I've had a job for a few years now but want to leave it to begin graduate studies. When's best to give notice? I don't think the traditional wisdom of "2 weeks notice" makes sense in this case because my role takes a long time to become proficient in and there are many moving parts affected by or relying on the role I currently fill.

The job is research oriented in a specialized niche. It's a small team and everyone is juggling lots of work. It takes a long time to get familiar with the systems and tools used here. What we work on is complex, and in addition to that there is significant institutional knowledge and software complications ingrained in our work which take time to be proficient in working with and around. I say all this to point out that having a replacement become proficient in my role would take a while. It took me months to be fully up and running without leaning on anyone to fulfill my role. The company doesn't have a big budget for this research so there's a very bad 'bus factor'.

So, the role and related projects will lag a bit (or crash and burn, hopefully not) when I transition out. That's understandable, but because we're in the midst of a few multi-year funded projects, that lag could be more damaging. There are also numerous side-projects my role is critical to as well, which tie into the work of a few PhD students. I have actually thought about making this transition for a while, but inevitably by the time one project is becoming stable or we're getting through one delicate period, there is always more. It is never 'a good time to go' as they say. At least, I'm helping make this role easier to start for the next person.

With all that said, when is appropriate to give notice and what extent of notice? Any downside to giving notice as early as I'm confident in heading out?

Context specific to my case, not the general question: I wonder what the 'right' answer is but I may have already crossed the threshold of giving notice, 6+ months in advance. My boss and I have a good relationship and discussed in the past how grad school makes sense as an eventual next step for me. Months past and more discussions later, we agreed on a semester that would make sense for me to aim for. Recently I reiterated that date while discussing hiring new staff, noting that we'll want someone proficient in one of my critical roles by the time I'd probably begin school. Agreeing with this, they asked me to notify my other boss about this (I have a few) to help plan the transition. This feels like making my notice more official, which I am hesitant about because I'm not officially accepted anywhere yet (though I'm not too worried about that) and because I'm wary of committing to working until a specific date months from now (specifics are hard to pin down so soon, but I'd prefer time off between work and school and don't want to make promises that feel appropriate now but won't later on).

  • To be thorough, do you have a Notice Period stipulated on your contract?
    – DarkCygnus
    Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 23:18
  • 1
    @DarkCygnus No, it's at will employment. So I could leave tomorrow, or they could fire me tomorrow. But that would certainly burn a bridge and severely harm the work I'm doing (which I still hope will advance without me).
    – user92826
    Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 23:22

1 Answer 1


Any downside to giving notice as early as I'm confident in heading out?

I don't think so. In fact, the only moment in which you should hand your notice is when you are confident in heading out. Doing it before that moment (i.e.: when you haven't landed other job, etc.) is not a good idea.

With all that said, when is appropriate to give notice and what extent of notice?

You commented that you are currently working under "at-will employment", which means that your employer could terminate you for any non-illegal reason and without warning. You also mention that you have no specific Notice Period.

Under such circumstances you could indeed stick to the two-week standard Notice, as no other period was formally agreed. If they ask for more time, consider their request and reply accordingly. There is also a chance that they require no period at all and terminate you right there.

In fact, that you are under at-will and have no specified Notice Period means that your employer is, in a way, capable of finding a suitable replacement or course of action immediately after you leave.

Otherwise, your employer most probably would have tried to negotiate a period when beginning your relationship.

  • Yeah, basically all that I said on the answer. 2 weeks is ok, but OP could consider giving more
    – DarkCygnus
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 0:51
  • I think the at-will employment and no specific notice period is just an artifact of the larger corporation the research group is a part of. Even in ideal circumstances I don't think a suitable replacement for anyone in the group could be found in 2 weeks, and the more time overlapping with whoever is leaving, the better. So, good to hear from @teego that you've given more notice and it went OK. It seems crazy by tradition to give like a half year's notice, but based on the specific case, giving all that notice seems like the thing to do.
    – user92826
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 0:59
  • But it still is there. I fully agree -it likely is an artifact. The amount of stupidity large corporations in their tremendous manager will to standardize anything can put up is really big, but it still is real. And so, there is no notice period. Period.
    – TomTom
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 10:11

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