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cecil burrow

Outside of academia, this sort of thing happens all the time and is not regarded as unethical. The idea that in academia where the pay is lower we should have higher standards is laughable.

its a job

It is a job market, so treat it as such. Do what is in your interest. BUT with that said, the department that gets abandoned for a better position will likely NEVER consider you again. The considerate thing is to tell them as soon as possible so that they can get a replacement. These things are not easy - they may not be able to just ask the next person on their list. As the search was closed when someone accepted it, they may have to run an ad, etc. This is costly and inconvenient (hence, do not think they will love you).


Except for a very few strange cases, I would say that withdrawing from a post is absolutely fine if (but not only if - there are other good reasons too) the other offer is: longer (by any amount over a month or two); has better terms (i.e., research over teaching, or teaching over research depending on your interests); has a clearer sense of being renewable/made permanent; is in a location that is better for family/responsibility reasons.
Withdrawing one year VAP for a two year post doc? Definitely fine.
(I would also say that anyone that seriously blames a candidate for withdrawing from a likely overworked VAP position when there is another post that the candidate thinks is better in any sufficient way, needs to ask themselves some serious questions about why they are trying to place demands on vulnerable people and not asking why their university won't fund a longer term VAP or one with better conditions or a permanent job).

Assistant Professor

If hiring departments don't want people to accept offers only to withdraw their acceptance if they get. better offer then they might consider making a reasonable timeframe in which people are able to consider an offer and to have an open conversation with a candidate about their other pending interviews/offers in order to develop a timeline for response that can accommodate those.

being moralistic today

I think it would be morally wrong to not accept the better position. You would be violating a duty towards yourself. You would also be giving up an opportunity to tell departments that if they want to keep people, they should make better offers or open better positions.

not a fool

being moralistic today is exactly right. There are strong deontological and consequentialist reasons for accepting the better position.

In fact, there are reasons related to virtue, as well. Is the two-year postdoc more in line with your career goals and aspirations? Are you more likely to develop the traits the lead to a full, excellent human life by taking the two-year postdoc? Then you should take it.

OP asks: would it be viewed negatively, if you backed out of the one-year job to take the two-year postdoc? Yes, but only by fools.

Bill Vanderburgh

We owe very little to our employers, even less to potential employers for whom we are not yet working. It is your life, and your career: Make the decision you think best for you. Sure some people might be slightly inconvenienced, but that is just life. (BTW, if they only wanted you for a VAP it was already VERY unlikely they would later have hired you TT, so even if they won't ever consider you again, that isn't a loss to you.)

If you would stay at the first place if conditions were better, you can always say: "Hey, I just got this other offer, can you do x or should I go there?" That is unlikely to yield anything, but if they do go to the trouble to offer you something competitive, I'd say you should then take it. So don't ask if nothing would make you stay.

Derek Bowman

I hope regular readers of this blog will forgive me for repeating the same anecdote I give every time this question comes up:

During my last year as VAP, my university employer unilaterally backed out of a *signed contract* for two semesters of teaching, after they determined that, by their policies, I was only eligible for one more semester as a VAP.

Employment agreements are business relationships with corporate entities, and the usual norms of person-to-person agreements do not apply. Be sensitive to the way in which your decision affects others, but in general - and especially with NTT offers - the stakes to you are so much higher than the stakes to other affected parties. It would be unreasonable (in both a colloquial and a contractualist sense) for anyone to expect you to honor such an agreement to your own detriment.


I hate to be the puritan here, but the comments suggest there's no dilemma and I don't think that's right. There is a timing question: if you withdraw at a point where it is too late to fill the position you've abandoned, you won't only be affecting an impersonal corporate entity. You'll have cost someone a job who could have really used it in this market.

That doesn't mean it's wrong, all things considered, to take the second offer. But it means it's better to do so when there's still time for the first post to replace you.

cecil burrow

To address Kapto's point, I have seen people hired so late that I wonder if there is actually such a thing as a time you could withdraw such that you wouldn't be promptly replaceable. I don't see any moral dilemma here.

Trevor Hedberg

As someone who was on the job market for an extended stretch from 2016 - 2022, I can certainly empathize with the notion that applicants owe nothing to their potential employers in the context of the academic job market. However, I am also aware of cases where searches failed because candidates pulled out of jobs very late in the process. Sometimes, especially at smaller institutions, those searches are not always done the following academic year, and the funding line for the job can be lost. I don't think that's sufficient to say a candidate is doing something wrong by withdrawing from a post they have initially accepted to take a better offer, but it is certainly something to be weighed in the deliberations. The potential institutional costs for withdrawing from a VAP or other NTT position are much lower, though, since those are positions they expect to search for frequently and since the searches are often much less costly for the institution to do. VAPs and other NTT jobs usually just have one interview stage and do not feature campus visits. So, all things considered, I don't think job candidates should lose sleep over withdrawing from NTT positions for better NTT positions (e.g., with longer contracts) or for TT positions.

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