My apologies if this is a duplicate, it was quite a difficult thing to search for.

I am aware there are similar questions, such as: Ethical to accept job offer I may not start, But I would argue that this question is not completely identical - the linked question, and any I could find like it, are about taking a rival job offer. I would argue this is different, though perhaps I am being selfish in this consideration.

I am entering my third year of a four year university degree, and have accepted a summer job offer for 2017 for a company who have paid me a $2,500 sponsorship for my studies in exchange for the contract. I have worked with them for the previous summers and I very much like the company.

It is relatively small, with around 40 employees total ordinarily, and they recruit a significant number of summer employees - I would guess 20-30. As I have experience with the company's systems, it may be a bigger hit than if anyone else went back on their offer.

However, I have realised that I believe I would like to go into postgraduate study and academia instead of working in industry for the foreseeable future. I have spoken to my academic advisor about this, and been all but offered a summer placement with my university to do research, potentially leading onto a PhD placement.

I believe this is the opportunity I would prefer significantly, but I feel that should I choose to take this offer and rescind my contract with the company, then I should be careful to ensure I follow ethical practices.

With this in mind, I have considered the following as a good course of action:

  1. Wait until I have confirmation (or near enough) that I can do the university research. If I do not receive this, do the placement at the company, as I intended originally.
  2. Ask the company's manager/CEO for a phone-call / in-person meeting to discuss my position, and say that I have realised it's not what I want to do, and hope we can terminate the contract with neither party over-dissatisfied. I should note that it is perfectly legal for me to just terminate the contract (provided I pay back the money) with no polite discussion, but I would absolutely not feel comfortable doing this.
  3. Pay back the $2,500 ASAP - preferably immediately.

I am worried that the first step in particular is deceptive, since I no longer fully intend to fulfil a contract of work a company is expecting me to, but I fear that if I notify them too soon and, I might end up with neither.

I was hoping for advice on what approach I should take. I am at quite a well regarded university and so would really prefer anything that would increase my chances of getting a placement to do postgraduate study here, but I do want to balance this with ethical conduct.

To complete my argument from the beginning of the question on why I think this is not a duplicate of the similar question I linked, I feel that there is an ethical difference between accepting a job offer while having other job offers pending that you prefer and then going back on it, and having an unexpected opportunity that is in a completely different field. I am hoping my boss would be understanding as I am young and did not maliciously start applying to larger, better paying companies, but merely had a change of heart. Perhaps this is naive.

  • 2
    Did they pay you the $2,500 already? Does the contract clarify a period when this money must be paid back and under what circumstances, e.g. "if you leave within 2 years, you must pay this sponshorship amount back, etc." – Brandin Nov 12 '16 at 12:37

Absolutely wait for confirmation (and start dates!) for your research position before turning down the summer job. Only then should you reach out to your previous manager at the company and have that polite conversation with them. They will have more than enough time to find someone to fill your spot.

If you do this, there's a chance that they won't consider you for future summer internships, but if you feel strongly that academia is right for you, you need to let this opportunity go. This is business, not personal. This is your career and you have to do what's best for your future.

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