In the academic world, how is work generally handled that has not been finished when an official contract ends? This is, I imagine, more the rule than the exception, for example when papers were submitted shortly before the end of the contract.

Is it common practice to "bill" (i.e. work within the work hours of) the new employer? That seemed ridiculous to me until I thought that the same situation of unfinished work will likely arise with the current employer also. Quite a number of academics, including me, are on short term contracts (< 1 year). Recently I had to sink about 1 week of work time into such a former unfinished work which of course delays my current project.

Is it expected that I work on it in my free time as a commitment to my former employer and see it as a personal mission to finish this work? Should I request a compensation for it?

  • How do you decide whether work for a given paper is "work for your previous employer" and not "work for your new employer"? What about requests by readers related to papers you wrote a few years ago, while still working elsewhere? Aug 20, 2017 at 16:46
  • @O.R.Mapper Well, if the new contract is paid from the budget of a specific project which should be completed within a well-specified deadline, I think that the distinction is pretty clear, and in this case I'd expect the new hire to work full time on the new task. Aug 20, 2017 at 16:51
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    @MassimoOrtolano: Working "full time" on one thing sounds like quite an unrealistic expectation in any academic context to me. At least, the boundary to what belongs to a given project and what doesn't can often be very blurry. Aug 20, 2017 at 17:05
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    Perhaps you can clarify the nature of the work (research, teaching, service, ???), and the nature of your job (faculty, postdoc, staff scientist, ???). A common case is that the "work" is an academic research project and that your job duties include pursuing your own self-directed research program - in that case, you simply continue working on the project as you see fit, considering it to be included in your research program and hence part of your duties. Aug 20, 2017 at 18:42

2 Answers 2


This is maybe handled differently in different fields, but in any case you should inform you new advisor that you have to finish work from your previous position and discuss how this should be handled. Here are some models that I know:

  • Often it is expected, that postdoc do some independent work, so using this time to finish work with another workgroup is totally fine is this case.
  • In case your new position does not allocate time to do such work, you should inform your previous advisor. You may offer to work in your free (i.e. "non-work") time and ask for compensation (e.g. using a special contract - in German this could be a "Werkvertrag" but I don't know an English translation).
  • Your new advisor may get "on board" of your started project, so that your work on the project also falls under your new contract.
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    In my field, new institutes are typically quite happy if e.g. half-written publications are finished in their work-time, seing that your affiliation/contact is the new institute. Such papers are often "double-counted": the old institute counts them as beloning to the old project (as specified in the acknowledgements) and the new institute counts them as they are the affiliation ;-) Aug 21, 2017 at 15:02
  • Upvoted especially for the first item. At least the way I observed things, being funded from/assigned to one project has nothing to do with working only for that project. It means that you are responsible for getting the contractually agreed upon tasks done for the project, but beyond that, no-one can or should restrict what you do with the remaining time research-wise. But maybe that is something more prevalent in highly collaborative fields where everyone co-authors something with everyone at some point, thereby kind-of bridging (read: ignoring ;) ) any project boundaries. Aug 22, 2017 at 7:25

Whatever you do, keep the new employer satisfied. I.e., do your full task at the new institution. Only if you feel you can succeed in that, do something else in parallel. Otherwise, consider your previous tasks wasted.

(Earlier, I did my old tasks only after 6 p.m., but I was alone then and could afford that until I really discovered I need to do sports from time to time after 6 p.m., better daily. You can also take holidays for finishing your old tasks, but when do you recover from sitting activity?)

Honestly, this approach is unfortunate and discouraging. It is temping to do it differently, postponing your current task. However, given one of the Murphy-law conclusions that everything takes longer than you think, this approach pays off in the long run. Try to organize your work in such a way that you are completely done with what you wanted to personally accomplish by the time your contract ends.

In some cases your new and old tasks overlap or, more generally, you could sell your old tasks as contributing to the new ones. I some cases, you could involve your employer into your old tasks and make him/her profit from it. In some cases, you could make your new employer live with the fact you have some work to finish after discussing the matter with your new boss. However, these are all not general cases.

Now, regarding paper writing, it is difficult. Your new employer need not finance your conference travel regarding your old paper, for example. Personally, I would consider not being the lead author of any paper for which you are on short-term money. Let someone else with a longer contract take care about such papers.

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