I have received a postdoc offer from a world famous university (ranking ~ 60 worldwide) early June and accepted the offer via email. The university helped me applied for the visa an I have obtained the visa. The hardcopy of the contract, however, has not been signed. in early Aug. I received another interview from a top university (top 3 by some ranking) and got another offer. I have emailed the supervisor in the latter university and explained my situation and his idea is that it is OK to change to his offer since the work has not started. Is it OK to tell the first supervisor about my condition and ask whether he could permit my turning down on his offer?

  • 2
    Why do you feel you need permission to turn down the original offer?
    – Repmat
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 16:42
  • 3
    From a legal point of view, it is absolutely ok to turn down the offer. It is more a moral dilemma (The kindness and trust in you of first institution vs. your better career chances at second institution) which you have to resolve on your own. You have to reflect on your values. Probabyl answers to other questions help: * academia.stackexchange.com/questions/15972/… * academia.stackexchange.com/questions/16063/…
    – Heinrich
    Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 4:53
  • Absolutely okay.
    – Coder
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 4:17

4 Answers 4


While it may be legally OK, if your field is a small one, there may be damage to reputation as word of you withdrawing from an informal acceptance propagates.


It is legally fine to turn down your offer as you didn't sign anything (as @Heinrich pointed out) but it may seem different from an ethical point of view. Then again this view does differ from one person to another.

Technically, there is no right or wrong answer for your particular question. In the end, the decision is to made with respect to your values and your future.


If we are talking about moral aspects, was it ethical to apply for another position on the first place? If the OP has no problem of applying for a second position after receiving the offer, there should be no problem of turning it down. But why not base the decision not on the university ranking, money, country, etc., but on the topic of research, expertise each group has and prospects of further growing up scientifically.

  • How do you know that the OP applied for the second position after he received the first offer? It could easily have taken a few months for the second university to make the offer. Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 13:35
  • Yes, that's the case, I in fact applied for the second offer position earlier.
    – NoWhereMan
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 8:04

Life goes on. Think ahead 10 years and ask yourself who's going to care. If someone is going to hold a grudge that long then you wouldn't want to work for them anyway. Take the new job. Unless its in my old lab. Don't do that to yourself ;-)

  • 1
    As a general rule, "If they won't care about it in 10 years from now, it doesn't matter" is a terrible way to decide about something that could potentially affect your reputation and your standing in the academic community in the short term.
    – ff524
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 4:39

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