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I have applied to a PhD position some weeks ago. After thinking about the given topic and institute for a longer time, I don't want to do my PhD there anymore. They want to interview me but since I would not even accept an offer, I don't want to do the interview (additional stress).

How can I politely decline the interview?

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    Incidentally: please decline the interview as soon as you are sure you will not attend it. The longer you wait, the more people have wrapped their schedules around this calendar item, so it's professional to cancel as early as possible. And whatever you do, don't just not attend without canceling - that is unprofessional, and people tend to remember this. Academia is a very small town. (I'm not saying you would ghost them, this is more for the benefit of other readers.) – Stephan Kolassa Sep 19 '20 at 14:25
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    Don't waste their time, just do it. – John B Sep 21 '20 at 9:06
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Dear XYZ,

thank you for considering me for this position. Unfortunately, for personal reasons I am no longer considering this option. Hence, I have to decline this invitation.

With best regards, clearseplex

In other words, like you would politely say no to any other opportunity - polite, short, and without going into details why exactly you changed your mind.

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    Yes. Note that it is not necessary to give any reasons. – Buffy Sep 18 '20 at 12:05
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    @Buffy Agreed, but it feels more polite to say "for personal reasons" (which really doesn't mean anything) than to just say "sorry, I decline". Might be my personal sensibility, though. – xLeitix Sep 18 '20 at 12:08
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    Actually, I'm agreeing completely with your formulation. No need to be "specific" about the reasons. – Buffy Sep 18 '20 at 12:31
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    I agree there is no need to be specific. "Personal reasons" however sounds like personal circumstances (family etc.). Unless these have changed this would however been a reason to not apply in the first place. So in that case, it sounds a bit fishy ... (Maybe "change in personal circumstances" sounds better?) – user151413 Sep 18 '20 at 13:54
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    Another phrasing would be "Unfortunately, in my present circumstances I am..." – nanoman Sep 18 '20 at 21:10
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I thought I might give an alternate opinion here: is declining the interview in your best interests?

I am not an academic but I have recently been in the position of having multiple interviews / opportunities where I preferred some over others. What I didn't do was decline to speak with someone, knowing that the interview itself might actually convince me to join the company.

There are many benefits to speaking with them:

  1. The way a person / company interviews a candidate should be part of your decision making process, perhaps there are parameters you are unaware of that might sway your decision.
  2. You can get valuable experience in the exact setting you would be hoping to to do well in under the same or similar context even.
  3. An offer from another university may actually improve your odds at landing the one you want. (stalking horse)
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  1. I don't think any apology is necessary.
  2. Actually, I don't think "unfortunately" as suggested by @xLeitix is necessary. After all, who are you saying it is unfortunate for? You? No, you don't want the interview. Them? That seems presumptuous - you are implying they are unfortunate for missing out on your presence.

My suggestion

Thank you so much for your offer of an interview for blah, blah blah. After thinking about it seriously I have decided that the topic of this PhD is not for me at the present time. For that reason I shall withdraw my application at this point. I appreciate the time you have given me.

EDIT

See comment by @JBentley. I agree and would change "After thinking about it seriously" with "On considering my options" or similar.

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    It's unfortunate that everyone invested effort in getting to an interview for the OP to decline unilaterally. Not really a big deal either way – Azor Ahai -him- Sep 20 '20 at 18:15
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    It may very well be unfortunate for the university. The prospective supervisor might not get another student this year, or perhaps the student is extremely good and therefore sought after. Also what @Azor Ahai -- he him said. – Ink blot Sep 20 '20 at 19:14
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    Hmm I suppose. To me this is just the cost associated with running a program. Just like in companies leaving a job with adequate notice (but no replacement) or declining an offer is the cost of doing business. Just because someone else volunteered time doesn't obligate you. – Well... Sep 21 '20 at 3:47
  • "After thinking about it seriously" - shouldn't they have thought about it seriously before applying? IMO the accepted answer is better as it doesn't give a negative impression of the applicant. – JBentley Sep 21 '20 at 9:38
  • @JBentley - You're right. On looking back, I would perhaps substitute "On considering my options", or similar. – chasly - supports Monica Sep 21 '20 at 22:45
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Just politely decline the offer? It saves you time and it saves them time so they can schedule somebody else faster. You’ll be doing everyone a favour, just be polite and cordial, thanking them for the opportunity but letting them know you decided to go in a different direction.

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    OP was asking how to do this, they already knew they wanted to decline politely. – Bryan Krause Sep 18 '20 at 22:40
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I don't want to do my PhD there anymore.

Okay that's how you feel, but reconsider, for several reasons:

A very smart and beloved Physics professor once told me:

Never turn down a job that hasn't been offered to you.

What was meant is that you never know when you might really like a situation, or a specific professor, once you find out more! Appearances from a distance may be totally different than ground truth.

Is there no chance at all that more information might change your mind? What happened to the reasons that made you decide not to go? Are you simply second-guessing your own intuition?

If you feel it necessary, consider a note simply explaining your concerns, and ask if they would still like you to go to the interview. If it's fine with them, then okay you've been upfront.

If that's even a possibility, then consider the added benefit to yourself of practice. In industry where interviews are "just a part of doing business" it's not uncommon to do the first interview for a job (one believes that) one doesn't want very much. It gives the opportunity practice in a lower-stress situation, and to have some experience before doing an interview for a job (one believes that) one really wants.

That will be a bit less common for PhD program interviews of course.

If there are other reasons one wants to skip the interview, then okay. But if the reasons aren't firm, then consider what's potentially lost by not going compared to what's lost by going, and reexamine why you thought you'd like to go and see if those reasons have really changed.

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