I accepted a postdoc offer back in January 2023. I signed a (presumably unofficial) contract that stated I would accept the position, and the offer was formal in every sense I know postdoc offers to be. My PhD is from a UK university, and the postdoc institution in based in Asia. My field is Mathematics/Physics.
The position initially had an advertised provisional start date of September, and my PhD program had an expected finish date of the end of September. These dates were discussed very early on (before my offer), where I was informed that their process takes around a month after me finishing my PhD. For this reason, we set a provisional (more realistic) start date of October/November, and I accepted the offer.
With a very small delay (around 1 week), I submitted my thesis at the beginning of October. I was in frequent discussion with their administration team regarding the on-boarding process, setting up my accommodation, sending the necessary medical documents, etc, from January until October. I then informed them about my viva date (one month after the thesis submission, which is quite quick in my field).
Some issues arose when they communicated that they needed the PhD certificate. In the UK, this usually takes at least 3 months after the award (which itself comes after the viva and any corrections). Having discussed this, we realised all these admin delays meant I likely wouldn't start the postdoc until February. Whilst this all very annoying, I have colleagues who graduated from my UK university before doing postdocs at the same institution in question, so I knew these delays were not uncommon. I had interacted with my prospective PI many times after these discussions.
Fortunately, some very new procedures had been set in place at my University such that an eletronic certificate could be issued within two weeks of the award date.
However, out of the blue I received an email from the professor who hired me, informing me my postdoc offer had been cancelled. The reason given was the later-than-planned start date. I quickly arranged a video call to try and sort any issues and also inform them that I could send the diploma much quicker than expected (in just 1 week time - this call happening at the start of December). He said that this still wouldn't work, and the postdoc offer had been cancelled. What's even more unusual is that our last communication was me informing him of my viva date, and him reassuring me that the delay would not cause any issues.
To me, and everyone else I've spoken to, this is extremely surprising and not the sort of thing that usually happens. It is also now too late for me to apply for new postsocs, not just for this academic year but for next year too. As such, it seems improbable that I can continue in academia. What's more, all my accommodation and living plans had been effectively set up around this new position.
An additional point: I understand that duties such as teaching or supervision would be impacted by a late start. However, my position does not include these. I also know this not to be a University policy of any kind, with colleagues in the same department joining in February after similar delays.
Some of the questions I have are the following;
- Is this at all heard of? My PhD advisor is equally shocked and at a loss.
- What decisions should I make going forward?
- If applying to new positions in the future, should I explain this unfortunate situation (as some explanation may be needed for gaps in my academic resume)?
Any advice or comments would be greatly appreciated.