Last year, I reached out to several potential PhD advisers as I prepare for my PhD applications. One of the potential supervisors (let's call him supervisor A) with ties to the industry responded and offered me a short-term research position at their company (which I accepted) while I prepare for my PhD application at university A.

However, I was recently contacted by another professor (supervisor B) at university B. I was able to interview with his team and successfully received a PhD offer. I am inclined to study at university B, but am hoping for a scenario where I can still work with supervisor A as an industry partner or co-supervisor. What is the proper etiquette in informing supervisor A about my other PhD offer at university B?

Note that at this point, I have not formally committed to a PhD program yet despite having accepted the short-term research position with supervisor A. But there is the expectation that I would apply at university A and pursue my PhD there (to be fully funded by supervisor A).

Will I be burning bridges if I decide to pursue my doctorate at university B? Considering that PhD is a major commitment, I would hate to turn down the opportunity out of decorum/politeness. What is the best way to bring this up with supervisor A? Would it make sense for me to invite him to be my co-supervisor at university B?

Edit: I'm particularly curious about the ethics of switching gears when I've already given the impression to one supervisor that I'll be pursuing a particular PhD program. What's the best way to bring this up (email, direct 1/1 conversation) and how should I word it so as not to burn bridges?

  • " I can still work with supervisor A as an industry partner " is it because you think about your future after PhD? do not do that: it is premature to think (worry) about that at this point of your career.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 15:27
  • @EarlGrey Not necessarily; It's just that I believe both supervisors have mutual research interests and this might be a great way to bridge academia and industry (i.e. research and direct application).
    – meraxes
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 15:33

3 Answers 3


I suggest that you don't inform anyone about other possibilities until you are ready to make a choice. This assumes that the choice isn't dependent on what A would say.

But, take a good look at your priorities as well as your options.

Keep your options open until you need to make a decision. Don't take actions that close out your options prior to your "decision point". If you choose to accept an offer from B then the advisor their will have a say in whether also working with A is advisable or not.

  • Will it appear as if I'm playing a double game if I suddenly switch plans without asking for A's feedback? I'm just worried that I may have given the impression that I'm set on pursuing university A and going back on my word may be unethical.
    – meraxes
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 22:41
  • 2
    Until you make a commitment you have no obligation. There is no ethical concern. Look to your own interests.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 22:57
  • By commitment, do you mean accepting the actual PhD offer? Or does this include informal commitments (e.g. conversations, email, etc. based on hypotheticals) as well?
    – meraxes
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 23:27
  • No, it needs to be something formal. A real mutual agreement. Not necessarily in writing, but definite. People understand that. Don't feel coerced.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 23:33
  • I guess the closest to a mutual agreement would be the clause in my short-term research contract stating "potential enrolment at university A", but even that sounds indefinite. I'm assuming this doesn't count?
    – meraxes
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 23:36

Do not worry, do not overstimate the importance of your profile: you are just the preferred candidate if your supervisor will obtain fundings for the PhD position you have been somehow "promised". Take the best for you, other people will find the best for them without depending on you, because it does not depend on you.

Reasoning by absurd: if you were so fundamental and relevant for the research you should perform for your PhD, you would have been a PhD student now.

About inviting supervisor A to be co-supervisor of your PhD at B: yes, good idea, but first discuss it with supervisor B, then invite A (you may anticipate to your current supervisor A that you are going to accept an offer for a PhD from B, but you would like to keep him/her, if it is of mutual interest).


"Burning bridges" does not so much happen by the fact that you accept an offer (accepting something always mean refusing all the rest!), but how you do it. There is a world of difference between disappearing one day and the advisor learns by accident that you are working with somebody else ... and having a polite discussion in which you explain what you want to do with your career and why you prefer offer B over possibility A...

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