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I have a 3 year post-doc position at University A and also have been offered a 3 month post-doc position at Research Institute B. To be precise, the invitation letter from B is worded as follows:

We would like to invite you to spend three months at Research Institute B. For your research work in collaboration with the mathematical community at our Institute, we will offer you a monthly research grant in the amount of XXXX. By accepting this grant you do not become an employee of Institute B.

The position has a flexible time so I can go for any continuous period I like. I would like to accept the invitation and go during the summer so that it doesn't conflict with my teaching duties at A. However there will be a period of about one month of overlap. My idea is to commute during this month, as I only have to teach one day a week at A, and no teaching at B; and it's about a 5 hour train ride. So I could spend about 3 days out of 5 at B and the other two at A, for the period of overlap.

My question is: is it ethical for me to do this? Would I get in trouble with University A or Institute B, if either found out?

I have heard of someone doing something similar, but I don't know the details of how that worked, so I want to be sure that I wouldn't get into trouble for this.

  • It depends on country and subject, but it is generally heavily implied that in a postdoctoral position you are 100% committed to that one position. – Greg Feb 4 '17 at 18:21
  • Why not ask Research Institute B to only spend 2 months there? – tkr Feb 4 '17 at 18:33
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    If A doesn't give you leave for the whole month, or A and B both agree on this, then this is not only unethical but will most probably land you in trouble. Possibly legal trouble, depending on your grants/employment contract at A (?), but very likely that will be last grant you get. Word of such behaviour has a tendency to go round. – Karl Feb 4 '17 at 19:19
  • The original source of the funding might matter in addition to the opinions of A and B. For example, if you are in the US and both positions are being funded through the US government, even if the institutions would be okay with it the federal rules likely prohibit the arrangement. If one of the positions is funded by a different source of funding, then the institutions might be able to decide. – Bryan Krause Feb 24 '17 at 19:35
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As a department chair at a US university who has on various occasions negotiated these sorts of overlapping/adjacent postdoc arrangements with job candidates, I can tell you that at least in the US (and, I strongly suspect, in many other countries) it would be considered highly unethical to set up an arrangement of this sort without informing and getting the agreement of the directors/department chairs at both institutions A and B, and is very likely to get you into trouble if you are found out (an event which itself seems quite likely, although that is harder to estimate), with possibly very bad consequences for your career. You can be sure that the negative financial effects of those consequences (even assuming money is the only thing you care about, which probably is untrue) would be of a much greater order of magnitude than the extra money you are trying to squeeze out of your third month of stay at Institution B. And keep in mind that this is not just an ethical matter -- at my institution specifically you would certainly be violating some institutional policies, even if in a practical sense you would still manage to meet your teaching obligations. If you are somehow thinking that "it is better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission", please trust me -- this is not a situation where that saying applies.

In short, DON'T DO IT. Bring the department chairs and/or faculty mentors on board and see how they can help you achieve your goals. As I said, in my department we occasionally try to help postdocs combine their stay at my university with another short-term visit to another institution, and recognize that this can work to everyone's benefit, but it must be done honestly and with the full knowledge and cooperation of all involved parties.

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    Outside US it might not go up to board. For us it would be a fairly trivial matter of a professor agreeing that it is ok. The professor saying it is ok is enough for the chief of department to accept to pay for traveling which is actually handled by the secretary and the chief just signs it. – user3644640 Feb 4 '17 at 21:29
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    You mean to ask for travel reimbursement out of your grant at place B, right? Because as your boss in A, I'd probably hang you. – Karl Feb 4 '17 at 23:42
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    @Karl the reimbursement can come from whoever is willing to pay it. Please don't hang anyone, it's unethical :-) – Dan Romik Feb 4 '17 at 23:46
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    @Karl and Dan - I don't see where the OP said anything about seeking reimbursement for travel costs anywhere. – aparente001 Feb 5 '17 at 2:05
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    +1 Indeed. It may be ok to do what the OP requests, but only with clear - and written - permission of the institutions involved. Do not wing it. – Captain Emacs Feb 5 '17 at 8:51
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Grants are not like salary. It is completely unto the conditions of your grant. They can have a condition that makes overlapping grants impossible. But then, you could say no to grant from B and work there on grant A. It should be in your contract, and if not, then there should be no problem. Of course it is good to ask for a permission from your supervisor or such.

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I don't see much problem here as position in B is flexible. Actually, your bosses/department at A might be even happy to know that you has an opportunity to visit B not on their funding (since it is good collaboration-wise and, most importantly, they pay nothing for that :) There is an issue with your teaching duties at A but there should be windows in your teaching schedule. Another possibility is to formally ask A (i.e. your boss or head of department/faculty) for 3-month research visit to B --your postdoc funding at A can be postponed for three months (typically such postponing is very easy thing if one has a good reason, and making a research visit is definitely a good reason).

Regarding your questions: your suggested one-month overlap scheme with A and B is unethical. I expect that if A finds out that then there would be consequences: imo, you don't lose your three year funding even in the worst case scenario but overall impression in A about you would shift towards 'weird guy'. Indeed, what's the point in hiding a good thing?!

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