I'm not from Europe, but about to finish my masters there.

Through my thesis, I was introduced to the wonderful world of topic A, where I was tutored by the research group G. My supervisor and I were happy with the thesis, and are currently applying for a PhD grant. My supervisor spent significant effort preparing this application with me, of which I'm grateful for.

However the grant is by no means guaranteed, and I still haven't received a clear answer on what happens if we don't obtain it. As an international student, I will have to deal with the nasty question surrounding my visa. I can't wait until the grant decision before making my next move. In fact waiting for the grant decision itself is already a risky move for me.

Thus I would like to hedge my bets. In another country in Europe, a group H is also working on the topic A (though the projects are different from group G). I'm thinking about contacting this group to also ask about a PhD (again applying for a grant with them), but several questions bother me:

  • Tell the new potential supervisor that I'm also applying for a PhD grant with group G? Not letting them know feels really wrong to me, plus might spawn questions as to why I didn't apply within my own group. On the other hand, letting them know might lead to me not being taken seriously?
  • Tell my current supervisor that I'm applying for other positions as well? However I don't want to damage my relationship with him. On the other hand I would probably have to submit a recommendation letter from my current supervisor. I already did this once for another position within the same university, and judging from his reaction I don't think he appreciates it (though the recommendation given is still genuine).
  • In the unlikely event that I get both positions, which will I choose? Another professor pointed out that I will have to answer this question. This one is not a question per se, rather a consideration that I will have to take into account.

I'm hoping that someone can point out whether my worries are valid, and other unseen pros/cons. Perhaps I shouldn't even contact the other group?

3 Answers 3


Normal supervisors understand that normal prospective PhD students apply to multiple positions. This is a non-issue and will not make any normal person "not take you seriously" or "damage your relationship with them".

There are of course a small number of advisors who do feel pathologically possessive of "their" students, but if your current supervisor does not give out this vibe, then there is no reason to assume that they are (and indeed, if they are, that's all the more reson for you to pursue other options!). Just because they invested their energy into helping you with a PhD grant application does mean you shouldn't also pursue other options in parallel. To do so would be to misunderstand how PhD applications work.

"In the unlikely event that I get both positions, which will I choose?" Whichever one you like better. You don't have to decide beforehand.


There are lots of stories here from people who went to work with a supervisor they came to not trust for whatever reason and kept working with them and now 5 years later they have a problem.

I don't think anyone here can tell you the right answer for your situation, it depends on all the personalities involved. But I can tell you that if you don't trust someone with this sort of information, I think you're mistaken to trust them to be your PhD advisor.


Firstly, I apologise as I am not sure if your PhD is based on a publication, position in the field or your own research project. It seems like you are considering more than form, but I am sure my answer will still be relevant to you.

From my own experience of making PhD applications, most respected Professors assume you will apply to a range of grants in addition to numerous institutions as the places for PhDs and its prospective funding are immensely competitive.

While I was applying, one of my potential supervisors encouraged me to apply to every institution which could support my research because "you might receive generous funding with a different university" and then continued to inform me of other supervisors in the field. The potential supervisors who interacted with me were very professional, supportive and friendly. From what they said, it's normal for potential supervisors not to become too attached to the idea of working with a particular potential PhD student. Remember, they ultimately give support to all potential students, but some may choose to study through a different institution due to funding or the university's reputation for their subject area. Alternatively, they may not receive a place at all.

However, you do not need to tell them as they already expect you to apply to multiple opportunities. However, if you do inform them without good reason then you could potentially cause offence to the supervisor or waste their time. I understand that it seems very unusual, but you do not need to remain loyal to one particular institution or supervisor unless you have confirmed an unconditional offer. Personally, some of my potential supervisors knew about the others because they recommended them, or I applied for funding which would permit me to work with multiple supervisors from two or more institutions. It did not cause any problems, and I am still awaiting some responses.

This is only causing emotional disturbance because you are new to the process, but I wouldn't tell them about the other potential supervisors without good reason. At this stage, you should definitely consider applying for more than place and numerous funding providers.

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