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I know that there are already some similar questions, but mine is a little bit different, so let me ask it here:

I applied to two PhD position in mathematics in southern Europe. I just got accepted for one of them together with a full scholarship. They ask me to accept the offer within 8 days, because otherwise it is automatically declined. Now, the point is that in order to "accept" the offer, I have to officially enroll to the university through the online platform. So there I don't have to simply write an email with "I accept", but directly pay the tuition fees and get enrolled.

The point is that the position where I just received this offer, is my plan B. For the other unveristy, which is my plan A, the application procedure is still runing. More precisely, I have been invited to an interview next week, so I guess that the final decision at this university will be made in the mid of August.

My first question is the following: Obviously, I should accept my offer from university plan B, since it would be super risky to just decline it in order to hope that plan A is going to work out too. However, in case I get indeed accepted to plan A, is it then possible to withdraw the first offer? Even after the official enrollment? I would guess yes, because in the end of the day they cannot force me to start, but on the other hand, if money is involves, things are usually more complicated (e. g. Some notice periods or whatever) ...

On the other hand, I guess that many people have been in situations like this, because in the end, most people are applying to several universities/places and have there favourites among them...

(Maybe I should also add that I am not in touch with any Prof at university plan B. The choice of supervisor at this university only starts in autumn at the beginning of the semester. So, there is nobody I would have to apologize in case I withdraw.)

Second question: If I want to get sure if it is always possible to withdraw the position even after accepting/enrollment, I probably should write an email to the university of plan B. However, is this a good idea? Is this something I can ask without sounding that I am not interested in this position, or that I am hoping "to find something better"?

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  • Why would you need to pay tuition if it includes a full scholarship?
    – Buffy
    Jul 11 at 20:19
  • The Scholarship is basically the loan. The tuition fees are just around 160€, so just some adminastratory costs which everyone has to pay and which for some reason are no included in the Scholarship...
    – B.Hueber
    Jul 11 at 20:23
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    What do you mean? Extension of what?
    – B.Hueber
    Jul 11 at 20:51
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    Time for a decision on your part.
    – Buffy
    Jul 11 at 21:28
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    I see, thanks. I don't think thats possible, but I can for sure ask the university.
    – B.Hueber
    Jul 11 at 21:29

1 Answer 1

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Accepting an offer is, in essence, signing a contract. Contracts are legal documents which you should strive to honor, and be it only because you want to be the person who stands by a promise given.

In practice, you can break some contracts if you are reasonably sure that the other side isn't going to sue you over it, or if you never intend to enter a jurisdiction where the other party could sue you over it. It is probably true that the other university isn't going to sue you over not starting the fellowship you have accepted, simply because that's not worth their time and effort. So you will unlikely get into legal trouble if, after accepting the fellowship, you write them an email that you have changed your mind over it.

At the same time: Is this how you want to start your academic career? People are going to upset about it because they earmarked the money for you, declined other applications, and spent their time and effort on your application. They may or may not remember that when you apply to be a speaker at a conference in the future, when they review your papers or proposals, etc. Don't be that person -- if you make a promise, keep it; if you can't promise to keep a promise, don't make it.

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  • Thanks for answer. I see your point. But in the end, the decision is uper important for my future. And as I say, if Plan A is my absolute dream position, I think it would still be bad to didn't try it.
    – B.Hueber
    Jul 11 at 21:11
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    Then contact university B as soon as possible and ask when is the latest you can possibly confirm your acceptance! Jul 11 at 22:23
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    @B.Hueber You're trying to rationalize unethical behavior. The "other people on the waiting list" may have had other offers as well, or may simply not be able to take a late offer because they have made other arrangements when the offer deadline has passed. I get that the decision is important for your future; but so is your reputation. You will find yourself in this situation many times in life. I think the current situation is no different than when you get married: You don't want to be that person who says "Yes, I do, but I might change my mind when I find a partner I like better". Jul 11 at 22:57
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    @WolfgangBangerth Thanks for your evaluation! The point is, I don't really see who should become upset. I haven't applied for any specific Prof, not even for any specific research group. I just applied to PhD in math at the whole department. The choice of research group and supervisor comes in december. So, I really don't see why declining this offer in mid august in case I get accepted in my plan A will make anyone upset. Only the secretaries will be involved in this process and someone else gets an offer in mid August (the course starts in November).
    – B.Hueber
    Jul 12 at 7:51
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    @B.Hueber If you accept an offer from University B and then pull out months later, you will very definitely seriously annoy the professors in charge of the graduate program there. (This holds whether or not you have formally enrolled.) A much better bet is to contact someone at B (the graduate tutor or graduate admissions chair?) and explain your situation to them openly. Your situation is not such an unusual one after all. Jul 12 at 13:56

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