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How to politely decline a research project

  1. Dec 4, 2015 #1
    I'm entering my final year of a BSc in Physics next year and have been looking for summer research opportunities, with the chance of possibly continuing my honours (undergraduate) thesis on the project afterwards. There was one particular professor I contacted since I took a course under him in the past and he seems like a great mentor.

    After looking into his research more, I was definitely intrigued and emailed him to speak about potential work I could do with him in the summer and later on my thesis (I mentioned in it if he would be okay supervising me for the summer/thesis). We ended up meeting and discussing projects (he gave me a list of possible projects), and although the work was still very interesting, I don't think the projects are necessarily lined up with my current interests and where I want to go. I'm still grateful for him being open to discuss potential work and meeting with me, and I certainly don't want to rub him the wrong way since he's honestly such a nice guy, but I also don't want to keep leading him on under the guise that I will be working with him in the future.

    At the moment, I am planning on just thanking him for all his time and for being very helpful, but that unfortunately after looking over the project, it seems like I might be looking for something different. Nonetheless, any advice you have on how to approach the professor about this (e.g. do's and dont's, anything additional I should say), would be greatly appreciated!
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 4, 2015 #2


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    What you are planning to say sounds fine to me. It would probably be fine to even say what the reasons are - more communication is often better than less when it's done tactfully. Besides, maybe you've overlooked something that the professor would point out.
  4. Dec 4, 2015 #3
    I feel like there's an obligatory "you should try in anyway" post that needs to be stated. Assuming this is an experimental thing, have you observed what actually goes on in the lab or what the other student researchers are doing?

    I say that, because you've already got an opportunity to do research (a great opportunity for an undergrad--and it's not like in grad school you're bound to what you did as an undergrad), and I know I personally ended up liking a lot of subjects I didn't think I would before I got more experience in them.

    I say if you have another opportunity, then what you posted would be just fine. If you don't have something else in mind right now, at least speak to the professor and see if you can do some preliminary work to get a feel for what it's like and whether it's something you'd like to pursue in the long term.
  5. Dec 5, 2015 #4
    You're right. I really do need to get a better understanding of my new role and figure out what exactly I would be doing--but more than that, it could be very helpful just pushing myself into this unknown (to me) research area. I guess I was initially very hesitant since I had other projects also lined up that I could have continued from the past. Also, being unfamiliar with a lot of these topics made me a little hesitant, but I think I really should give it a bit more thought at the very least.

    Thank you for the advice!
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