I am talking with a professor ("Smith") in my department about doing research under his advisement. He seems like a friendly, helpful person, and I think he has tenure. So maybe the pressure would be lower than for an academic struggling to make tenure. He has met with me multiple times already, way before the fall semester has even started. Also, as far as I know, he is also one of only two faculty in the specific sub-specialty I'm interested in, NLP (Natural Language Processing).
The only issue is I jumped the gun. I have not talked extensively to the other NLP professor ("Jones"), and briefly glancing over their papers, I think I may prefer doing research under Jones. But I have already chatted with some of Professor Smith's Ph.D students, and again, they all seem like nice people. It feels like every time I meet a new person and take up someone's time, I'm just going to look like more of a flake if I "ghost" them, even if I do it politely.
I have TA funding for the upcoming semester, and it's my 1st semester. Obviously there are reasons to try to convert that into an Research Assistantship early instead, but I am worried that Smith wants more of my time than I am willing to give; I have a research passion in NLP I'm also trying to work on, one that doesn't require getting paid immediately.
So the tl;dr is:
I want to be free right now
I don't want to limit my options with Smith down the road (he may be one of the people I need to convince to get my Ph.D in the end, or he may even end up being my advisor instead of Jones)
I feel guilty about the whole situation, because it was my fault they think I want to get started right away.
I feel I should have already nipped this in the bud, but I don't know how to without burning the bridge. I have a few ideas, but I've definitely regretted past decisions where I've just gone with my gut without discussing with others.