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I am an international student from an Asian country. I recently emailed one phd supervisor at a well-ranked university in London with my CV attached to see if there is any phd opportunities for me. The supervisor replied to me very quickly and invited me to have a Skype conversation with her. She only asked my research interests but nothing else during the Skype chat , which I actually considered as an informal interview (she even didn’t introduce her lab to me). After the Skype chat, she asked me to write my own proposal and proceed with the formal application, which made me to think at least she was happy with my application. After that, I drafted a few research ideas and sent them to her. She finally agreed with the ideas and edited the proposal for me for a few times. From sending her the first email to finishing the research proposal, it took me around three months. We had more than 20 emails and one more Skype chat during that time. As it was an extremely complicated and tiry process, I think the reason why she continued to help me with the proposal was because she wanted to take me as a student. Otherwise, she can say no in any stages during this process. The requirement of the university is to have a formal interview for all prospective phd student. The interviewer was the phd supervisor. However, I was rejected by her after the formal interview, which I couldn’t understand at all. If you want to reject me, why did you spend so much time on me and give me false hope? I just think this is not very ethical, as if you said no earlier, I would have had chances of finding other supervisors in the same university (I really wanted to get into this uni, the supervisor was actually less important). So I am wondering here how you think about this supervisor (i.e why she rejected me in the end while writing the proposal with me during the past three months) and if this is normal in Western/UK culture? Thanks!

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    No, it is not normal. Did you ask her for an explanation? Could something have happened which was outside the supervisor's control? – Anonymous Physicist Mar 14 at 23:32
  • In her rejection email, she said the reason was because I didn’t understand some basic concepts in conducting an experiment, such as alternative hypothesis. Firstly, I didn’t remember that was part of the interview questions. Secondly, even if I demonstrated some misunderstanding for that, I don’t think that’s a big deal, given that I have a lot of strengths in my application... – Xiao Mar 14 at 23:39
  • Almost certainly unethical. She may even be mining your ideas for her own research purposes. I call foul. – Buffy Mar 15 at 0:32
  • This is exactly what I am thinking now. Because she said the research idea I proposed was really good and her colleague wanted to get involved in this project. At that time I was so happy about this, as it was another sign that she wanted to take me as her student..... – Xiao Mar 15 at 0:38
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    Maybe it took her that long to realize that you were more interested in having shiny prestigious university name X listed on your CV than actually doing research with her (just like you stated at the end of your question!). That's a deal breaker in many cases because it's a huge pain to supervise students who are not motivated by the actual research but by secondary factors. "I really wanted to get into this uni, the supervisor was actually less important" says a lot... – user2705196 Mar 15 at 12:03
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It doesn't matter what we think about this person. We are not their judges. You will meet many people who act extremly unethical (and get very far in their career by this strategy). The best for you is to forget this person and move on with your life -- this case is just over and you cannot do anything about this. Don't get unhappy by constantly thinking about some toxic person. Talk to some friends and make sure you get mental support from them.

If there was a bit of useful critism (you mention something about some hypothesis), take this to your heart and if you come into a similar situation, try to learn from these thinfs (e. g. find out to effectively communicate your knowledge about those hypothesis).

While there is a lot of unethical behaviour in academia, for what it's worth, this kind of behaviour I've never ever seen before.

  • Thanks for your suggestions! I will move on and also learn from this in my future applications! – Xiao Mar 15 at 0:31
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    I find this a rather unhelpful answer. All the answer is saying "that person acted unethically, get over it". – Wolfgang Bangerth Mar 15 at 1:51
  • And that's the only important thing for the OP. Life is full of bad people, don't get a victim of them. – user105595 Mar 15 at 6:22

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