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Is it bad to cancel after accepting?

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

A little while ago I was accepted into a PhD program with a TA position starting in the fall, and I accepted the offer. Then, sometime after the usual April 14 deadline, another university also accepted me. Although I probably won't switch universities, there are pros to going to the latter one and I want to look into it further.

I feel guilty about possibly canceling an offer I already accepted, especially considering they would suddenly have a vacant TA position. I imagine this would also look bad. I'm wondering what people here think of canceling an acceptance. Would this be much of a blow to the university or would they barely notice?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Choppy
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That is a somewhat difficult moral quandary.

It's probably not a big deal to the 'university' itself. You wouldn't be the first student to renege on an offer.

It probably is a big deal to the person who would otherwise have been offered that position though. Not to lay it on too thick, but if you think about it, unless the university still has time to make offers down its wait list, there is a chance that cancelling will mean someone else doesn't make it into graduate school this year.

There's also the fact that physics tends to be a relatively small community. It's best to avoid burning any bridges if you can. You might want to consider how much effort other people have put into you attending the first school so far. Have you been meeting with the professor who will become your supervisor and has he or she put an effort into designing a PhD project for you? Or did you just happen to apply to this school as a "safety" without much effort into scouting it out, with no specific prospects for a supervisor yet?
 
  • #3
Orodruin
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Would you be working in the same field if you switch universities? If so then I would strongly advise against doing so. Otherwise, as Choppy has already said, it is a matter of how much effort other people have already put in for you to attend the other school and weighing that against how much you really would gain by switching. Don't min-max your own benefits if the benefit you gain is marginal and the cost to someone else is substantial. That is a quick way to a (deserved) bad reputation.

At the post-doc level I was faced with a similar problem. In the field there is a generally accepted deadline for accepting first offers so that people can see what offers they get and make an informed choice. Among other options, I was offered my second choice and accepted. Two days later I was contacted by my first choice asking if I was still available and I said no (likely their first choice in candidates had declined) because the benefits to me were not substantial. Half-way into the postdoc I was offered a tenure track position at a different institute and accepted it. Of course this was inconvenient for my current institute, but I believe people understand if you have an offer that is clearly better. What people will have more trouble accepting is if you go back on your acceptance for something that is not.
 
  • #4
Aufbauwerk 2045
I can't answer you directly, but I would answer your question with a question or two. I'm not making any recommendations. But these are questions I would ask if we were friends and discussing this over a diet soda.

Do you think it's reasonable to do what you think is best for you? If not, why not? Do you have a written contract where you promise to be a T.A.? If not, then why would you not be free to change your mind?

I hope I'm being realistic here, rather than cynical. I think I am. In my experience, no one cared about me at grad school unless I was doing something for them. In my case, I worked on some projects where I was valuable to some professors in their research. Mostly computer stuff, and a bit of hands-on electronics. But if someone was not useful to them, they would drop them like a hot potato. They were in it for themselves, not for others. That is the real world.

Once I realized that in the real world most people both inside and outside of academia would not lose any sleep if I dropped dead, I felt much better. Because then I realized I might as well feel the same about them. Life is much better and happier when you look at it without rose-colored glasses.

As far as the position not being filled, I would imagine there is no shortage of people who would love to step in and fill that position. No one is indispensable.

Again, this is not a recommendation. Just some questions, and a few insights I learned in grad school and industry.

P.S.

Here are some more general comments, not tailored to any specific individual. Assuming you are in the USA, remember that it is still essentially every man or woman for themselves. If you don't look out for yourself, no one else will. Also, university is not cheap for many, in particular if there are student loans. Then eventually one has to enter a fiercely competitive job market, without much in the way of social benefits to fall back on. In other words, it's a jungle out there, and every day is a struggle to survive. Obviously, in that context, it would be wise to select the university that serves your purpose the best. There is no need to worry about the other one. They will survive without you. It's your own well being which you must put first.
 
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  • #5
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Here is the full text of the April 15 resolution.

Acceptance of an offer of financial support* (such as a graduate scholarship, fellowship, traineeship, or assistantship) for the next academic year by a prospective or enrolled graduate student completes an agreement that both student and graduate school expect to honor. In that context, the conditions affecting such offers and their acceptance must be defined carefully and understood by all parties.

Students are under no obligation to respond to offers of financial support prior to April 15; earlier deadlines for acceptance of such offers violate the intent of this Resolution. In those instances in which a student accepts an offer before April 15 and subsequently desires to withdraw that acceptance, the student may submit in writing a resignation of the appointment at any time through April 15. However, an acceptance given or left in force after April 15 commits the student not to accept another offer without first obtaining a written release from the institution to which a commitment has been made. Similarly, an offer by an institution after April 15 is conditional on presentation by the student of the written release from any previously accepted offer. It is further agreed by the institutions and organizations subscribing to the above Resolution that a copy of this Resolution or a link to the URL should accompany every scholarship, fellowship, traineeship, and assistantship offer.
 
  • #6
Thank you for the replies. At the university I accepted, I talked to the professor I'm hopefully going to do research with, though he didn't put together a PhD plan. I would go into the same field at either university. Both universities support the April 15 resolution, so it looks like that settles it.
 
  • #7
Aufbauwerk 2045
Here is the full text of the April 15 resolution.

Acceptance of an offer of financial support* (such as a graduate scholarship, fellowship, traineeship, or assistantship) for the next academic year by a prospective or enrolled graduate student completes an agreement that both student and graduate school expect to honor. In that context, the conditions affecting such offers and their acceptance must be defined carefully and understood by all parties.

Students are under no obligation to respond to offers of financial support prior to April 15; earlier deadlines for acceptance of such offers violate the intent of this Resolution. In those instances in which a student accepts an offer before April 15 and subsequently desires to withdraw that acceptance, the student may submit in writing a resignation of the appointment at any time through April 15. However, an acceptance given or left in force after April 15 commits the student not to accept another offer without first obtaining a written release from the institution to which a commitment has been made. Similarly, an offer by an institution after April 15 is conditional on presentation by the student of the written release from any previously accepted offer. It is further agreed by the institutions and organizations subscribing to the above Resolution that a copy of this Resolution or a link to the URL should accompany every scholarship, fellowship, traineeship, and assistantship offer.
Very interesting. What is the origin of this Resolution? Do all graduate schools follow it? I worked in industry or did my own thing after grad school. I'm ignorant of the latest practices in the academic world.

I don't remember anything like this from graduate school. I showed up at the professor's office even before I was accepted, and asked if I could be a research assistant, and he said I could work for him. We agreed he would recommend me, and I would work for him after I began the school year. But there was no "Resolution," just a handshake. He never said I was locked into the job even if my conditions changed.

The same happened the following year when I wanted teaching experience. I asked a professor at the beginning of the semester if I could be a T.A. in his class, and he said yes. By the end of the week I was a T.A. I was not aware of this Resolution. I certainly don't remember any formal promise about anything. Although naturally, when I was hired, I did the best job I could, was never absent or late, etc. That is why they kept hiring me to be a T.A. as long as I wanted the job. But I was not locked into the job by some promise I had to make months before. That is what surprises me.

This Resolution does seem a bit one-sided to me. On the one hand, the students gives up flexibility in managing their own affairs. But what if the position is no longer available for some reason, such as a cut in funding in the professor's research? How difficult is it for the university to back out? Does the university have to get permission from the student to back out of its commitment? (I imagine the answer to the last question is "you must be joking.")

If I understand this document, it is possible to ask permission to back out. So what is the problem with that? I can't imagine a professor saying he refuses to release a future T.A. who really wants to study elsewhere. But maybe it's not even up to the professor? Does that mean a professor must accept someone as a T.A. because the university refuses to release him or her? Has a university actually denied such a request from the new student? If so, why?
 
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  • #8
Aufbauwerk 2045
Thank you for the replies. At the university I accepted, I talked to the professor I'm hopefully going to do research with, though he didn't put together a PhD plan. I would go into the same field at either university. Both universities support the April 15 resolution, so it looks like that settles it.
Sorry but I am confused by your update. Not to pry, but since you brought it up, does that mean you are going to the university that is your second choice, because of this April 15 resolution? In that case, did you try to get a release from the other university?

Best wishes in any case.

:)
 
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  • #9
Sorry but I am confused by your update. Not to pry, but since you brought it up, does that mean you are going to the university that is your second choice, because of this April 15 resolution? In that case, did you try to get a release from the other university?

Best wishes in any case.

:)
If the university that accepted me late had accepted me before April 15, it probably would have been my choice. This depends mainly on if I could have joined a particular group there. At this point I think I will stay with the other university.
 
  • #10
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It may not be nice but if you plan on staying 5 years at a place, your decision shouldn't be based upon offending someone. In fact, as a TA and researcher you're doing the university a service and if you feel you have better options somewhere else I would argue you should go to them, just like a regular job.
 

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