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Yesterday I emailed a professor inquiring about a research opportunity. He replied within an hour, told me to follow his profile to find the open position, and that he would be pleased to receive my application as I was fit for the position. I followed his profile on LinkedIn and emailed him that I would love to submit my application for position A. Now comes the awkward part, he wanted me to apply for position B, not position A. I think I seriously messed up this opportunity. He hasn't responded to my mail yet. My research area is better suited for position B. And the deadline he mentioned in his first email was for position B, too. Anyway, should I tell him I didn't know about position B since I am considering applying to it? (I didn't see position B. He posted position A two days ago and position B one week ago. I'm dumb. I hate LinkedIn now).

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  • 5
    How do you know which position he wanted you to apply for?
    – Buffy
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 12:44
  • 1
    He told me he'd be shortlisting candidates for interviews in around one month for the position (not specified). Position A closes on 28th May and Position B on 28th March. I assumed position B makes more sense this way. Isn't it?
    – Saadia
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 13:26
  • 3
    At least in my institution, "positions" are much more fluid than you must apply for this and only this position. It's not a big deal for me at least to interview someone for one position and actually employ them in another. I don't think this "blunder" makes you look "dumb."
    – Ian
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 14:05
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    I don't understand what the problem is supposed to be. You feel like position B is a better fit for you, and he wants you to apply for position B, but somehow this is an awkward blunder that messed up your opportunity? In any case, you can apply for either one, or for both. You don't need his explicit prior written permission to apply for A rather than B if you feel like it. Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 17:47
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    I'm no professor, but if it were me, I would simply ignore an email that says "I thought I wanted to do X, but now I realize I want to do Y". Then do Y, you don't have to tell me, especially if I will see which you do in the end. (The suggestion to apply for both positions seems like a useful one, and somewhat also alleviates the perceived gaffe, to my mind, if ever there was one.)
    – tripleee
    Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 9:23

5 Answers 5

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Perhaps you could apply for both and indicate which you'd prefer. Or, since it is a bit unclear, apply for the one you really want and indicate somehow, perhaps in a note (email) that you have additional interest in the other.

If the skill set for the two positions overlap, you are probably able to be considered for either.

Alternatively, just ask them which they think you are more suitable for, assuming you are more or less neutral between them, which may not be the case.

To be honest, this doesn't seem like a blunder on your part, just odd interleaving of times.

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I followed his profile on LinkedIn and emailed him that I would love to submit my application for position A.

After you have been invited to apply, an email saying "I would love to submit my application for position A" is just noise that will be quickly ignored/archived. I would not expect a response to that email (what would the professor respond to that anyway?). At this point, he is waiting for an actual application, so just send that.

It is also not a blunder to apply for position A. If you are interested in both positions, then mention that in your application, stating your preference if you have any.

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Just explain everything to him:

I just realized that I was looking at another position (A) with a different deadline, when I sent you my earlier email, before I noticed that there is also position B. I think my research area is better suited for position B, so I will submit an application for that. Sorry for any confusion!

I don't think you messed up anything, by the way. It's just a minor mistake.

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Given that your professor seems to be of the type to encourage people, his heart is probably in the right place. If so, then I think if you simply explain the situation to him in a forthright manner, as you have to us, you'll find that he'll simply say, "Oh, of course, that makes more sense!"

If you can do it in person without being a bother to him, you'll likely get the best results. People are typically much warmer and much more facilitating towards a face in front of them than they are to a block of text on their desktop.

Also, most people who aren't horrible will appreciate humility. Showing that you are willing to say you think might have goofed up tends to be an endearing quality.

Personally, when hiring people, I like it when people are willing to admit ignorance or to point out a mistake they've made. It shows that they aren't prideful and won't stubbornly refuse to admit they're wrong some day in the future when it's crucial to know it so we can correct the problem they've caused.

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Ignore his advice to you that you should apply for position B.

This is an old trick by hirers who do not want to give a plain refusal to applicants that they do not want for often unspoken reasons. They usually speak about a very attractive other vacancy about to arise in the near future that they feel would be much more suitable to someone of an applicant's obvious talents and other such flatteries.

Once you apply for position A you are now in a situation where you would have proffered yourself for position A by email and position B by formal application. This puts your motives in doubt.

And if you just let your decision to apply for position A ride for long more, you'll be deadlined out of consideration for it.

So ignore position B.

Put in a formal application for position A, as you had intended from the outset. But don't be surprised if your application is ultimately unsuccessful.

Ultimately I think you will be well rid of this professor.

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  • If I read in detail the question from OP, I can see that OP is a better fit for position B nad the professor somehow discovered the same and told him to apply for position B. You see some malice in this professor pointing to professor B, I think in general you are right but here I see a professor that genuinely spent some time evaluating the candidate and then hinted at the candidate that position B has a better match with their skills. Maybe I am just an optimist ;)
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 11:18
  • When I have multiple positions and a lot of good candidates I often suggest those that might be a good fit for the second position also apply for it.
    – Elin
    Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 17:15
  • Seems I got positions A and B confused ! Apologies. Maybe you are right: it could be innocently intended. Still, I doubt it from past experience. To me it's more a case that the PI has a particular candidate or class of candidates in mind and is avoiding disappointing a lot of others who may later hold it against him.
    – Trunk
    Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 17:57

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