I contacted potential supervisor A (UK university), and A told me he is not sure whether he could supervise me. He copied my email to potential supervisor B (UK university), and the very awkward thing is that B has already rejected my application before I contacted A. So awkward! What should I do? Do I need to send an email to A to say something?

  • 2
    Oof, that does sound awkward. Not much you can do, though ... Oct 12, 2022 at 18:20
  • 4
    Why is this awkward? What did A ask B? Should B be co-supervisor or comment on the topic? Or does A propose that B becomes the supervisor?
    – usr1234567
    Oct 13, 2022 at 5:41
  • 7
    You may also find that B always rejects applications unless they come with a recommendation from someone else
    – Valorum
    Oct 13, 2022 at 6:52

4 Answers 4


I disagree that this is all that awkward: students are expected to correspond with multiple professors looking for a PhD position, and most of them will not have space for the student or will choose someone else (or the student will!). In this situation, both supervisor A and the student thought supervisor B might be a good fit for the student's interests - that validates both supervisor A forwarding the message to B and the student's original contact to B.

I think it's fine to do nothing, but I think it would also be fine to reply-all to the email thread between professors A and B and say both 1) a brief one-sentence 'thanks' to A for considering you and for helpfully suggesting professor B, and 2) acknowledge briefly (one sentence) that you've already heard from professor B that they do not have a position for you.

This accomplishes two things at once: it shows you are gracious, as you'd like to be seen by both A and B as they are professors in your field and will be your peers in the future if your plans work out, and it lets professor B off the hook for needing to respond to A.

No need to apologize for awkwardness or go overboard. Focus your remaining energies on other opportunities.

  • 15
    1) is very good but I would not do 2). Prof B can change their mind, OP suggesting that it is over already may be premature and closes the door. B may want to respond or not.
    – WoJ
    Oct 13, 2022 at 11:55
  • 3
    @WoJ and it might be the thing to tip B's opinion over. Perhaps he values A's viewpoints and might stumble into something he didn't notice upon his previous contact with the Student. Or he might reconsider his position. B might see A's forwarding of the mail as A believing that Student is a good fit for B's research team. Oct 13, 2022 at 15:26
  • 1
    @Woj I do not think that A redirecting to B is meant to be an endorsement or anything like that; rather, the student probably contacted them with research interests that A recognized overlapped best with B's interests. After all, OP reached out to B first, anyways, probably because they seemed to be the best fit initially. Surely B is capable of determining who is a good fit for their own team, and they have already reviewed the student's application.
    – Bryan Krause
    Oct 13, 2022 at 15:30
  • 2
    The scenario @WoJ describes actually happened to me: I thought joining Prof A was ideal for a postdoc and wrote him, and he didn't respond. A little later, I wrote an e-mail to collaborator Prof B saying I was looking for a postdoc in subject X, who simply forwarded my e-mail to Prof. A. Prof. A responded with an interview request, saying that B prompted him to take another look, and quickly thereafter I received a position with A.
    – user71659
    Oct 13, 2022 at 19:28
  • @user71659 Seems a bit different here, where B has already had a look and rejected (which is a stronger behavior than merely failing to both looking and responding). But yes, I suppose if one really wants to keep all doors open you could hold out hope that this mention from A will suddenly change things... I'm doubtful. There are lots of other supervisors out there.
    – Bryan Krause
    Oct 13, 2022 at 19:29

It could be that A was not aware that B had already rejected your application. So, maybe, A was trying to help you by forwarding (CC) your email to B to see if B is interested in being your supervisor.

For now, it seems that both A and B have rejected your request to be your supervisor. Is it true ?

If yes, then you should probably move on and look for a different supervisor. There is no need to talk to A about the fact that B already rejected you.

  • 2
    There is no need to contact A about this issue, but no reason not to stay in contact unless actually rejected.
    – Buffy
    Oct 12, 2022 at 18:50
  • @Buffy. OK. I've just updated the answer to better reflect my original intention. Oct 12, 2022 at 18:59

Person A has not rejected you. They were, perhaps, trying to be helpful, possibly thinking B would be a better choice. While the situation seems awkward to you, it may not seem so to them, if they are friends/colleagues.

Person A hasn't said why (unless you omitted it) that they "may not be able" to supervise you. Perhaps it had to do with themself, not with you. Perhaps they could change the balance. If they hadn't seem something positive in your request, then they wouldn't have passed it on.

I would continue to try to get A to supervise you, provided that you believe they would be a good choice for reasons you've looked in to and not just a random ask. Give them a good reason to overcome their potential reluctance.

But, pursue all other options in tandem. There is no reason to step back from other possibilities.


You should do nothing. B will probably say thanks but then ignore the suggestion. You both already know B is not interested.

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