that the ad had disappeared and there was no notice otherwise on the university's site and then, only then, made application. The OP can enquire, as I noted.
    – Buffy
    Oct 29, 2023 at 20:16
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    @Buffy You are not really answering my question, but I suppose it is clear that you think the answer is yes, it is ethically OK for the university to post no apology etc. I was not making things different or more complicated - you said there is "no basis for saying anything is unethical here," and I was disagreeing with that.
    – toby544
    Oct 30, 2023 at 8:38
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    This is a good answer. The only thing that is missing is OP apparently put in a lot of effort to make an outstanding application. Considering that this is going to nothing, maybe it is better for OP to put in some effort to make a decent application. If it gets tossed as apparently this one was then it does not matter how much effort was put in. If OPs application is reviewed it only has to be good enough to make the first cut - any effort above that is wasted.
    – emory
    Oct 30, 2023 at 14:38
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    IANAL but you seem very confident that this is true in all jurisdictions without knowing where the university in question is located. Oct 30, 2023 at 14:56
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Your frustration is justified and reasonable.

A job advert is an invitation to apply. This is an implied social contract, where both parties assume responsibilities and have expectations.

A University expects applicants to read job specification and send well-prepared applications tailored to the specific role, formatted under certain guidelines and often including material written specifically for this role. Applicants expect that their applications will be carefully evaluated and that the process is genuine and that applicants who meet selection criteria and have appropriate skills will be invited for the interview.

If University closes the job search earlier without warning, the effort of candidates is wasted and frustration is justified.

Compare it to invitation to a wedding. You bought a suit, you wrote a speech, and suddenly you are uninvited and the festivities go ahead without you. Is it unfair?

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    – cag51
    Oct 30, 2023 at 0:12
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I understand the frustration, but these things can happen for a variety of reasons.

Anyway, be proactive, it was surely not meant against you, so you should still keep a positive attitude and you should contact them telling that you saw the opening and you were planning to apply, unfortunately you did not complete the application in time but you are interested in similar positions coming up.

Maybe you will discover that they are still consdiering applications, but they prefer to keep a low profile for the opening. Or they will tell you when to apply for the next similar position.

There is only part that you can blame yourself: applying "late". Maybe the position was open since 3 months ago, and they were tired of receiving application from all over the world, so they pulled down the opening earlier.

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    If the consideration of applications is done on a rolling basis and the position can be closed before the deadline, the job advert should have explicitly say so. Otherwise, it is fair to assume all applications made by deadline will be considered. Oct 27, 2023 at 20:20
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    @DmitrySavostyanov I agree. But we still do not know why the opening was pulled down. Some zealant clerk in the administration? some academic overwhelmed by applications? all is possible, but nothing is helpful to OP situation.
    – EarlGrey
    Oct 27, 2023 at 20:27
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    We also do not know the actual wording of the posting (the whole posting). Just some snippets that may not be the actual words.
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 28, 2023 at 17:52
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The only then clause is odd. I have never added that myself to any job ads I put out, never seen anybody else do it, and it makes no sense that I can see to do it.

One can evaluate applications as they come in, collect them all and do them in batches, or any suitable combination thereof, but all of that is internal admin business. Saying "We promise we will sit on them and not look at any of them until after the closing date," really serves no purpose other than giving a late applicant a reason to feel hard done by when we decide to renege on that promise.

So if they really said that and actually filled the position (rather than, say, were unable to appoint anybody because an audit suddenly revealed internal fraud and froze all hirings - and yes, I have seen that happen more than once, in different institutions!), yes, then they have been unethical as well as pretty erratic, which probably means you dodged a bullet.

(Some further details: filling up a PhD programme is not the same as appointing for tenure track. For PhD students, it makes sense to make offers as good candidates come along, whereas for a permanent position you would want to wait past the closing date before you shortlist for interview, let alone appoint. If an institution deviates from these common sense guidelines, there may be more going on, and the ten-foot pole principle applies.)

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    Perhaps they wanted to signal that an early application or a late application was an irrelevant signal. It is a signal in some places (early applications, send at the earliest humanly possible time, are looked at more favorably). Oct 29, 2023 at 22:29
  • I agree on your verdict of "erratic", but "unethical"?!? I recommend you replace that vage bullshit term by a meaningful one, "immoral", and think again. Is it immoral to remove a job application?
    – Karl
    Oct 30, 2023 at 22:53
  • For PhD students, it makes sense to make offers as good candidates come along it's very common in some parts of the world for PhD programmes to have defined annual intakes. And in this case applications are reviewed all at once, after a set deadline.
    – MJeffryes
    Oct 31, 2023 at 10:55
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What would be the mature decision here?

Well, some might say it would be to assume you have no chance of being accepted + don't feel like trying to rectify the conduct of the university.

I would say you should at least ask what happened. But - obviously, the application email was insufficient to get a reply, so you should figure out where you could make a voice call; could be one of:

  • The intended PI.
  • The research group administrator.
  • The departmental secretariat.
  • The staff member in charge of Ph.D. admission/recruitment.
  • The department chair ??

Find the right person to call. Through this first person, find who was responsible for this recruitment process and contact that person. Then (or even on the first call) you can ask whether the posting was filled or whether the ad was removed for another reason.

Assuming it was just filled with an applicat through the ad - explain to them why this is a problem for applicants who had assumed they could submit at any time until the 12th, so that the process becomes unfair. If you were to make this call until the 12th or a little later, you could even request that additional applicants, including yourself, be considered (though it would be a bit of a long shot). at this point it's probably hopeless though, but at least you got to politely admonish them. Maybe they'll give it a bit more thought next time.

Important: In all such conversations:

  • Avoid raising your voice, and keep a slow and calm speaking tempo;
  • Avoid making strong accusations, and perhaps any accusations; prefer making suggestions or pointing out diffuse problems;
  • Avoid using harsh language (e.g. "I was robbed of my chance", "it is immoral to", "it cannot be tolerated" etc. - don't say that)

... not because that's what you should believe, but because you have no leverage over anybody and they might just cut off the conversation with an unknown person who's annoying them.

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Question not clear from your post (sorry, comments not active for me yet). I don't disagree with sone of above, but there seems to be some information not provided and a perspective not discussed You say the "ad" is taken down but you found the posting (and application link) still on the University website, correct?

IME (US, R1s mostly, including applying and hiring) - to me this sounds very common. Often there are only funds to post external ads for part of the job opening window (i.e. PhD applications we start advertising in August (informal), applications close Dec1, and the ad in Science magazine (and therefore scraped by Indeed, LinkedIn, etc) only up for October 1-31). The job ad then is now gone, but the posting is not closed (we just can't afford to pay the ad longer) perhaps this is the same for your application. If so, then if your application is in before the deadline it should still be considered as normal with no input from you. There are other scenarios, of course, depending on the exact wording but if you saw a paid ad somewhere this would be my most likely explanation.

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In some jurisdictions, universities are required to post positions online for at least 24 hours, regardless if it’s filled or not. That way, they’re not facing lawsuits about internal filling without public knowledge. Sorry it has to be like this but that’s life.

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