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My uni advisor offered me, some months after my graduation, a PhD position in his group. I do not know any detail about such position.

Right now I am more inclined going in different topics, and I am actually evaluating other proposals, academic and not. Still, since an intersection with my current interests is somewhat possible, I would like to know what their project might involve, but with the serious possibility that I will reject the proposal.

I was thinking of writing something along the lines of "thanks for the message, I am thinking about other proposals in a different direction. Could you please give more details".

Do you think this is appropriate? Would you set up the reply in a different way? Thanks!

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  • Do you have the possibility to have a face-to-face meeting?
    – Buffy
    Aug 17, 2023 at 11:49
  • @Buffy No, I would have to ask for it
    – Lilla
    Aug 17, 2023 at 12:14
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    Then why not ask for a face-to-face meeting ?
    – Nobody
    Aug 17, 2023 at 12:17
  • @Nobody No particular reason, I was thinking about it when I was saying "give me more details". Would you still add the part about new interests in other topics?
    – Lilla
    Aug 17, 2023 at 12:45
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    Since they are your advisor, you should know them quite well. Your own judgement is better than strangers on the Internet. I would ask them the details face to face if I were you. If it's not what you really want, then politely say you are not interested. You must learn how to say no when you need to say it.
    – Nobody
    Aug 17, 2023 at 12:52

2 Answers 2

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You go ahead and ask for more details from your advisor. It's a reasonable request. What you seem to want is to explore other options while leaving this door open. You don't know the details of your advisor's offer, and presumably, you don't know the details of the other options either. So right now you don't even know your options, as you are in the information-gathering stage.

Some people have the mistaken perception that in negotiations, all parties give their "best and last offer" (in real estate jargon) up front, so that you can just enter all the options on a spreadsheet and make a decision. But that's not how anything goes. Most negotiations, like the one you are about to undergo, develop in stages: people send 'feelers' around to see what's available and who's interested (this seems to be your stage now), then if things sound good, all parties ask for more information. You then ask your advisor about the stipend, how much TAing is involved, which project you'll work on and who will have ownership (e.g. will it be your own project or will you be a postoc's helper?), etc. Your prospective advisor will ask about your interests, your time commitment, your requirements for pay and TAing, etc. Presumably you both have other options, that is, you have other positions to consider, and your prospective advisor has other candidates. You keep dancing until an agreement is made.

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I suggest, pretty strongly, that you request a face-to-face meeting to "discuss your future".

Assuming that you have established trust with the person, as seems to be the case, ask them for the details you seek, but also bring up other possibilities and ask for their advice.

An ethical advisor would give advice to your benefit, not their own.

And even if you take another offer, such meetings are useful in maintaining long term contact that can benefit you in the future. But such things are much harder by email where a misplaced word can cause misunderstandings. Make it personal, not impersonal.

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