Start Date ASAP

When I was last hiring a postdoc, I had no problem waiting several months for the candidate I really liked. Sure, we all want the person to start the second the grant starts, but it’s understandable that it would unlikely happen that a good candidate  would have his previous appointment end simultaneously with the grant money appearing in my account. The postdoc had been awesome and recently became a PI.

Now, I have a student who is getting ready to graduate, but we are waiting for him to find a postdoc. The student is excellent, one of the best I have ever had. We were able to get the student a very unique and valuable semester-long opportunity, but he had to commit to be here for the whole semester and he did.

Lo and behold, very recently there emerged a postdoc opportunity with a group that had previously said they would not have the money, but now they do and they basically want him to start ASAP.

A couple of years ago, another colleague also pressured one my students to finish ASAP and come do the postdoc; the colleague was relentless in checking “Is he done yet? When is he going to be done?”As a result, the student didn’t finish some work that he had promised to do, and the work will likely never be completed.

I am not even angry, I know people need to move on with their lives. And this student has been great and productive.

I just hate the situation.

I don’t expect the corporate world to give a fuck about what the institution where their soon-to-be employee got their PhD degree and I, the professor who trained said employee, want or need because we were the ones having in place contingencies so the student would be able to eat and pay the rent while looking for a job. Companies care about their own bottom line, and for the most part a student joining a company is leaving academia for good. It would be best if the student didn’t have to burn any bridges in the process, but to many a big paycheck is worth a bridge or two.

But it really pisses me off when fellow professors, who really should know better, don’t give a $hit about the things that the student promised to do in the next few months; all they care about is that the new postdoc materialize at their institution and start working on their stuff ASAP. The arrangements that were in place to take care of the student for the next few months in the event of no follow-up position are of no consequence. Where is fuckin’ professional courtesy? Why are you putting the screws on another person’s student, making the colleague a monster who won’t let the student move on with life if they don’t adhere to your schedule, and forcing  the student to be a no-good promise breaker?

If I really like the applicant, I will wait for him or her a reasonable amount of time. There is nothing worse than a bad postdoc (except perhaps two bad postdocs), but a good postdoc is worth his or her weight in gold and can energize the whole group. I will wait several months for such a candidate. Better to have  a good candidate for 2.5 years than a mediocre one for 3. And I understand that there is another colleague at the other end of that transaction, one who has trained my candidate so well,  and that I should be respectful of both the candidate and the colleague and try to accommodate their arrangements.

But apparently I am alone in this attitude and selfish is the way to go.  And I cannot really blame the student for wanting to grab onto the opportunity.


  1. Agreed, the situation sucks.

    As someone working in industry, I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to say that that the corporate world does not give a fuck about the professors who trained students. Good employees are hard to find in industry. I know that the company I work at waited several months for a good student to finish up and show up, though they would have loved to have her ASAP.

  2. YZ, you are right. I have certainly had experiences where the company was very accommodating with the start date, it’s just that I don’t a priori expect it. I am more ticked off at fellow academics who are in the exact same boat as me, facing the same issues, yet show little professional courtesy.

  3. Even in industry, we’ll wait if we need to do so. But someone starting out in a junior position will usually underestimate their power in the negotiation about start date. In most cases, once the company has gone through the search and interview process, found someone to hire, and had that person say yes- if that person says “but I can’t come until [date a couple of months in the future],” in most cases the company will suck it up and wait.

  4. It seems like labs have less flexibility with money than they used to. I don’t know if this is merely my perception from the naivete of grad student/postdoc to the cynicism of faculty, but it seems like accounting is much stricter now than it used to be. I have seen many cases where someone has to be named to a training grant or other position before X date because the money will vanish if not used in that fiscal year. And, of course, money is not known to exist until the grant comes through (or doesn’t).

  5. I’m with Cloud on this. We’ve never pushed anyone to leave early. We found the perfect candidate, and we can wait for them to finish up what they’re doing before coming in. I actually kind of like it because it often shows dedication to their work and keeping their word with their supervisors (err…advisors) to finish their work. That’s the kind of dedication I hope for my employees.

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