I am most likely leaving my permanent position at my current university for a permanent position at a new university. I have been given an unofficial offer and we have agreed to terms. I have been told it could take over a month to generate an official offer and contract and that I should not give notice until then. I would prefer not to broadcast the news widely since nothing is set in stone until I am given the contact. Obviously I do not care that much since I am asking here.

In the few days I have known, I have told:

  • My current department chair since he wrote a reference and my other references
  • A couple of close colleagues since I valued their opinions
  • A collaborator in my department since we were beginning to to write a grant together since the move, it is international, would cause major problems
  • I am now faced with having to turn down a prospective graduate student which would require me to tell at least the head of our graduate admissions committee and maybe the whole committee

I am clearly failing at keeping it quiet. How do you not screw over your colleagues, but still keep the job change quiet until it is official?

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    Congratulations! That is great news for you. I think you're doing everything right in this case. In my own history, the same happened and I told pretty much the same group of people. I think the only thing is that University B doesn't want you to post on FaceBook before all of the paperwork is finished.
    – RoboKaren
    Feb 3, 2015 at 20:01
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    Ideally I would hold off telling anyone (except significant other) before having a formal offer in hand, no matter how tempting. Experience suggests a good rule of thumb: there is no offer until there is a formal offer on paper. Anything else (no matter what) is not official. Strange things happen in the twilight zone between the almost-offer & formal offer on paper. In this case, especially since the move is international, you would have had a few weeks after receiving the formal offer to notify folks at current work. With this approach your dilemma would be a non-issue. Good luck!
    – A.S
    Feb 3, 2015 at 21:31
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    @Aymor so you would accept a new PhD student and become CI on a grant knowing that it is likely that you are going to leave. That seems more likely to cause issues than saying I might leave and then not leaving.
    – StrongBad
    Feb 3, 2015 at 22:07
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    "If you would keep your secret from an enemy, tell it not to a friend." - Poor Richard's Almanack
    – Aaron Hall
    Feb 3, 2015 at 23:21
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    Might you simply tell the grad student that you had an interview, and might be changing jobs?
    – Anonymous
    Feb 3, 2015 at 23:25

2 Answers 2


This is common in academia. I think you have to be honest with everyone who might rely on you being at your current job in the future, let them know what stage you are at, and ask them to keep it to themselves until you get the official offer. You can only control what you say to others while asking others to respect your privacy in the meantime.

Suppose that you told everyone in your current department exactly what you have told us, and for some reason your new position falls through at this late date, what's the worst case situation you're worried about? It seems to me that, assuming your current job is held for you, your worst problems will be interpersonal with other faculty that resented your desire to leave. Is that it, or are you worried about some specific ramifications if word got around?

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    right, "need-to-know basis" is fine (and possibly the word you're looking for).
    – user18072
    Feb 3, 2015 at 21:14
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    Potentially, my question should have been, should I keep the job change quiet and not how to do it. I am not sure what I am worried about.
    – StrongBad
    Feb 3, 2015 at 22:09
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    I would keep it need-to-know and ask for discretion, but also not worry too much if word gets around. You've already told enough people that it might happen anyway. Unless your colleagues are awful, you can repair relationships if they find out but then it falls through.
    – Bill Barth
    Feb 3, 2015 at 22:12
  • I think this is common across most fields, not just academia. Whenever someone is in the process of a job change, there's a time to keep things under wraps. (As an aside, I often chuckle at sportscasters who get miffed when a coach won't give a straight answer about a potential change in jobs – what do they think the coach should say? The coach isn't going to make a premature announcement just to give a reporter a scoop.)
    – J.R.
    Feb 4, 2015 at 10:58
  • @J.R., in the non-academic world in the US, most people can be fired for looking for a new job (or wearing the wrong color socks, or almost anything else). This is why employees in general should keep their job searches quiet. I don't know how many faculty in the US work under contract vs. at-will, but either they can't be fired so easily or firing a professor mid-semester or mid-year just for looking for a job would be more disruptive to the department than a typical business. As such, faculty should be able to have a more open process.
    – Bill Barth
    Feb 4, 2015 at 16:09

"If you would keep your secret from an enemy, tell it not to a friend." - Poor Richard's Almanack

The wheels in academia turn slowly but with momentum. Nevertheless, I think it would be wise to not tell a single other person going forward that you want to leave for any reason.

If you need to turn down others, you should do so expressing your concern about your availability, or a desire to put what you can on hold for personal reasons. This weakens your position should you stay, but at least you don't give away your intentions to leave.

But you've already told your department chair. You mentioned in a comment that you are not sure what you are worried about. You're worried that you may not actually get the offer! And having set everyone else's expectations for the end of your continued work there, you possibly lose face and certainly have some difficulty resuming your relationships. And meanwhile, your department chair, who was perhaps anxiously searching for your replacement, now may be in a difficult position.

What's done is done, but going forward, I would not mention it to a single other person.

  • I generally agree, but might add that there is often less face-losing than we like to imagine. We are not nearly as important to anybody else (at least at work) as we are to ourselves. We often forget this, thinking that everyone minds our every misstep till the end of time. My experience suggests people might give it a thought on one or two occasions, but the world keeps turning and others' missteps will inevitably overshadow ours. Face is regained over time, which is on the face-loser's side. Everyone has their own problems to worry about; being mindful of this saves lots of self-worry.
    – A.S
    Feb 4, 2015 at 18:52
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    Some cultures care more about it than others, but I generally share your perspective.
    – Aaron Hall
    Feb 4, 2015 at 19:26

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