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I've been searching for suitable PhD programs for me since last year, and I came across a fully-funded PhD program at University A with ties to the industry. Unfortunately, I had missed the PhD application deadline so I won't be able to apply until the next cycle, but the potential PhD supervisor has generously offered me a short-term research position (which I accepted) in the meantime as I prepare for my PhD application.

On the other hand, I was recently contacted by a potential PhD supervisor from another University B who is also doing similar research. I am drawn to this particular university since they are very well-known for their research in my very specific field of interest. Since I haven't committed to a graduate school yet, is it ethical for me to apply to both PhD programs at the same time?

PhD is a major commitment in terms of time, money, and energy. I want to work and study at the place that is best fit for me. Will I be burning bridges if I end up applying to multiple PhDs positions while doing a pre-PhD research fellowship at another institute?

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I think that this is a reasonable question to ask these mentors. If they get so upset with you simply asking a question, you might want to ask yourself if they are good mentors (in the sense that they have your best interests in mind). In my experience, open communication is going to be best. We often worry far too much about someone having a negative view of a question we want to ask, when it is actually a reasonable question to ask. If you frame the question as you are "naive" to the typical process, and are unsure how it works, I don't think anyone will get upset, but they might tell you no (worst case scenario) or yes (which is what you want) - and why not ask for what you want?

But I am not in a field that mixes with industry very often so I, myself, am very naive to this subject.

Also, see Quitting PhD program during a probationary period and applying for other programs and Is it dishonest to start a PhD with intent to leave it and transfer to another program? in case they are helpful.

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