"offers" and "in writing" issues

Dianna L. Bourke dlb17 at PSU.EDU
Wed Jun 26 15:08:46 EST 1996

Sarah Boomer asks:

>  He flew her out
>and promised her there was money, etc. etc.  All their correspondence was
>either verbal or via email. Well - now that she's ready to go, he doesn't
>have money (a few months have passed) and the whole picture has changed.
>        I want to know what other advisors think of this in particular.  I
>am interested in whether most people looking for post-docs rely on such
>verbal agreements.  A male post doc in our lab said his boss counseled him
>repeatedly never to (1)  give a lab that delays or forget to call back a
>second consideration or (2)  accept an offer from someone who won't offer
>EVERYTHING in writing.  My limited impression dealing with people in
>academics, though, is that the "in writing" idea is considered bad
>etiquette, an insult to the profession (this was actually said to another
>collegue of mine).
>        I'd really appreciate some feedback on this one - especially with
>respect to perhaps recommending strategies for my friend (she is currently
>being supported by our understanding boss).   I'd also like to hear
>(politely would be nice) people's honest opinion of whether students
>should know this already, be counseled openly, should expect everything in
>writing, etc.

It's true that a lot of what goes on in hiring postdocs is informal and
verbal. However, what seems to have happened in this case is quite
unforgivable. The job never should have been offered if the funds were not
secure. Sometimes people will go sniffing out the possibilities for postdoc
candidates for tentative jobs, especially at national meetings, but the
candidates should be immediately made aware that the job is tentative. The
fact that he flew her out (which almost no one ever does at the postdoc
level) sounds fishy, too. Is she sure that the guy didn't just find someone
he likes better and is lying to her outright about lack of funding?
Sometimes this happens in large competitive labs. Since nothing was on
paper, this person had no obligation to your friend other than his sense of
honor, which seems to dissappear easily in these days.

Which brings me to the second point. If this person offered her a job, it
should have been spelled out on paper. I received contracts for all my
postdocs which specified exact lengths of time that was guarenteed
(ususally 1 year with future years contingent on funding and performance),
benefits, starting and stop dates, etc. I don't think asking for a contract
letter is insulting or bad etiquette, to me it would indicate someone who
is intelligent enough to look after herself. Besides, I think most
institutions require it, don't they? I can understand that the agreement
could have been verbal early on, but when it comes time for moving, etc. it
needs to be in writing. Also she should have had something in writing
before she turned down the other jobs. To be honest, however, I can't say I
did this with my all postdoc offers only with my faculty position.

She should definately take hat in hand and give the postdoc supervisors she
turned down a call to see if anyone still has an open position. If she
explained what happened to her and make it clear that she is very much
interested in their work, they would probably understand.

Just my two cents

Dianna L. Bourke
Penn State Hazleton

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