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Programs Applying for PhDs (and declining) - Etiquette?

  1. Dec 14, 2011 #1
    I've been in quite detailed email conversations with two potential PhD supervisors, both of whom I've met in person. Both offering great projects for different reasons.

    I'd be enthusiastic to do either - but obviously can't do both. Also its obligatory to apply to more than one place just because the chance of being accepted anyway is not 1. But suppose I were to get both, how would I go about politely declining one? I imagine this must happen quite frequently, I don't want to go about offending potential future colleagues especially if I know them personally.

    My instinct is Profs and Drs are not easily bothered by this?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 14, 2011 #2


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    When I was looking at grad school I applied to 6 profs at my school, got 4 interviews, and 3 extended discussions which led to offers (the fourth was basically just a touch base, here's what you need to know about grad school, etc.: he was the grad chair).

    In the end, I chose the offer which seemed the most interesting and divergent from what I'd did in undergraduate (although he was my undergraduate project advisor as well). You might try to parlay some of the offers together into joint supervision if they're really close projects (no the salaries don't usually add together, but responsibilities and duties sometimes do).

    If your prospective supervisors are anything like mine, they get tons of applicants (some of which are actually serious, as opposed to just mass spamming across multiple departments, faculties, or even schools). Out of those applicants, they obviously accept a few. And of those that they extend offers to, some accept. Of those that *do* accept, some change their minds, some are unable to show up due to visa or immigration issues, or even just plain don't bother showing on the start date.

    But if your intention is to get into academia (and it sounds that way) then, assuming you get two offers, you should first sleep on it and decide which offer to take. After that, and after you've made peace with your decision, I'd write a (or a few) polite and gracious e-mail thanking them for their offer and opportunity, and declining the offer(s) that you didn't accept. You don't have to detail why you didn't take the offer (and probably shouldn't), just something quick and to the point.

    You should absolutely not do like one guy I know and just never bother following up after the offer's been made--in my opinion, that's incredibly unprofessional (and academia is not such a big place that a reputation doesn't follow).
  4. Dec 14, 2011 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    I would recommend declining as soon as you know for sure you won't be going there. That lets someone else be offered the spot. That's the most polite thing.
  5. Dec 15, 2011 #4
    Thanks MATLABdude, I'm actually in the UK so the system is a little different but I'm sure the advice applies all the same!
  6. Dec 15, 2011 #5


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    I agree with Vanadium. All professors have been through this process many, many times, and they have been in your position as well. No one should be offended if you thank them for their offer and politely and promptly turn it down.

    Don't, however, wait until the last minute to notify them of your decision to turn down their offer. Give them enough time to find another student.
  7. Dec 16, 2011 #6
    I am also actively seeking a PHD and sending mails with a resume attached. I would like to know how to present the topics my lectures deal with, I added "Lecturing QFT, GR, CFT, QCD, Renormalization Group, EW theory" under my current year line. Is there a more elegant way to precise this information?
  8. Dec 16, 2011 #7
    Thats not really relevent to the original topic... In the UK you normally have to send a transcript which lists your courses and grades so that doesn't need to go into your CV/resume.
  9. Dec 19, 2011 #8
    I am also seeking PHD actively can you give me a piece of advice on how to present and add references
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