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At my old university:

I was a visiting researcher at a university, working with my current advisor. My advisor got an offer to go to another university. He also offered me to join him at his new university.

I got an offer letter by the Admissions department of the new university for their PhD track. As the offer was lacking in multiple regards -- type of housing, healthcare, stipend rate, academic responsibilities, opportunities for internships -- I spoke to my advisor, Admissions and the dean of my department at the new university.

My advisor and the dean effectively agreed to fixing my concerns. These agreements were partly put on record. During that time, my advisor had not yet accepted his new position. (Maybe the dean just agreed to my concerns in order to land that hire.) I was invited for a short stay as a visiting researcher.

At my new university:

During that stay many of my concerns materialized. I voiced my concerns with my advisor, the respective administrative departments, and Admissions. My advisor reluctantly tried to change things, but mostly referred me to speak with other people.

This effectively led to a one-sided invalidation of my offer letter.

I spoke multiple times with my advisor and the dean. They still are of the opinion that they are bound by our agreement. However, they are now telling me that they are in no role to give orders to the Admissions department. The only two people who have this authority is one of the Vice Presidents and the President himself. The dean knows that this Vice President will side with Admissions. The President is shortly before his retirement and will not be present anymore.

Both my advisor and the dean made the impression that they can take care of my admission and fix my concerns. Now they are saying that even though these things were agree upon, they cannot do anything to fulfill their promises.

Current options:

My advisor offered me to work from another country as a remote contract worker with lower effective pay. That will of course not lead to earning a PhD.

Legal options are not available, as the university is located in a country with no court system.

How would one go forward with this situation?

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    What is your goal? – user2768 Jun 16 '17 at 14:54
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    " a country with no court system. " o.O – Fábio Dias Jun 16 '17 at 14:56
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    "Legal options are not available, as the university is located in a country with no court system." I am not a legal expert, but I don't understand why anyone would want to live in such a country, given the option to live and work elsewhere. Anyway, if the people who promised you things that made you take a job now regretfully tell you that they have no power to enforce their promises: well, that has got to be the best reason to leave a job I've ever heard. Think of what you are telling them by staying: breaking their promises and breaching their contract is okay with you. – Pete L. Clark Jun 16 '17 at 18:11
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    @Tom: You're right, of course. I should say that I get the impression that this is not the OP's home country or where his family lives. The first part of my comment should be understood in those terms. (I also am not aware of any country "with no court system". So it is not so easy for me to imagine growing up in one.) – Pete L. Clark Jun 16 '17 at 19:01
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    It seems like if you want to thrive in a system where the rules are made by the university without any other oversight, your only option is to go by those rules. You stood up for yourself and now the university doesn't want to deal with you. You already stated your options; none of those lead to what you say your goal is. If you want to do research and earn a PhD, you need to go someplace else. – Bryan Krause Jun 16 '17 at 20:29
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It may have been mistakes and over-optimism, not deliberate misleading, on the part of your advisor and the dean. If so, they should be feeling embarrassed at making promises they could not keep.

The contractor plan does not help with your goal of "Doing research and earning a PhD.". At most, it is a temporary stopgap, but accepting it may weaken your negotiating position when trying to get what you really need. You need to move to a university, possibly your old one, as a PhD student, not a contractor.

I suggest asking your advisor and the dean for help finding a PhD student position, including writing letters of recommendation and calling associates. That is the best way of compensating you for their unfulfilled promises. Give them something to do that is within their power, unlike keeping their original promises, but that will help you to your real objective, unlike the contractor offer.

Here is a way to get that discussion going:

Thanks for the offer of a contractor position. Unfortunately, that does not let me achieve my objective of research leading to a PhD. It does not seem that I will be able to do that here. Could you help me with finding a PhD position elsewhere? Do you know other researchers in [your area]? Could you make some phone calls to find out who can take me?

Before doing this, you also need to compare your situation if you continue as a PhD student with your current advisor to not having a PhD student position.

You might also review your advisor's and the dean's known contacts, such as their co-authors, advisors, former students, and people who had the same advisor at about the same time. If you can, identify professors on that list who you would like as advisor. That way you can specifically ask them to contact Professors X, Y, and Z about you.

If they do start helping you with your position search, remember to thank them, even if you feel they owe it to you. Always give positive reinforcement to behavior that benefits you. That will encourage them to go further down that line.

  • Mistakes and over-optimism on part of the advisor sound plausible. But on part of the dean? He has been at his university for a couple of years and one would think he thus knows what he can promise and what not. Wouldn’t that be deliberately misleading? – JAndersson Jun 17 '17 at 16:07
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    @JAndersson Maybe he was deliberately misleading. Maybe he expected more co-operation from Admissions or more active support from the president. In either case, treating it as a mistake lets them save face, and is more likely to result in active help fixing the problem by getting you into a PhD program. Accusing the dean of being deliberate misleading will put him on the defensive. – Patricia Shanahan Jun 17 '17 at 16:15
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    @JAndersson You need to pick one of two objectives: (1) research leading to a PhD (2) revenge/humiliation for your advisor and dean. Earlier, you indicated your main objective was (1). If so, do talk about mistakes in the passive voice, and don't waste time and risk defensiveness by attributing the mistakes. – Patricia Shanahan Jun 18 '17 at 1:05
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    @JAndersson No, if the difference between the promises and the actual outcome is sufficiently big, rationally explaining it will make your advisor and the dean feel horrible (probably justly so) and that will almost certainly result in emotional defensiveness, if I know people at all. – sgf Jun 18 '17 at 17:56
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    @JAndersson My point is that if what they did to you was really really bad, which making someone study in a place like Saudi Arabia under false pretenses is, it's often a smart idea to show them that they made your life difficult, but there really is no point in showing them just how difficult. What you want to do is make them understand that they put you in a rough spot and to give them a way out by telling them how they can help you, not to make them understand just how bad what they did was. – sgf Jun 18 '17 at 22:06

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