Last year I got one tenure-track job offer and accepted it, even though I wasn't thrilled about the position. The institution allowed me to defer my start date by a year, so that I can complete a postdoc. I fully intended to start the job when I signed the offer.

Now, several months later, I received a tenure-track offer from a top institution with resources and benefits that can never be matched by the institution that is currently waiting on me.

I understand it is unethical for me to bail on Institution 1. At the same time, I only have one life and one career and don't want to sacrifice my prospect for loyalty to an institution where I haven't even started working.

What would you do?

EDIT: What are the range of professional consequences I can expect if I switch to the new institution?

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    I understand it is unethical for me to bail on Institution 1. ethicist here, I don't fully understand why you think this is unethical. / But the question is not a good fit here, because What would you do? = asking a bunch of strangers on the internet to make a decision only you can make based on reading 3 or 4 sentences of description (switching to 100 sentences only transforms the problem to skimming quickly 100 sentences).
    – virmaior
    Sep 13, 2017 at 11:23
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    No offense, but I wonder how someone who is offered a "tenure track position from a top institution" cannot make this decision and goes on the internet to find out how to handle the situation... Sep 13, 2017 at 11:28
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    You signed something. So the problem is less what is unethical, but what is written in that contract about how to get out of it.
    – skymningen
    Sep 13, 2017 at 11:31
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    Jerry you should change the last question to " What are the range of professional consequences I can expect if I switch to the new institution?" It is more objective and people can better help you.
    – Dawn
    Sep 13, 2017 at 12:39
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    @virmaior In Stack Exchange language, "unethical" seems to mean "might annoy at least one person." As a non-ethicist, I'd say this one comes closer to ethics than most questions on this site that use the word (e.g., 1, 2, 3). Sep 13, 2017 at 14:05

1 Answer 1


Be upfront, be polite, and be quick. First make a decision if you really want to accept the second offer. If, so make sure you sign the contract with the institution that made the second offer. At that point, inform the institution who made the initial offer ASAP and let them know in the most polite way that you cannot follow through with the contract you have signed. It will be painful and embarrassing and there is no way to avoid this situation. Then you will feel relieved and can start with the new job.

The institution you dumped might still be able to contact other candidates who were shortlisted. I do not see any other way of handling this, other ways will involve making some excuse and later they would find out that you are at a different institution. Better be embarrassed now and save face later.

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