I'm a post-doctoral research fellow and I've just been offered another post-doc position at another university. I still have a year and a half left on my original contract, but it's not going as well as I'd hoped and ultimately is not going to lead me to a place I want to be in my career. The new position is at a better lab with many more PhD students to work with, somewhat less research freedom but more resources and support, and also genuine guidance to prepare for life as a professor. As an added bonus, the new position is in the same city that my partner lives in, and we will be able to live together.

The problem is, for the sake of professional etiquette, I can't tell my current advisor that this position was offered to me, as my new advisor doesn't want to be seen as poaching a post-doc from another university. I don't want to burn any bridges or cause ill-will at my current position. I'm at a bit of a loss now, trying to figure out how to approach a conversation with my current advisor to tell him I'm leaving, and I would really appreciate some advice!

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    Is the other Prof. poaching post-docs? Or were you looking around? Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 14:07
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    I was looking around as I am not particularly happy at my current position. Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 14:09
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    Can you clarify how long you are required to keep your new position as a secret from your current employer? If it's indefinitely, then that is obviously an absurd restriction. And if it's only for a few months, then I'd say it is still an absurd restriction, although for a different reason. Either way, I see some serious ethical problems with what your new advisor is asking you to do.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 0:37
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    "my new advisor doesn't want to be seen as poaching a post-doc from another university" -- what's the plan, are you supposed to pretend that you first quit the old post (with no job lined up at all), and then later applied for the new one, when in fact the sequence was the opposite? Sounds like a tough lie to sell, just so your new supervisor can't be accused of the supposed crime of offering a job to someone who already has a job but applied for a different one. That's what happened, and it'll probably be fairly obvious that's what happened to anyone who thinks about it. Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 1:50

3 Answers 3


I changed from one unfinished postdoc to start a new one. In your list of reasons, there is one that easily trumps all others:

the new position is in the same city that my partner lives in, and we will be able to live together.

Tell your current advisor that you are moving to another postdoc so you can live with your partner. Any remotely humanoid advisor will understand and accept that. The reason for my move was exactly this.

All your other reasons are less important, and may be interpreted as implicit criticism of your current place. Since you have the two body problem, you can move without mentioning any other reason.

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    @WoolyJumper I think it is generally accepted that people can change their minds based on people they love, just as easily as jobs they thought they would love. Different people have different priorities, and I think @ gerrit answer is reflecting well the understanding that this happens Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 15:23
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    @WoolyJumper - over the course of a year or more, people have been known to decide that they really want to be in the same city rather than remain separate. Priorities change, people move, and it does sound like this aspect was important, even if not the sole reason.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 15:47
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    One could also suggest that the OP does not have to provide any reason at all. And, certainly, not a laundry list of all the things that bug him/her (I hate the color of the fridge in the lab...). So, are they trying to provide feedback (does the current place want the feedback?), or be polite and leave on good terms? Only the OP can answer that.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 16:25
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    Ideally, I'd like to be polite and leave on good terms. Also, I'm not satisfied with the position now, but I may have stayed longer before moving on if she were not a very important factor in the decision. I should mention that I've already been in this current position for a year. Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 16:34
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    "All your other reasons are less important" -- well, the phrasing in the question, "as an added bonus" suggests that in fact they are not less important, and that the questioner at the moment would be prepared to live away from the partner if it was a significantly stronger career move to do so. But even if it's an exaggeration (or an outright lie) to claim this as the most important reason, as you point out it's nevertheless effective because it's highly plausible and it's untestable by the current supervisor. Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 1:45

Unless you are living in a country I've not heard of, post docs are employees like an other and are under no obligation to work until the end of their contract. Just hand in your notice as soon as, but not before, you have a new job.

By all means give your current boss a reason for quitting but if you don't want to don't sweat it, they'll have some plan to spend the money.

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    But surely you recognize that academia is not exactly a workplace like any other (which is why the question is posted here rather than on Workplace.SE), right? So, I'd say your answer, though it contains elements of truth, is too generic to be very helpful to the OP.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 0:33
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    Actually, I spent 20 years in academia as a postdoc and PI trying to convince people that academia is just another job and that it must work properly in the modern world.
    – Ian Turton
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 10:42

I would suggest talking to your current and future supervisors about a solution that works best for everyone. Trying to keep the new position secret from your current advisor is silly since he/she is going to figure it out when you start the new position. For example, it might be best if you split your time between the two projects for the next 6-12 months. This way you could wrap up your current work and get a head start on the new project. You might be able to work in the new location with only occasional visits to your current lab (thereby solving the 2 body problem). Maybe your current advisor or the new advisor has no flexibility, but if you do not ask, you will not know.


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