Negotiating for a faculty position during COVID-19

 

Negotiating a faculty position as a postdoctoral scholar or graduate student can be stressful, and the pandemic is creating an additional layer of difficulty for candidates. If you haven't done so yet, visit our two program pages around negotiating a faculty position, and download the slides, to find out what to do in "normal" negotiations: 

Here is some information we have collected so far on the situation, and some recommendations from our office:

The not so good news about faculty positions: 

  • There is a very long (unofficial) list of institutions that are in the process of freezing hires. This list should be taken with a grain of salt, however, as "hiring freeze" may mean different things at different institutions and for different departments.

The good news about faculty positions: 

  • A post from Stanford that describes which positions are safe, which will reassure those of you who already have a verbal offer:
  • "If a search is in process and has not converged on a finalist, then the search should be paused temporarily until more complete information about the university’s budget position is available. However, if a search has concluded and discussions have taken place with the finalist about terms of the offer, or if an offer has been extended, then the hiring process should proceed."
  • Again, it is not clear whether all institutions will adopt similar policies, but our experience as of today (3/27/20) is that, to our knowledge, all verbal and written offers our postdocs have received have been honored.
     

What this may look like for you (based on the Stanford post): 

  1. Existing offer(s) are likely going to go through, but candidates may suddenly be asked to make a decision within 24 hours or lose it. This has happened to a couple of postdocs we know in the last 10 days.
  2. Pending offers - those candidates heard would come during the last visit - may go through, but again, candidates may be urged to make a quick decision.
  3. Other offers - those from institutions who haven't made it clear who their final candidate is may not go through, especially if the institution is on this list. Again, this is really institution-dependent, so we don't really know at this point.
     

What you can do to stay proactive during this uncertain time:

  • Don't panic: 
    The stakes are high and the stress is overwhelming. Negotiations are hard in regular times, but current candidates are going through something uniquely difficult. Try to stay calm and take care of yourself during this stressful time. Talk to your family and friends. Allow yourself to process the anxiety that may come with this situation, and reach out to the therapists at UCSF if you need to (free counseling through FSAP if you are a postdoc, and through Student Health if you are a graduate student).
     
  • Communicate:
    Email the person with whom you are negotiating and let them know you have heard about the freezes. Ask them if they have any information but also very important: ask them to update you if they hear about any change in the situation, even unofficially, so you have time to prepare.
     
  • Plan:
    Ask yourself, and anyone else involved in the decision: "How will I make the decision if X institution gives me 24-hours to decide? What are my decision-making criteria? What risk(s) am I willing to take?"
     
  • If you are waiting for a second offer from a different institution, consider the implications of accepting a different offer first and then backing out:
    In the past, candidates have asked what the legal consequences could be if they accept an offer and then back out later.  As you can see, the links below related to this topic have contradicting information. 
    1. https://chroniclevitae.com/news/2017-the-professor-is-in-the-ethics-of-backing-out
    2. https://www.chronicle.com/article/Withdrawing-From-a-Job-Youve/131075
    3. https://www.upcounsel.com/is-a-verbal-offer-binding
    4. https://www.tonybeshara.com/tips/accepting-an-offer-new-employees

Students and postdocs often start by framing this as a legal question, but we think it helps to consider other factors, like the other potential offer, your field, the department you would be turning down, the institution you would be going to, visa implications, etc.  It might help to talk through the whole landscape. We are here to help you strategize, so reach out to us (see point 6, below). 

If you have any questions or additional information to share, please email Laurence Clement, Program Director of Academic Career Development at OCPD at [email protected]