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A very high profile Prof. A recommended me to another high profile Prof. B to do some work for him. While normally as a graduate I should be very thankful and jump on this, I simply cannot do the work asked due to time and I also believe there would be a more suitable candidate for the work. Prof A's recommendations hold very high weight in the field I work in (his previous recommendation got me a job as an undergraduate). I feel that Prof A may have misunderstood my skills (he confused Java programming with Java web programming essentially). Prof A knows me somewhat well (I work for him currently), so perhaps this is why he recommended me.

How do I turn down Prof B's request in a polite manner without losing any face to myself or Prof A? In my response, should I also forward candidates whom I think would be able to do the work (e.g. cc them in the email)?

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"While normally as a graduate I should be very thankful and jump on this, I simply cannot do the work asked due to time and I believe there would be a more suitable candidate for the work."

That is more or less exactly what you should say. Express your gratitude to Professor A. If you have a major academic obligation taking up your time, like comprehensive exams or something, mention that. Do NOT CC the candidates you have in mind, but do mention to Professor B that you can recommend someone else who you think would be a good fit.

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  • The request is only from Prof B. Should I say anything to Prof A? – user3898238 Oct 5 '14 at 3:00
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    Of course, like I said: express your gratitude to Professor A. You can also let him know that you are unable to take this particular position, but the point you want to emphasize is your appreciation. If you have a very good excuse for not taking the position, it may further help to show that you are not dismissing the opportunity lightly. – Brian Z Oct 5 '14 at 3:08
  • Thank you Brian. If I clarify that my background is in Java but not Java web programming, would that cause Prof A and myself to both lose face? I guess these may be easily confusable, especially since Prof A's field is mostly theoretical. I do not want to appear incapable of taking additional work (and therefore less likely to be recommended for something in the future?). – user3898238 Oct 5 '14 at 3:50
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    I probably wouldn't bring that detail up, at least not to Professor A. – Brian Z Oct 5 '14 at 5:44
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Don't bother going in the detail about Java, just tell both professors that you do not have the available time to commit to prof B.

If they mention changing your schedule with prof A, then recommend your alternative candidate (which hopefully you do anyways), and express your concern that taking on prof B's project may take more time than you have available, even if prof A gives you time off from working for him.

Another possibility (though I don't know how well this would work, since you don't provide any project details), would be to say that prof B's project is going in a different direction than you see your future heading.

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