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I made several applications to Universities in the US, Canada, and Europe. One of the universities in Europe asked me for an interview which I attended several weeks ago. I felt like they dedicated resources to interview me as there was 5 professor present. They interview was completely technical in nature.

A week ago I received an email where a professor wrote a feedback about my interview, and told me that they are considering me for a position. They will have to arrange an interview with their industrial liaison before I get the offer. (In Europe, a PhD is a job).

I didn't receive any decisions yet from other places which are preferable choices to me. In case I get an admission offer elsewhere, I intend to accept it. Otherwise, I will accept the offer in Europe.

I feel like what I am doing is not completely ethical since it seemed to me that they university in Europe, or more precisely the professor I am in contact with, is dedicating lots of resources just to interview me and they are trying to get someone on the project quickly. They have never asked me about my plans or whether I applied elsewhere

My question: Should I say something in the next interview? Is what I am doing right (Keeping this place as a plan B) while applying elsewhere?

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    Interview is a two-way conversation. Unless you have no intention ever accepting their offer, I don't believe you are wasting your and their time, and doing anything unethical. Interview is an opportunity for you to see how much support you would get from the institution, and how much they care your personal development, things that that might sway your decision. It is odd that they didn't ask you about your plans, and availability. – afaust Mar 4 '15 at 19:49
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    The interview is a chance for the school to win you over - perhaps you'll find you like the location, the professors, and the resources more than you originally expected. – Daniel Watkins Mar 4 '15 at 21:25
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    One way to think of it is, honestly, this is true of absolutely every candidate to every/job position on earth - if you are handed a better offer, every sane person expects you to take that one! – BrianH Mar 4 '15 at 22:04
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Having spent many years on the other side, I can assure you that what you are doing is completely ethical. Interviewing at multiple locations is simply part of the process. As a department, we spend considerable resources, both time and money, trying to recruit the best students that we can to our graduate program. We are fully aware that most if not all will receive other offers at top universities. And we know from experience that about half of the students we bring in will ultimately turn us down. It's a calculated risk that we are happy to take in order to recruit a top-notch cohort of students.

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Interviewers typically assume that applicants have applied to several positions, and it's their free choice on how to organize themselves to determine who to make offers to. Will they be disappointed if they make you an offer and then you decline, maybe, but perhaps you aren't their first choice either. Once you have an offer in hand from anyone, you should work promptly with them to accept or decline it within the time frame you negotiate, and if you accept an offer, you should promptly withdraw any pending applications you still have out there.

I would not tell this European university that they are your Plan B or say anything to them about your concerns. They haven't told you how many applicants they have or where you rank among them. They are unlikely to do so.

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Until you have an offer in hand written black on white, you are free to pursue anything else. And promises of maybe, or almost, or for sure don't matter at all. So while it might feel unethical keep pursuing other options but when you get a concrete offer be clear if you need more time to think about it or accept it.

  • Sure the OP is free to pursue anything else but I don't think this addresses the question: whether such behavior is ethical or right, and how one might behave if one is interested in doing the ethical and right thing. The other answers so far do address this very well, I think. – Don Hatch Mar 5 '15 at 2:33

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