I recently finished my PhD and continued to work at the same department as assistant professor. Amid lack of funding, and other academic joys, the department went an extra mile to procure my contract and I was assigned to interesting longterm projects. So from the academic perspective I should consider myself very lucky (most people fight for an uncertain short postdoc position), and the conditions for work are quite good in comparison to other departments in the field.

However, just a few months into the position, I decided to leave academia altogether, exclusively for financial reasons. I always accepted some pay gap in comparison to the industry, but recently I run into a few former classmates from undergrad, visited their companies to discuss collaborations, but suddenly ended up in getting a few job offers in comparison to which my current position looks quite inferior. The difference in the salary leaves me no option but to accept one of the offers. Also, since this happened I became quite demotivated to work.

I am expected to start in a few months. What would be the best communication strategy to my department? Considering that they did quite a lot, and I am in a position which looks perfect to them.

Unfortunately stating upfront the financial reason would be awkward and probably not understood, as talking about personal finances in most academic settings is frowned upon, and there is a culture which expects people to be happy with the academic salaries.

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    In my humble opinion, telling the truth is the best way even you'll be frowned upon. No offence intended, you must accept the consequence for the decision you make.
    – Nobody
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 12:00
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    I would add to @scaaahu 's comment that (at least in the US) leaving academic and nonacademic jobs for better offers after a short period of time is relatively common. Some colleagues will be upset and some will be understanding.
    – Kimball
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 12:26
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    Have you actually signed a contract with the new job? Without a contract everything is just talk and talk is cheap.
    – Alexandros
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 12:26
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    Unfortunately stating upfront the financial reason would be awkward — Honesty is often awkward, but still necessary.
    – JeffE
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 15:09
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    it's country dependent but "They offered me far far more money" doesn't seem like an unreasonable reason to leave. You're not a monk. You're allowed to have hopes and dreams for your personal life. Discussing personal finance may be frowned upon but they all know that most of them wouldn't be there if they weren't getting paid.
    – Murphy
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 15:12

2 Answers 2

  1. Express that you have enjoyed working in your department. (Even if this is not entirely true.)
  2. Explain that you are only leaving because of an opportunity "too exciting to turn down." Don't volunteer exactly why it is exciting; if asked, talk about what you'll be doing, not what you'll be paid.
  3. If there's a way you can help the department while you're in industry -- serving on a committee, helping with accreditation, accepting an intern, things like that -- it would be kind of you (though it is not obligatory) to volunteer unasked.
  4. Keep your resignation letter short and cordial.

These tactics should suffice to keep your departure as amicable as it can be, assuming you're doing the normal things to minimize disruption (e.g. not leaving mid-term).

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    Points 1, 2, and 4 works for any situation, not just academia. Succinct, appreciative, and direct.
    – eykanal
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 15:53
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    OK answer but I think (3) implies way too much debt. You don't owe them your soul. You're free to leave. Leave means leave, it doesn't mean donate them free time and effort and money as some sort of tithe going forward.
    – user18072
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 19:43
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    @djechlin: I disagree. The OP mentioned that the department had gone the extra mile for them. While one shouldn't feel obligated to pat the department's back in return (certainly not as part of leaving), I think it would do well to keep doors open. If you've got a good relationship with people in academia OR industry, it often pays to maintain those contacts. Internships and accreditation help with your own brand and reputation. Lastly, a big perk to employing a PhD grad is that they are well-connected, and can thus offer the company some additional think-power from their friends.
    – jvriesem
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 2:17
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    This is exactly the answer I was looking for. Thank you.
    – Joe443
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 7:55
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    @djechlin Fair point; edited my answer to reflect that.
    – D.Salo
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 23:29

Winston Churchill, or perhaps it was Benjamin Disraeli, wrote: "Never apologise, never explain."

It is sufficient when resigning from any employment engagement to simply state that fact together with the effective date. A cordial thanks for the opportunities afforded at your present position together with an expression of appreciation for the colleagues that you have encountered there are customary when appropriate and are best omitted when not.

There is no requirement to provide any further details whatsoever. Offering vague platitudes respecting 'other opportunities' in their place simply state the obvious and often prove more awkward for both the writer and the reader than anything else.

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    I've found a short explanation is better than none. For example, "a deal I couldn't refuse, and exciting project with great pay" goes over a LOT better than no explanation. Give people something they can identify with. Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 16:37
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    Most people appreciate some kind of explanation. Perhaps you don't owe them anything, but they're still human beings, and they have helped out in the past. It's decent to give them a bit of explanation, it will make them happier. Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 21:24
  • It is my experience that most people change jobs for a number of conflated reasons. No one reason predominates except perhaps in retrospect. I deeply suspect that had the OP been given a tenure track position that the impetus to consider other opportunities would have been much diminished if not altogether absent. In my opinion this is the crux of his desire not to reveal the 'real' reason for leaving. It is not about the money in the end. This is really about the uncertainty of his future. In these circumstances the less said the better. Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 19:01

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