Fucker cancels my postdoc

In February, I accepted a postdoc in my university’s horticulture department. I am a linguist–they are horticulturalists (is that right?)–but they needed informatics and by golly, that’s right up my alley.

My next year was settled. I had a postdoc. I had health insurance. I renewed the lease on my house. I even gleefully visited my old professor, from the bad old days when I was a biology major, to quietly gloat that I had gotten my Ph.D. and was on the road to a good place.

This morning, less than six weeks before the postdoc was scheduled to begin, the fucker in horticulture sends me a very short email saying, paraphrased, “sorry, FAKE!”

WHAT A FUCKING ASSHOLE! How dishonest! How selfish! My income! My health insurance! My whole next year! He simply can’t do this to me.

I got out of biology because of the extremely abusive and repressive attitude towards the students, who are treated something worse than the lab rats, held back, hammered down, underpaid, overutilized, and have their work stolen and published under the professor’s name as a reward. How on earth I could have trusted myself back into those vipers’ hands, I just don’t understand right now.

Fucks. Fucks. Fucks. Fucks. Fucks. I’m just lucky I got out.

He may not be able to do that. Do you have a formal letter of appointment from the university from when you agreed on the postdoc back in February? Every postdoc I’ve had has involved some form of written contract, even if it’s just a formal letter from the university. I sign a copy of the letter and send it back to them, and that’s our written agreement of the terms of the appointment. IANAL, but I’m not sure that a simple “changed my mind, get lost” email from the PI is enough to invalidate that agreement.

Paperwork in academia is, generally, pretty lackadaisical, and no I don’t have a signed written agreement. I have emails about the salary and start date, and witnesses to our conversations about them. That’s all. That’s my failing.

But he’s still a fuck. My major professor has never seen this happen before.

Pre-emptively: yep. That’s right. I didn’t get a signed contract. And yep, you’re right, I should have. But please take into account the prevailing culture of the area, in which there is a “gentleman’s honor” about these sort of verbal agreements. Like I said, my major professor, in forty years, has never seen a postdoc renegged upon like this. It simply isn’t supposed to happen.

Oops. Yeah, it doesn’t sound as though there would be any official recourse in this case.

Neither have I. I agree that the agreement you made was ethically binding even if not legally so, and that someone who would cancel a postdoc with six weeks’ notice is a fuck. Academic jobs usually require applying for them several months or a year in advance, unlike industry where hiring and firing generally happens much faster, and to cancel someone’s appointment in midsummer is really screwing them.

In preview:

There there, I wasn’t going to scold you. I understand that different fields and departments have different local cultures, and I’m sure that in many cases this sort of verbal agreement is absolutely routine. If that’s the way gigs are usually set up in your field, it is quite understandable that you would have assumed you could rely on it.

Ugh. He just emailed back that he hadn’t understood my position (no, fucker–I turned down other jobs, decided to stay in this town that I really need to get out of, and absolutely don’t care if i have health insurance or not. No big) and that he retracts the previous email under enormous financial strain.

What the fuck was I supposed to do? Lick his balls? I think he expected me to start working before I started getting paid. Um, sorry fuck, no. It’s YOUR project and YOUR research and YOUR selfless determination. You want me to work on, you fucking PAY.

I’d like to keep this pit thread open, just because I’m still angry. And now this little incident will be over me like a shadow for a year.

I do get to see real doctors starting in August, though :smiley:

Dude, that totally sucks major fetid donkey ass.

The only thing you can hope for is that this kinda shit gets noticed by the rest of the faculty where you are. Hopefully the adivce in the future for anyone applying to a post doc with this schmuck is “don’t.”

Good luck on a now furious job search.

Egads. What was this bozo smoking? (Or should I ask just what kind of horticulture he’s doing?)

Hey, that’s the way it was in my field. Twice I accepted graduate student type jobs (not fellowships or post-docs) for jobs funded by grants, and twice was told at the last moment that the grant hadn’t come through yet. In my case, if I’d asked to see something in writing, I’d have been kissing the job goodbye. And jobs in the field are just not that easy to get.

Sattua, the same thing almost happened to me. I interviewed for a postdoc, the professor said he would gladly hire me and I accepted, and I flew home on a bubble of pure happiness and joy.

Two weeks later, after he dodged my emails and phonecalls, I found out that he was rethinking his offer. He wasn’t so sure about me, after all. This was after I had told every John, Dick, and Harry that I had gotten a job.

Deeply disappointed (that’s an underestimate), I let my advisor know what was going down. You know what she did? She brought out the claws and chewed him out. She slapped down the guilt trip big time. And whaddya know? After an embarrassing exchange of emails between them (which my prospective boss made me privy to, via forwarding), the professor called me up and offered me the position.

Throughout all of that, my emotions were so screwed up that I didn’t even know if I wanted to accept the position anymore. I did accept with some reservation, and it turns out that I made a good decision. (Although my boss and I have never brought up that embarrassment since then, I haven’t forgotten it and I know he hasn’t either. It makes our relationship weird, I think).

Do you have someone, like your advisor, who can go to bat for you? One of your references? He needs one of his peers to shame him.

I’m so sorry this happened to you, Sattua. I’m a biologist but I don’t know if this kind of thoughtlessness is a “biology” thing as much as an academic/research thing.

Yep. That nonsense is everywhere in academia. I’ve even seen, from very close range, a situation wherein a faculty member, albeit a junior faculty member, was hired to teach two fastrack summer classes (so fast that the first and only payday fell after the end of the term of the courses), given a verbal assurance by the department head that because this was a new program area enrollment minimums would not be enforced. The minimums were not met and the departmetn head denied the agreement, said the classes really should have been canceled and she would see what she could do to get the faculty member paid anythign at all. She tried to pay him about a third of the $8000 he expected, then in the face of possible litigation and one fortunately saved e-mail with an allusion that might go against her claims, agreed to come up with the rest of the money, though she insisted on doing it under the heading of retroactive relocation expenses and kept claiming both she and the faculty member were committing a fraud on the university by doing this.

Eight years ago and I’m still a little bitter.


From that last sentence, my guess is that he was hoping for some grant money that didn’t come through, so he’s low on funding. He of course shouldn’t have offered you a job if he wasn’t sure how he would pay you, but I don’t think it’s uncommon to start recruiting people before a grant is finalized. Stupid, but not uncommon.

If you want to start off on the right foot, you could offer to help write grant applications or something. Even better would be if you could find some funding stream on your own – that would look very good to any future academic employers. Postdocs who know how to get money are way ahead of those who don’t.

Don’t feel sorry for him. Maybe the department chair found out and chewed the guy out. How senior is he anyhow?

The ethical thing for him to have done was to make it very clear to you what the status of the funding was. You were absolutely right to press him when he didn’t do that.

Funding snafus happen all the time. One year I, a CS major, was officially a Landscape Architecture RA because of a long series of favors etc. For your next gig, look for a senior guy who is flush.

As for him, you can lead a horticulture …

I had a similar experience happen to me. Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches.

It is difficult to say whether that would be enough or not. It could be. You should talk to a lawyer about this before you give up.

Little bit late on that one, Gfactor. Sattua’s getting the gig after all (see post #6, above).

I misunderstood post #6. Sorry.

Yes, it was my advisor who wrote the email that changed his mind. This guy is an associate professor and rather new to the university; my major professor is the proverbial 800-pound gorilla that does whatever it wants (and has tons of funding), and also a master diplomat. Once my postdoc had been reinstated, my advisor wrote an astonishing message congratulating the guy on his high moral fiber and dependability.

I’m so glad for you. I hope you’re able to now relax and look forward to your job.