I found a relevant PhD supervisor who refused to supervise my PhD project by saying that he has no open position in his research group. Is it OK to mail him again and request to accept me as a student, because the work he is doing in his research group is extremely relevant for my research interests. I have received funding and just need space in a research group.

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    Even if he would accept you, he would not have any real skin in the game since you are bringing your own money. There is not accountability towards a funding agency on how their money is being spent vis-a-vis your progress. This means that you would not be his highest priority to allocate time/guidance to. Only reputation of having students in his group doing well would act as a check on that incentive. Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 18:48
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    Is the funding situation a new development? Or did you mention that already the first time you asked?
    – ff524
    Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 1:14
  • Loosely related: another question on appealing a rejected PhD application
    – ff524
    Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 1:33
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    In my opinion, you only ask something again if relevant parameters have changed meanwhile. For instance you received funding... Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 16:09

5 Answers 5


You can always ask.

However, be prepared that the answer may easily be still "no". Direct funding is by no means the only resource that an advisor has to pour into a student. There is also the time investment of actually advising a student, assorted costs for overheads and utilities, as well as presumably some money to fund conference trips. This isn't even to speak of simple inter-personal matters, such as that the professor may feel that you are not a good fit for the lab culture.

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    More strongly: Be prepared for the answer to be "What part of 'no' do you not understand?"
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 14:52
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    To add: "no open position" does not necessarily mean "no funding". It could also mean that "I only have the time to supervise 3 students, and none of them are graduating in the next year." Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 8:16
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    @WillieWong: Exactly, if he asks something along the lines of "Sir. In case the there were no open positions purely because of funding, I would like to inform you that I have secured alternative funding. I understand if you have no open positions due to time constrains or other reasons, but I did believe it appropriate to inform you of this option" I do think that would be fine and not illicit reactions like JeffE expects. Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 14:21

If you had already obtained funding prior to the first request, and the professor was aware of this, you have to seriously question why you were refused a position. Possible reasons are:

  • The professor feels you won't fit in to the group or get along well with him as a supervisor.
  • The professor doesn't have enough time to supervise another student. You don't want a supervisor that has no time for you.
  • The professor doesn't want another student doing the stuff that you're doing. Maybe he wants to diversify into some different areas of your field.

Sure, you could ask him again (and perhaps you should, if you have only obtained funding after the first request). But you should also ask why you were rejected in the first place, because the answer to that question could tell you whether or not you are likely to enjoy your time in his research group.


Assuming the funding is new information, I would ask for an appointment to discuss your situation and any concerns/hesitations the professor might have. Face-to-face meeting has advantage of a dialog that email lacks. You can ask for professor's concerns, express your enthusiasm, and perhaps come up with a partial solution.

Some faculty is hesitant accepting students that they haven't worked with before (from a class), for example. If that is the case, you can either take a class, or ask to be admitted on a trial basis. Other times, faculty might not accept new students because they plan on leaving their current job or retiring.

The solution for you will depend on the specific circumstances that you can only find out through a face-to-face, honest discussion.


In this case I think it's best to first ask for permission to ask. Now, I don't mean to break your request into multiple communications; that wastes everyone's time.

But do start off with mentioning the additional funding and asking whether having funding makes any difference. That way you don't show a lack of respect for his earlier refusal. And if he can give you an answer just from that, he needn't waste his time reading further.

Farther down you can lay out any other arguments, pleading, etc.


Yes you can and you should. Although the group may be full (which can be a good sign) showing persistence and motivation is a good sign for the group leader: they are often very much interested in a motivated student - after all, having groups from which no one finishes the PhD (as may happen with non-motivated students) is not a good thing for their personal results evaluation.

I have a recent story for you: Päivi Rissanen - a former psychiatry closed ward inmate got finally, after a LOT of convincing a place under professor Antti Karisto (http://blogs.helsinki.fi/akaristo/in-english/) in the Department of Social Policy in University of Helsinki and will soon be a PhD, according to Helsingin Sanomat newspaper.

A strong will may meld the world around it to its liking. Do it.

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    Motivation is good. Persistence is good to a point. Asking twice might indicate that the student doesn't give up too easily. Asking three times indicates that the student refuses to take no for an answer and would be impossible to work with. And a strong mind will find it very hard to meld the world around it if its emails get put on the ignore list. Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 16:10
  • Agreed, persistence and pestering are two different things. Not agreed "And a strong mind will find it very hard to meld the world around it if its emails get put on the ignore list." sending just an e-mail is quite a weak approach. Also academia might find it useful to try to get a personal meeting when selling oneself. Original question was "is it OK to mail him". Try personal face to face meeting. Also, PhD:s are not gained by being a quitter. How would you respond: cs.ox.ac.uk/people/david.richerby ?
    – user11788
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 6:31

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