Basically I was offered a PhD after my bachelor's degree based only on my performance in the BSc but I enrolled on an MSc and kept this offer as backup. I have been offered another PhD but it is based on the MSc results rather than the BSc results. The second offer are asking if I could accept the offer sooner rather than later, but obviously I don't want to refuse the first offer just yet as I know that it is guaranteed. If I email the second offer and say that I want to accept, would the supervisor who made me the first offer somehow know that I had accepted the other offer and withdraw his offer? I do not want to turn down the first one if I have not received my MSc grades. I assume that different universities would not correspond over this type of thing, but I don't know for sure, and I did tell the people who gave me the second offer that I had already received an offer elsewhere and which university made that offer: is this all confidential or could they inform the people who made the first offer?

Obviously, if I don't meet the conditions for the second offer, I could then fall back on the first offer whose criteria I have already met.

  • 1
    The answer does depend a lot on the country. Are we talking about the US/UK, or somewhere else?
    – aeismail
    May 18, 2018 at 0:12
  • UK, do you have any experience of this matter for the UK?
    – Tom
    May 18, 2018 at 23:16
  • I do not personally have experience with the UK process, but there are users here who do, and knowing it's the UK gives us a better sense of what processes and regulations might apply. (For instance, in the US, accepting an offer of financial support at this date would be considered binding. The UK may be different.)
    – aeismail
    May 18, 2018 at 23:37
  • Ok, it's a joke, but .... get 2 PhD's :)
    – Edwin Buck
    May 19, 2018 at 14:02

2 Answers 2


You should contact both programs and openly describe the situation.

Each individual academic field is fairly small, and academics do regularly talk to each other. Reneging on an offer will tarnish your reputation. Even if you successfully pull off this stunt, you will earn some enemies, which can bite you later (e.g. seeking jobs, applying for grants, etc).


You are toying around with the first offer. It is perfectly reasonable to ask them to wait for a response from another offer; but accepting an offer as a Plan B from the outset, since you have the reasonable expectation that someone else will make you a better one and you will dump the original offer is really not a pleasurable position to put them in. Whether they will know is unclear, but you can be assured that sometimes news travels fast and over improbable routes.

What's more, science is a small world, and while not for the PhD, you may reencounter the original people for reference requests, postdoc applications, as journal and proposal reviewers. While in theory the process should not be affected by being dumped by a prospective PhD, it's anyone's guess when you may need, if not their favours, then their goodwill, unless the offers are in significantly different fields - and even then.

That being said, some people don't care and yet succeed. While it's not really ethical, IANAL, but legally, in the UK you probably can do it before you signed anything.

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