I emailed professor X some weeks ago. They had no PhD position open but told me they would get in touch again when and if some grant were to be approved (they might have a position then).

He now contacted me, the position was approved and he asked me if I was still looking for a position. In fact, I am, but I wish I could wait one more week to let him know to wait for a likely better offer to materialize.

Do I tell this professor the truth, to take time? Or will this drastically decrease my chances? If so, what is a sensible way to gain some days?

  • 1
    What would your reaction be if your invitation to study under you were met with, “Please give me a week because I’m likely to get a better offer from someone else“? Oct 3 at 21:02
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    Do you know all the details you need to know, for example about the project, when to start, contract/funding details etc.? If not, you can always ask for a meeting to discuss such issues, and there is a realistic chance that the meeting will take some days at least to actually happen. Oct 3 at 21:02
  • @PaulTanenbaum Some other answers in slightly different cases suggested that this was a good idea. That's also why I was asking
    – hahn76
    Oct 3 at 21:04
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    What is the time frame on the professor's side? Have they asked you to accept the position immediately? May there be other candidates? When will you have to sign anything official? Maybe the process takes a few days anyway and you can still easily get out if the other opportunity materialises quickly? Oct 4 at 10:32
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    Not sure whether I'd comment on when I can say something definitive at a point at which I haven't yet been asked to do that. But I'm not the best authority on such things, so I'm not in the position to tell you what to do. Oct 4 at 13:05

2 Answers 2


Replying "yes" to the question "Are you interested?" doesn't imply acceptance of an undefined offer. You can say yes and ask about the position, its requirements and its benefits. You might even be happily surprised with the response.

I'd guess that the discussion, especially by email, would take quite a bit longer than a week. You don't need to reply to any email the minute you get it. It is reasonable to say that you are evaluating any offer and will get back "in a few days".


I think there is not much purpose to being overly "strategic" in these circumstances. You certainly don't want to undermine yourself, but let's consider some scenarios:

First, let's say that the professor believes you're a great candidate for the job, someone they'd really like to have in their lab. In this scenario, in their mind you're also a great candidate for other positions. They previously told you they could not offer you a position, so of course they would expect you to pursue other opportunities.

In this scenario, any reasonable asks you have for more time (though, as others point out, you haven't been given any demand for an immediate final response) should be granted. Ultimately, there will have to be some balance (the professor can't wait indefinitely, they will need to look for other candidates if you go elsewhere), but if they respect you, value your best interests, and also truly believe they are making you a good offer, it will be worth a wait for you to make the right decision for you. In this scenario, they'll also understand that many factors go into choosing a PhD position or any job: sometimes these decisions are made based on family or living conditions rather than purely the work (project, supervisor, institution). Far better to make the decision that works for you rather than get in a situation where you are unhappy and leaving early.

In this scenario, you might as well be honest. You don't need to say explicitly "you're not my first choice", and it doesn't even seem like that's the case. You can simply say that you're considering other opportunities, would prefer to make a decision once you have all possible offers to consider, and ask for a deadline for a decision ("I'm applying for other positions and would ideally like to have all the possible options before making my decision; when do you need a definitive answer by?"). Of course, all of this can happen after you've taken Buffy's advice to inquire further about the position.

In the second scenario, there may be some overlap with the first scenario, but there are some caveats. It could be that the professor believes they are the most beautiful and talented gift to the world, and that anyone willing to consider working elsewhere is a fool. Perhaps they're surprised you even applied to other positions when they expected you to sit and wait for them to contact you. Do you want to work for this person who will continue to think this way in all your future interactions with them, including when you eventually finish working with them and apply for a job somewhere else?

Alternatively, they could fear you will go somewhere else and are willing to apply salesmanship tricks like pressuring an immediate decision to manipulate you to choose them before you get another opportunity. Do you want to work for this person, who doesn't actually think they are making a good offer?

I guess in these scenarios it may be worth playing some game if the end goal is to get a position, but I'd recommend thinking about longer term goals like having a good PhD experience that carries you to your next position. In that case, I think the short-term benefits of winning a game are not actually helpful and may be counterproductive.

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