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Nowadays I am a second year assistant professor (without tenure) in physics at a German university (rank W1, Juniorprofessor), advising 2 PhD students.

Today, it came to me the information about a permanent position abroad (in Europe) and I am strongly considering applying for it.

My problem is the following: the selection process had just started now, and I will not know the decision until middle july. The preference in the new institution is to start the new position is September 2015 (which means that between the decision and the start is less than 1,5 months).

My questions are the following:

  1. At which point should I say something about this to my present institution: of course I do not know if I will be selected for the position, but I also understand that it is very bad for my present institution now to say them: "Well, I will leave the institution in one month."

  2. At which point should I explain my Phd students about this change: this is definitely my most important headache. How should I present this point to them, and more important - when? Do you think it is good that I tell them that I want to apply for this position?

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I would not tell anyone anything until you have accepted the position (ideally with a signed contract). Leaving a position on short notice leaves your colleagues in a bind to cover your teaching and leaves your graduate students (and possibly lab personnel) at risk. If you are given an offer, you may be able to negotiate solutions to these problems (or the offer may be made so late, that it is not an issue). It is not unheard of for graduate students to be allowed to transfer. Delaying the start date by a semester, even a year, is not uncommon. If the start date is not flexible, you may also be able to negotiate some sort of teaching buyout which will allow you to teach a reduced load at both universities for a semester/year with each university covering a portion of your salary.

The reason not to tell people is two fold. If the position falls through, you do not want to upset your colleagues. Telling your students also seems premature. They really little to no control over the situation and it is likely going to make them anxious.

In terms of control, the student can drop out immediately. By telling them early, you save them 2 months of "wasted effort". They can also work harder with the goal of graduating early. The 2 months additional warning time is not going to result in a significantly quicker graduation. Arranging alternative supervision is really out of the hands of the student and requires the current supervisor, the new supervisor, the department, and the funder all agreeing. They are not going to move quickly on the issue until the PI confirms he/she is leaving.

Not telling the student is not the same thing as not preparing the student. Hopefully, when you took the student on, you created a safety net for them (e.g., a second supervisor and alternative research paths). You should reconsider this safety net, alternative supervision, the key resources they need, and the time lines of their current and future projects. It is probably worth discussing aspects of the safety net and steering them into now (e.g., increased collaborations with a potential second supervisor and reducing the resources needed).

  • Thank you for the answer. In particular the advice concerning students is very important for me. – Gaussian-Matter May 19 '15 at 17:07
  • "teach a reduced load at both universities" seems infeasible, as the other institution is described as "abroad". – Ben Voigt May 19 '15 at 17:30
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    @BenVoigt According to the question the OP is currently in Germany and is looking at a position in "Europe". I know lots of people who have split time between the UK and Western European universities. – StrongBad May 19 '15 at 17:34
  • How common is it for graduate students to follow their advisor when they move in Europe? We had a whole lab move into our department from another university a couple years ago, and another whole lab move out about 5 years before that. Of course, moving from state to state in the US may be entirely different from moving country to country in EU. – user137 May 19 '15 at 22:45
  • @user137 that seems like a reasonable question. Why don't you ask it on the main site.. – StrongBad May 20 '15 at 0:33
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I've been in more or less the same situation, though with a slightly less strict time constraint. Here is what I've learnt/done:

  1. The timing of the move is negotiable. If they really want you, they'll wait 6 months or even a year. 1 1/2 months is completely unrealistic, and they know this.

  2. You may be able to have a part time appointment at your original institution. This will enable you to manage your students and projects there and facilitate a smoother transition. Avoid committing to doing any teaching. (This commitment may eventually become a real hassle, especially if you have small children you can't be away from for too long).

  3. Don't tell your students or colleagues until you know something for sure. And do what you can to take care of the students, such as finding alternative supervisors, funding at your new location, or money for them to travel to visit you (or vice versa).

  4. Check your university's regulations. I had to give 6 months notice before I could leave, though this was negotiable.

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    UK universities move fast in the hiring process. It is not uncommon to have job adverts that come out about now, with interview dates in mid July (which is when a decision is made) with the hope that they will start in September. More often than not they get people to start on short notice. – StrongBad May 19 '15 at 19:15
  • @StrongBad: That's amazing. The hiring process in Belgium and Sweden took many months. – Dave Clarke May 20 '15 at 4:33

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