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My situation:

I applied to school A (R1 school, US News ranked, aligned research) and is nominated by POI for a competitive Fellowship. This fellowship covered tuition + stipend for a couple of years and comes from the school itself (not department). The fellowship offer is only through email, so no official signed letterhead yet. Since the Fellowship is competitive, POI urged me to accept it "within the week" otherwise it will go toward somebody else (one week after Fellowship decision). However, I:

  • Have reservation about the research group (haven't visited the place, only Skype called, their pressure for me to accept, outcome of graduates)
  • Still waiting on other schools, which are very promising (contacts with POI, recommended for admit) yet entirely unsure of fundings.

I know that according to the April 15 agreements, I can accept then reject the fellowship before the deadline without personal repercussion. However, I want to know:

  • How much am I screwing up the POI if I accept the fellowship then reject it later? I am afraid that an email confirmation then rejection would make his research lab and department looks bad to the school for losing potential spots.
  • With question #1 in mind, should I do it? The April 15 agreements seems to be set up for these situations, but is it selfish for me to jeopardize other people chances?
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  • Since the money comes from the institution, it is hard to judge how to be safe here. It is hard to judge if the POI is being entirely honest. What is "reasonable" and what is possible may not align well.
    – Buffy
    Jan 27, 2020 at 21:57
  • You are asking several questions at once. Some of them are perhaps answerable, but some are calls for speculation. Perhaps, you can revise the question to bring forward one clearly answerable question? Jan 27, 2020 at 22:00
  • @DmitrySavostyanov I revised it.
    – anon
    Jan 27, 2020 at 22:05
  • POI? Also the pressure here is odd and a red flag Jan 27, 2020 at 22:28
  • @AzorAhai POI stands for Person of Interest I believe; the person who you wanted to do research with.
    – anon
    Jan 27, 2020 at 22:31

3 Answers 3

4

Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’

It may be legal to accept and then reject the fellowship, but it does not make it right (in my opinion). Academia is still very much built on trust and goodwill. People who choose to scheme their way through loopholes in the regulations may benefit in a short term. But people who stand behind their word deserve ongoing respect and make for leaders of very strong academic teams.

Don't do anything to people that you wound not enjoy done to yourself. If you are having second thoughts about this option, leave it and wait for something else which may be going your way.

4

It is simply not true that if you accept the offer now, you can reject it later without personal repercussions. According to the Council of Graduate Schools' April 15 Resolution, you are under no legal obligation to respond to the fellowship offer before April 15, 2020. But from an ethical standpoint, if you accept the offer, you have responded, which means you've given up the right not to respond. As others have written, academia relies on trust and good will, and people have long memories.

It would be perfectly reasonable for you to thank the POI for their unofficial offer, express your interest in the fellowship, tell them that you are waiting to hear from other schools (and official offers) before making any final decisions, but of course you will answer before the April 15 deadline. In other words, tell them the truth.

If the POI insists on an earlier deadline, you are well within your rights to push back, but I would actually take that as a sign that you should walk away.

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The April 15 agreement is irrelevant. You didn't agree to it. The university may or may not have agreed to it, but they are not following it.

If you have reservations about the outcomes of their graduates, you should turn the offer down.

Do not accept the offer and then rescind your acceptance of the offer. You can ask them to give you more time. They may say no.

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