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I am planning to apply for a (quite competitive) scholarship offered by a foreign government, which I need the recommendation of a prospective doctoral advisor to apply. However, if I am offered the scholarship but decline it for opportunities in other countries, would I offend anyone? Are there alternatives should I decide later not to pursue a PhD there?

In fact, I'll give it off: I'm going to apply for the Japanese government's MEXT scholarship. Now, while I really enjoy living in Japan (having lived there briefly in the past) and can find good doctoral advisors there, I am not sure if that is in my best interest, as I would prefer to pursue a career in Europe due to personal and family reasons, and doing a PhD in Europe would be better for my goals. Also, if anyone is familiar with the MEXT scholarships, I wonder if there are alternatives: e.g. use my scholarship to study as a research visitor student (kenkyuusei) instead, etc.

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If you have a definitive plan in Europe, then there is no problem rejecting the opportunity in Japan, it should be ok as long as everyone gets notified. The advisor may be get annoyed briefly, but they will soon not think about it (especially famous professors) as they have many things on their mind.

I am actually in a similar position right now in which I might decline a potential JSPS fellowship.

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I can't judge the specifics, but in general the committee will have a backup plan if an offer is refused. But if you need to refuse it, you should do so immediately, rather than wait very long for other opportunities unless you notify them immediately. If the sponsoring organization is wise, you will get a deadline to accept or reject it. Honor that and you should be fine.

It is expected that candidates will be looking at all of their options, since it isn't really possible to explore them one at a time due to overlapping application periods and deadline dates.

As to which country, I can offer no advice other than to choose a country in which you know the language well. Others may have more specific advice on the particulars.

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  • Thanks for the advice. Regarding your second paragraph, though, I'm not sure if this is the case in all countries (AFAIK, in many countries students don't consider more than one or two options), hence my question. If it was, say, a NSF scholarship, I would be much less concerned. I know Japanese fairly well and have been able to learn new languages quite quickly, so that is less of a concern for me. – confused-grad-student Nov 6 '18 at 1:27

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