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I am looking to apply for PhD programs at university XX. My background is in chemical engineering and biotechnology.

Said university XX has a very ample offer on these areas and there are several projects ranging from rather small scale biotechnology-related topics to projects in a larger scale and more close to process or chemical engineering. And everything in between.

I find a lot of them very attractive and even in the hypothetical case of being accepted for several I would have a hard time deciding between them.

How bad would it be seen if I sent applications to several professors?. Will the professors even find out that I sent applications to their colleagues?. How many are too many?

The university in question is a swiss one, where it is traditional to send your application to each professor individually and doctoral programs where you enroll in a program instead of with a supervisor directly are not very usual.

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Your situation isn't that uncommon, actually. You have many options in front of you, and more than one appeal to you. There's no shame in that...

To answer your questions:

How bad would it be seen if I sent applications to several professors?.

I can't see why this would considered bad. If anything you are excited about applying to projects. If you have a good portfolio/application, and if you don't look too desperate there shouldn't be much of a problem. Just make sure that your applications are relevant and fine-tuned for each position. Nobody likes boiler-plate applications spammed all over the place..

Will the professors even find out that I sent applications to their colleagues?.

They may or may not, it depends on the requirement process (whether it's electronic/web-based etc) used by the institution, as well as the ethical considerations by these professors in question. If you are but a name to these people, what makes you think that they'll even recognize that you have applied to more than one position?

How many are too many?

See the part above about boiler-plate applications, and spam. You don't want the person reading your application to get the feeling that you have applied to every possible position. If you can actually muster up a solid application to 15 positions, I say kudos and good luck! :)

But seriously, you don't want to come across as "I'll do anything, just pick me!" Take your time, think about your interests, strengths etc.. And submit one or a few strong applications to positions that are most relevant to you.

If you don't get one of your favorites, but your profile fits some other open position they'll likely call you in for an interview anyways. Especially if it's the same group.

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Finding (and utlimately succeeding in) a PhD is in a great part a question of a good match between the student and the supervisor. Thus, it's completely natural that you apply to several labs/supervisors in a same university.

Some places do even have some kind of global application program, where all the advisors can see your data and choose to make you come for an interview. You don't have to feel bad in anyway.

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