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I wanted to know your opinion about this: I had interviews (separate) with three professors that they know each other. One of them which is not my first choice has accepted me, the others still have not answered. How should I reply to his email? Is it okay (=accepted) to tell him I am waiting for other professors' answers? I am asking since the fact that he accepted me I see it as a favor, so I am not sure if it is polite or nice to tell him I am waiting for other professors' decisions. What do you think?

P.S. The reason that I contacted all of them at the same time is that they have a deadline for choosing students, so if I had missed them or none of them took me, I would have to wait sometime with no supervisor.

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  • Was it a single interview or three separate ones? I assume separate, but it is not very clear.
    – GoodDeeds
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 8:02
  • @GoodDeeds yes, separate. I edit my post and add more information.
    – mathvc_
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 8:03
  • "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" - what do you think?
    – Solar Mike
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 8:17
  • Is there any reason you can't wait a bit to reply at all?
    – Buffy
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 11:01
  • @Buffy I think it is not nice to stay silent for some weeks since maybe the teacher wants to fix his or her plan.
    – mathvc_
    Commented May 30, 2020 at 1:35

4 Answers 4

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I think it's perfectly ok to let the professor who's accepted you know that you are waiting to hear back from another opportunity before deciding what to do. There's no need to be any more specific than that. Ask the professor if there's a deadline that you need to tell him your decision by. If it's soon, you could even let the other professors know that you have an offer in hand and need to decide soon. This may speed up their decision.

Don't worry that the professors will think negatively towards you for this. It's a very common situation to be in, and academics understand that students will have their own preferences for who they want to work with. Just make sure you are polite and not pushy in your communications with them.

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    thanks for your answer. it helped a lot. the only left point is that this prof's email is so "excited" so I feel bad to tell him you're not my first choice. I don't know, I fear if he rejects me, then I will have no supervisor...
    – mathvc_
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 8:28
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    @mathvc_ it is a difficult situation, but I believe that honesty is the best policy. You don't want to end up working with your second choice just because you feel guilty for turning him down! Just ask for some time to decide, and wait for the decision of the other professors. Commented May 28, 2020 at 8:29
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    thank you very much. yes, i think i'd honestly let him know since he is also very nice. thanks again!
    – mathvc_
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 8:31
  • @mathvc_ Small advice from a researcher who had three previous supervisors: In addition to being talented and genius, with a very interesting research projects, a nice and friendly supervisor will make you love the journey and will support you till the end! It is something very important. So, I hope you really consider this professor as your supervisor also.
    – Quantally
    Commented May 31, 2020 at 15:16
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It is totally reasonable to communicate to the professors that you are considering working with others in the Department. I would further argue that being able to communicate transparently about difficult things is a good signal to faculty that you might be good at communicating with your supervisor generally. Because these professors know one another, probably collaborate together, and would have probably developed relationships, I would assume there is a level of comradery among the faculty. If there isn't, this would indicate to me a potentially unhealthy work environment for your graduate studies.

Consider then the following couple of cases:

1) You accept the first offer that comes your way from professor A

In this case you secure a supervisor and your path forward, for the moment, is clear. The opportunity cost of accepting the first offer that comes your way is that you may potentially lose the offers from the other professors with whom you're more interested in working with anyways. The reason for the lost offers could range from professors B and C not wanting to try and "steal" you away from their colleague or perhaps professors B and C could also each accept a student in the time it takes you to decide; there are many ways that situation could evolve. Whatever the case may be you run the risk of restricting your options right away. An additional risk is that you might accept the offer and then find that you'd rather work with another prof once they give you an offer letter, which puts you in the position of now having to retract your acceptance from prof A and for some people this could be really hard to do.

2) You hold off until all of your offers come in

In this case by waiting out for the offers from B and C, you run the risk of potentially losing supervision from A if a student more suitable to their interests and research needs comes their way. The benefit, however, is that you might secure a spot with a professor who you are more personally invested in working with. If you think that an offer letter from B and C is likely, then you should weight the risks according to your risk tolerance.

At the end of the day what is the most important thing for a graduate student is having a supervisor that you are able to tolerate (but ideally enjoy working with), a supervisor that is invested in your growth as an academic and individual, and a project you can find some excitement in for a long period of time. Working with a supervisor that you don't really want to work with for 1.5-2.5 years (masters) to around 4-5 years (PhD) is a slow hell that you probably have been exposed to on this forum and is a scary reality for many people.

Just because you were given an offer letter right away does not mean you have to accept it right away. Expedience can sometimes be the death of long term happiness, and in graduate school (particularly a PhD) you want to think what will give you the most joy (academically, professionally, and personally) on average over the course of a 4-5 year basis.

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I believe it is totally fine to tell the professor who chose you that you are waiting for a response from other professors. You could mention also that you are more interested in the research topics that the other professors do.

It happened to me once. I applied for a research assistant position at my university and in a space center. I was accepted into the space center first, so I took it. After a few weeks, I was offered the position at my university and it was more preferable to me! I simply talked to my supervisor at the space center and I explained things to him very politely. It was just ok for him.

I think professors went through all of this before and they just understand the situation.

GoodLuck!

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Don't tell the Professor that you are waiting on another professors. This is bound, with some chance, to hurt their feeling or cause some sort of disappointment on their side (this is possibly dependent on many factors, countries, discipline, etc., but with high probability will come off as something disappointing).

Tell the professor that you are very happy about this, but you need to sort out some things before officially confirming your choice. Without explaining precisely or going into detail.

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