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I asked one of my professor my interest in pursuing a PhD in her group (who was a great mentor during this year). She told that no position is available and hope that new positions will come in the future and she will let me know. Nothing more about my application and if she wants to supervise me and if I can be a potential candidate.

Do you think it is a polite way to decline my application or is it really what happened in academia and she is being honest at the end.

At the end, I don't know what to think about it...

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    What country? . Commented Feb 7 at 23:45
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    Commented Feb 12 at 20:25
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5 Answers 5

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She told that no position is available and hope that new positions will come in the future and she will let me know. Nothing more about my application and if she wants to supervise me and if I can be a potential candidate.

No position is available. So, if you want a position now, you need to look elsewhere.

Nothing else was said about your application except she will let you know if there is one in the future. There's no guarantee there will be one in the (near) future. There's no offer or guarantee that you will be the best applicant if there is a future position. All you know is that you have not been told that they never ever want to work with you.

I don't think you should take seriously that they will contact you if a position becomes available, not necessarily because it's not genuine but because these things are easy to forget or they may assume you already found something else.

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The professor is not lying in the sense that she genuinely believes that if a position becomes available (i.e. if she has funding for it), she will contact you. She genuinely believes it in the moment.

However, a week later, she will be busy with stuff. Preparing exams. Marking. Writing curriculum. Dealing with emails. Applying for grants. Receiving rejections and rewriting old grant applications into new grant applications. A never-ending cycle of academic life.

A few years later, some funding surely will come her way. Will she remember to contact you? Will she find your email buried deep in her inbox under piles and piles of admin/teaching/research stuff? Unlikely.

Do not expect her to remember her promise and act on it without prompts from your side. If you really liked this opportunity, don't hesitate to email her and reaffirm your interest. Do it on a regular basis, until she either asks you to stop, or makes you an offer.

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    Are you really suggesting the OP should just keep spamming the professor until asked to stop? That seems like a very good way to ensure that they will never work with her. I am guessing you mean "email her once a year or so but no more", right? Not an email a week or every month or something.
    – terdon
    Commented Feb 8 at 16:55
  • @terdon That's roughly how I got my research master's position. I re-affirmed my interest and secured a meeting with the prof before he had funding available. I agree to be careful with too many reminders but the occasional reminder is not spam, I think I only sent one after a few weeks. In any case, the right project did come along after a few more weeks, prof got in touch and I started grad school there in Canada right after graduating college in the Netherlands. Another prof I had talked to from the same Canadian university made it very clear to me that she wants me to send many reminders.
    – Joooeey
    Commented Feb 8 at 17:41
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    A good answer ... until the last sentence, which I recommend removing. "Do it on a regular basis, until she either asks you to stop, or makes you an offer" is doomed to leave a bad impression. The OP should put themselves forward for any normal opportunity, and should feel free to contact the professor in conjunction with that. But "email them until they ask you to stop" is weird advice to say the least. Commented Feb 8 at 18:03
  • @terdon Not contacting professor is also a very good way to ensure they will never work with you. As I said, a vast majority of "I'll call you later" promises are never fulfilled. By "regular basis" I of course did not mean "weekly". Commented Feb 9 at 9:11
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    @DmitrySavostyanov the answer suggests the OP should keep emailing until asked to stop. That is not just contacting, it is suggesting that the OP keep bothering the professor over and over.
    – terdon
    Commented Feb 9 at 10:46
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The professor is being honest. They currently do not have a position for you. They may have no positions, or they may have other positions, but not one they would use on you, for whatever reason. So yes, it is honest, but you don't know the full scope of the answer. Nor does it matter, because at the end of the day, this is still a rejection (because the outcome is the same, you do not get the position you asked for) and you should take it as a signal to keep searching.

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I would take it exactly as she said it, not as a rejection. It may be that nothing will develop as such things depend on too many factors, including funding and other students graduating.

If you have a sense about the length of the cycle for such things, ask again at the beginning of the next cycle if you are still interested. But don't wait for magic to happen. Continue looking for other opportunities.

There is nothing to be gained by assuming the worst, but you need to plan in any case.

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As I said in another answer, a PhD can look like another degree, but it is really a job. Indeed, universities often advertise PhD openings as jobs (here's my university's jobs page which, as of posting, shows two PhD scholarship opportunities).

In the majority of industries job postings are advertised when a manager has (1) something that needs done (2) which they've got money to hire for because they've convinced their bosses that the job will increase the firm's profit. A university isn't that much different, except that university lecturers get that money by applying for research grants.

So what your professor is saying, more explicitly, is that if she gets a grant that lets her hire a PhD student she will let you know, and she currently doesn't have any grants of that sort. It's her job to apply for grants and get back to you. But here's what you can do:

  1. Keep an eye on university press releases and on your professor's website. When professors get grants their university often makes big announcements, and more importantly their university website gets updated. For example, here's my university announcing their medical grant successes. If your professor gets a grant, send them congratulations -- and briefly ask again about PhD opportunities.

  2. Find where your university announces specific PhD openings. If your professor puts one up, apply for it.

  3. Most universities have a few "generic" PhD scholarship places each year. Find out how your university does it and apply, looping your professor in once you're sure you will apply.

All the best!

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    Actually, the nature of doctoral education differs by place. In the US, for example, a PhD "position" isn't a job, but an educational experience that, in the absence of something like a TA requires tuition payments. It is true that many(most?) doctoral students here have TAs, at least in some fields, but it still isn't seen as a job. Australia and parts of Europe are different and more as you suggest here, I think. Among other things, in most fields in the US, application is to a department, not to a professor and admissions us controlled by a committee, mostly, or entirely, of faculty.
    – Buffy
    Commented Feb 9 at 14:32

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