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I've gotten myself in a tricky situation.

Before finishing my PhD I applied to several positions, both faculty and postdoc. I received offers for a postdoc position at one of the top universities in my field and an tenure-track faculty position at a good university with a very good salary. Since I really wanted to do a postdoc, I asked to defer the faculty position for one year and it was accepted. They made it clear however that they could only "reserve" the position for 1 year, any further delay would cancel the appointment.

Few months into my postdoc, we found out my wife is expecting and the baby (our first) will arrive the month I'm suppose to move to the new uni. This means that during the final month we would need to search for house in another country, have the baby, arrange for the move, prepare for the new position, move the newborn baby to a new country, find new doctors, etc. I cannot move alone (and don't want to) since it will be too hard on my wife (we have no family in either countries).

My current lab offered to extend the postdoc for another year. However, I would need to back down from my agreement with the other uni. Will this kill my opportunities for a faculty position the years to come? Will it put me in the spot of explaining at every future application that I'm not a badly educated person?

P.S.: just for the record, I was/am really looking forward for the faculty position and I'm not happy that I'll have to do the whole interviewing procedure again...

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    Why not move sooner? Is it really impossible to move when nine months pregnant? – Anonymous Physicist Oct 20 '15 at 23:32
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    @AnonymousPhysicist It is not impossible, but it will be hard (pregnant women cannot fly during the last few months, so sooner would be ~2-3 months earlier). Also, there is an insurance issue, finding a new doctor/birth clinic, getting acquainted with the new country's healthcare system, etc. It would significantly increase the stress on my wife and the baby (and myself). – electrique Oct 20 '15 at 23:41
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    A tenure track position at a good university, with a very good salary, at a place you are looking forward to moving to, is a bit like a unicorn. Do you realize how fortunate you are? This could be the place where you happily and productively spend the next 20-30 years. I do not mean to belittle your current problems involving your wife's pregnancy and family situation, but I advise doing your best to find a solution that doesn't involve giving up the position if at all possible. Such offers do not show up everyday, and you may easily not have such luck with your next TT job search. – Dan Romik Oct 21 '15 at 0:36
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    In your comments on the other answers you act as though you are only asking about backing out of the position as a last resort, but the wording of the postscript "I'll have to do the whole interviewing procedure again" makes it sound like you have already made up your mind that you will decline the faculty appointment. – Gabriel C. Drummond-Cole Oct 21 '15 at 8:03
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    @electrique Kudos to you for taking the birth of your first child very seriously, but consider also the long-term benefits to your family of accepting this position. There may be difficulties in the short term for you and your wife, but you can get through them, and the baby won't even know about them. I'd re-evaluate the option of moving earlier (healthy pregnant women can fly safely at 36 weeks ). – barbecue Oct 21 '15 at 21:31
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I suggest contacting the department that hired you (the department chair and/or a few colleagues you trust) and explaining the problem. If it is a good university in a developed country, it is almost certain they would have all kinds of resources (both formal and informal) that you are not aware of to help new faculty members with issues related to their relocation, e.g., housing, health insurance and health care, moving arrangements, and other relevant things to ease your transition. They may also be able to rearrange your teaching to allow you not to teach the first semester, so effectively you could arrive on campus a few months after your initial appointment date. This could be done informally or as part of the institution's official policy for parental leave. My institution for example has quite generous policies for such things, so you may be pleasantly surprised at how flexible they can be.

Remember, your new department hired you, so they are probably just as eager to see you joining them as you are to be joining, and would be just as disappointed if you don't come. Will the move be stressful? Of course, any move is stressful, certainly between countries and with a family. But when you weigh the short-term difficulties against the very long term benefits from taking this dream position, I think it is a no-brainer (at least given the information you've provided in the question). Good luck!

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    This is sound advice. You need to voice your concerns to them, and you are not the only faculty member that will have/has had children. As thus, it is more than likely that they will be accommodating hopefully. – user42055 Oct 21 '15 at 1:46
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    Dear @DanRomik, indeed my first and main course of action will be to find a solution where I can keep the job. That is, I will talk to the head of the department and the dean, I'll involve the HR, etc. This question is about the worst case scenario: If after all these I still have to back down from the agreement, I would like to know the consequences of doing so, in order to define the limit of "inconvenience" I am willing to accept. – electrique Oct 21 '15 at 7:15
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    I see. Well, I guess the point I was trying to make in my comment and answer is that in the worst case scenario, the main negative consequence to you is the loss of the job itself, and that is already bad enough that it seems to override all other secondary negative effects. But, if you are insisting (as it seems that you are) on setting that aside and focusing on the other effects of such a decision, then I would say: 1. You will very probably hurt your chances at being considered favorably again for a job at the same institution. ... – Dan Romik Oct 21 '15 at 7:39
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    ... 2. At other institutions, probably (one can never know for sure) you will not hurt your chances too badly, as long as you take the utmost care to avoid the perception that you acted unethically, meaning that you are able to convincingly explain that you bailed out on your job commitment only as a last resort and effectively had no other realistic choice. Be prepared to explain yourself - it will very likely come up (so the answer to your "will this put me on the spot..." question is Yes, though that may not be a problem if you are patient and have a good explanation). – Dan Romik Oct 21 '15 at 7:40
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    The bottom line is, people usually understand that sometimes there are extraordinary circumstances that can force someone to make a decision that normally would be considered unacceptable. So do your best to avoid breaking the commitment, but if you absolutely have to, my guess is you will probably be okay. – Dan Romik Oct 21 '15 at 7:44
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I can only repeat what @DanRomik said in his comment. Tenure track jobs at good universities are rare. There is no guarantee that you will get such an opportunity again.

I understand that the situation is inconvenient, but it is not impossible. In particular, many problems can be solved if you're willing to consider spending money. For example, don't buy a house but simply rent the first apartment you find for a year; pay for your parents or your in-laws to travel and stay with your wife for as long as is necessary; pay a company to move all of your stuff; etc. Yes, all of this might cost you $10k or $20k, but that's a small down payment overall on your salary over the next 20-30 years. Don't be afraid to spend money if you can justify it as a really good investment to get a job you might not get otherwise.

  • Dear Wolfgang Bangerth, as I said to @DanRomik above, my first course of action will be to make all possible to keep the position (thanks for the nice ideas). Nevertheless, there are many twists in life. This question is about the worst case scenario: If after all these I still have to back down from the agreement, I would like to know the consequences of doing so, in order to define the limit of inconvenience I am willing to accept. – electrique Oct 21 '15 at 7:22
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    You might never get another faculty position as good as this one. You're probably not going to be considered a flake in the community as long as you can explain your reasons well, but you're certainly not going to get another offer from this one department if you turn them down. – Wolfgang Bangerth Oct 21 '15 at 10:35
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You asked whether staying in the post-doc instead of starting the job you accepted would kill your opportunities for a faculty position in years to come. "Kill" is a strong word, and job offers depend on many things, including publications, research area, references, departmental politics, and special skills (advanced statistics, e.g.) It won't mean that you'll never get another offer, but it could mean you won't have an offer for the following year. There might not be any suitable openings.

It could affect your reputation and tip the scales against you, too. This is because having a baby is not on the list of "Acceptable Reasons to Back Out of a Tenure-Track Position." Nothing is, except a better offer, and that's acceptable but not appreciated.

One of the most valued (or at least praised) qualities in junior faculty is a fiendish dedication to work, measured in time spent on campus. If anyone at the job school resented your not joining them, they'd have no trouble consructing a persona for you that is non-serious, overly-protective of your wife, and even irrational, by posing the question, "Who gives up a chance like this just because his wife is having a baby?" (Some people aren't keen on babies. At my first job, there were two women hired the year I was. One had a baby and took maternity leave during the second school year, and the other was to have a baby the summer that followed, with no need for maternity leave. The dean of our division, who was from my department, said to a table of 6 or 8 of us during lunch that the second woman had done the "wise thing, the moral thing" by timing her pregnancy for summer.)

You also wondered if staying back would put you in the spot of explaining at every future application that you're not a badly educated person. Your education will be evident on your CV. It might make you look like you're not dependable and not serious about your career, which is worse.

If you stay at the post-doc, I think an emphasis on the furtherance of your research there is a stronger way to frame the decision. When the baby problem arose and they offered you another year, you gave it a lot of consideration, and the opportunity to continue your research another year (at a top school) before having to take up the responsibilities of teaching seemed invaluable.

Although the job people said asking to delay by another year would kill the offer, you could explore the option of not teaching your first term and doubling up on teaching the second next one. You could move the moment the baby is born, and then, by arrangement, stay home a lot writing up what you'd done at the post-doc. Another possibility is wrapping up your lab work at the post-doc a month early, moving before the baby is born, and finishing the post-doc from the new location, collaborating on data analysis and writing.

  • Thanks for the input. I agree with most of the stuff you wrote. Indeed, spending a second "care-free" year as a postdoc would be nice. But I do believe I'm ready for the tenure-track position. However, you claim that nothing is a good excuse "except a better offer". Can this be true? I mean if I was to get a better offer from another university (probably meaning that I went for a formal or informal interview), is a better reason than having a baby? – electrique Oct 21 '15 at 16:11
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    @electrique, I think he meant it is a "better reason" not in the sense of "a more honorable reason" (which it surely isn't) but in the sense of "a reason more understandable to the average faculty member", i.e., more people imagining themselves in your shoes would see themselves backing out of a job acceptance because of a better job offer coming along than because of having a baby. – Dan Romik Oct 21 '15 at 16:18
  • Perhaps your answer is correct and some people in academia think this way, however many points are wrong. Too much time spent on work will actually decrease productivity, as many studies have shown. The attitude that having a baby (especially if it is the mother) should not or will not impact tenure, is also unrealistic and wrong. – daaxix Oct 22 '15 at 22:07
  • I meant to describe the prevailing attitudes and likely reactions the asker would face in The Great Competing, but not to indicate that I like them. I left an assistant professor job, which felt like jumping off cliff, and went to grad school again in a field where my first degree was helpful, and a door-opener. – DesdeCuando Nov 3 '15 at 13:25
  • By the way, I think we agree about the value of ostentatious hour-logging. I wrote “one of the most valued (or at least praised) qualities...” (emphasis added). I meant that no one really cares how many hours you work, as long as your work is good, but being perceived to work hard shows that you yearn to earn tenure in the department, which is a way of praising senior faculty, for which they will praise you and give you sweets. – DesdeCuando Nov 3 '15 at 13:51

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