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I contacted a professor and asked him for a PhD supervision, his reply was:

Dear XXX,
I will retire in 2 years.
Best regards

How could I reply to this email? Is it ok to have this professor as my PhD supervisor and to find another professor who will be my second supervisor, can I talk to him about this?

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    A better idea might be to find another supervisor and perhaps ask this professor to be assistant supervisor for the time they can offer you. Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 17:18
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    I would go so far as to say this professor has committed a (very minor) faux pas in not being clear enough. It is very clear to most of us with experience in academia that he is implicitly saying no. But I can absolutely understand why it is not that clear to someone who has been through the process.
    – Anonymous
    Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 3:17
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    @Anonymous - I'm not in academia, not even a native speaker, and I thought it was a perfectly clear "no, because I will retire soon" response.
    – Davor
    Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 12:31
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    @Davor, Sure-- I said it was understandable why it's not be clear, not that it was completely unintelligible jargon.
    – Anonymous
    Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 15:26
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    @Anonymous I guess it's cultural. In the UK culture, this would be like "No and there's nothing you can do to change my mind". In the US culture, closer to a hard no. But I guess there might be cultures where this can be seen as a soft no...
    – Therac
    Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 19:16

3 Answers 3

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He is telling you no. If you reply at all, just thank him for his time and wish him the best on his forthcoming retirement.

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    I second this, the professor is saying that they wouldn't make a suitable choice. In essence, it's not you, it's them. Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 14:24
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    Anyway, you would be better served - all other things being the same or thereabouts - to have a smaller age-gap between you and your supervisor. Latching onto a researcher with a comet reputation will not be a guarantee of success. It's like other people partnerships: it's not so much about the individuals' abilities but more about the mental connection, the communication line and the complementarity between supervisor and student.
    – Trunk
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 19:54
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    @Marxos He is saying no, and he is saying why. Albeit, the no is implicit. Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 21:19
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    @ComptonScattering It depends on the person. I know people who, saying those words, would be saying "no", and people who would be saying "Be aware that I wouldn't be able to help you once I retire. Are you sure you wish to continue? Y/N ". (I agree that the professor is _most likely saying 'no', given the base rate of retiring professor willingness to be a PhD supervisor, but that doesn't mean this email is communicating 'no'.)
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 1:13
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    @Marxos The terseness of the response also indicates it's a "no". The professor responded to a meet-and-greet email asking to develop the relationship further with a single sentence which can only be interpreted as a reason to not proceed. It's time to take a hint, he is showing zero interest in developing this relationship. Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 12:38
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I think that Ben's assessment of your professor's intention is almost certainly correct, but I slightly disagree with his recommended course of action. I think that both

(a) the professor is almost certainly declining to be your PhD supervisor, and

(b) it was slightly inconsiderate of him to leave any ambiguity at all in his response, which he has done - especially given factors like the power imbalance, the high stakes (for your career), and the fact that as a beginning graduate student, you are unlikely to understand the implicit norms and context that make it clear that he is saying "no".

In order to remove that last shred of ambiguity, I would suggest responding to the professor and explicitly stating your understanding. Something like: "Thank you, Professor. I understand your response to mean that you are not willing to take on any new students, since you will retire before they could complete their dissertation. If I have misunderstood, please let me know. Otherwise, thank you for your time and enjoy your upcoming retirement."

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I once asked a professor to marry me - more precisely, to perform a marriage because he was a minister of the Universal Life Church.

He used a similar retirement argument, pointing to a younger professor who had similar credentials. I referred to his seniority and acclaim as the reason I'd consider only him, he found it sufficiently amusing and/or complementary, and said okay.

To

I will retire in 2 years.

I would first congratulate well, then say "I won't bother you further, but because of your X, Y and Z I think that even a short time interacting with you would be an incredible experience for me, and this way you won't have to bother with all the paperwork and aggravation of the graduation part."

It's just possible the first "No" is not the final, and may just be a check to see just how serious you are and how willing you might be to change primaries later.

However you may want to do a quick check to make sure they currently have students. If it looks like they've emptied their nest already, or nearly so, then maybe it doesn't make sense to ask again.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Academia Meta, or in Academia Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 15:07

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