I am looking for a PhD/job position. I sent an email to a group doing things potentially aligned with my interests. I had an interview with them and I am not enthusiastic about the project. I could see myself joining the group but the topic is quite far from my perfect topic.
They encouraged me to apply early to the doctoral school (they did not say they'd take me if I was admitted, but I think I do have some chances).
Fast forward one month and I haven't applied to the doctoral school, the deadline is still very far away, and I still want to find better options. They just asked me if I had heard back already from the doctoral school.
What could I tell them? My intention is not closing doors, but not stepping into this one too much either.
I could tell them that I still haven't managed to gather my references, which is true (I am in Europe, you don't always need reference letters for getting into a PhD programme), but not completely "honest", since there is a chance I will never apply to the school to take a job offer. Is it a good idea to just say I am still looking around and I will take time until the deadline, in case? They might start preferring other candidates if I ever was a top choice.
Disclaimer: this question is similar to this one, but substantially differs in the nature of the involved "offers".