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A professor who agreed to advise me asked, "Have you found any other options?" I interpreted this as him asking if I have applied to other schools. I think he knows that I should spread my application to a range of schools, so telling the truth would do no harm. However, since we have had some trouble in the application process* and I need him to help me, I don't want to take a risk. I'm worried that he will lost a little interest in helping me.

How should I react to this?



*The problem may be off-topic, but I will put it here in case it's important. His school doesn't have a PhD program, and he has to advise me through another school. However, when I emailed the other school, they said that I could not have an advisor from the outside. I think this is a mistake and he thinks that too. He has sent an email to them and we are waiting for them to reply.

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    It sounds, from what little info you have available here, that he is wondering if you have a plan B: what if the school that he would advise you through says no, he can't advise you via their school? I'm not exactly sure of the country, but this sounds a bit bizarre in the US, possibly due to wording; a professor doesn't admit you, a school does, and a professor advises you. Many programs may allow a 2nd adviser from outside the school, but they commonly require a resident adviser anyway. Basically it sounds as though he is asking: if this situation can't be resolved, what are you going to do?
    – BrianH
    Jan 7 '16 at 15:24
  • this is the US, and sorry I should write "advise" not "admit". What am I going to do? Just apply to another school?
    – Ooker
    Jan 7 '16 at 15:28
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    Well, in the US for graduate school apply to 4-8 schools is what we citizens are generally recommended to do, and I've heard international applicants often have to consider applying to more. Generally it is universally advised that you should always apply to more than 1 school (or job, or grant, or scholarship, etc.), because even an ideal candidate has a less than 100% chance of being admitted there (and even if so, that one place might not be the best fit after all). For your conversation with the professor, I don't see what would be wrong in telling him the truth and asking him for advice.
    – BrianH
    Jan 7 '16 at 15:38
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    @BrianDHall But yes, the main point is that one is far too few. I think the only situation where I would condone applying to 1-3 schools is when your plan A is to go to an industry/research job to strengthen your resume but you want to throw some "just-in-case" applications to your top choices.
    – Roger Fan
    Jan 7 '16 at 17:23
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    @Brian: It would be interesting to know what part of academia you're in, then. In my field, mathematics, recommendation letters are not personalized, nor are there customized statements of purpose (nor is the personal statement taken so seriously). Note also that the source you quote says to apply to at least 4-5 schools. I think that 5-10 is a good range for most people. It is more important to apply to schools of multiple tiers: applying to 2-3 schools from each of 3 different levels should be sufficient. Jan 7 '16 at 17:41
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It sounds to me like he is just making sure that you will have other options if it turns out the school won't admit you with an outside advisor. I don't think there's any harm at all in telling the truth. If he wants you as a student, the fact you have other options shouldn't make a big difference to how much he is willing to help you in the admissions process. In fact, sometimes having other options can even make you more desirable, as it indicates other people/schools think you are valuable too. (In my case, having other offers allowed me to negotiate a slightly better package at my top choice grad school.) If you're worried that he will be less interested in helping you with your application if he knows you are also looking elsewhere, you could always say that you have applied to/been offered place(s) elsewhere, but that the opportunity to work with him remains your top choice.

Regardless of how you reply to him, however (and as I said, I don't see any reason not to tell the truth), I would say that it's always a good idea to apply to a range of schools. Hopefully you will get in to the school you want and be able to work with him, but if the school has indicated there might be a problem with this (even if you and the professor think they are wrong), you may want to have other options.

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    And, to be frank for the OP, I really doubt that one institution would admit a student, and then allow them to work completely under a professor at another institution. They get nothing out of it, and it can only cause difficulties. Similarly, for the student, you are in a bad limbo where all kinds of things could happen with very little idea about how to deal with the problems. Yes, apply elsewhere. Be open to another school. Heck, actively seek to avoid the situation you are trying to put yourself in! Otherwise you will be back next year asking how to get out of some bad situation.
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 7 '16 at 15:36
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    @Ooker - what do you think they get out of it - they are a host for you at best. They are doing you and your external adviser a favor. The best they get out of it is another graduate, but not under somebody at their institution.It is all risk and downside on their part, with no real payoff.
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 7 '16 at 17:38
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    If the graduate school needs the money that badly, there are worse issues. Run away. There are lots of good professors doing lots of interesting things that you've never dreamed of at other institutions.
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 7 '16 at 17:49
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    @JonCuster: +1, but if you are being made to pay for a PhD (from prior questions of OP, it sounds as if it should be in physics or biology or similar), don't go, period. :) A program not providing financial support to its PhD students is dubious at best. Jan 7 '16 at 21:18
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    @gnometorule - I would have figured that physics at least would have support (even if just a TA-ship). And these days lots of bio stuff is pretty well supported as well (bioinformatics, molecular biology, ...). Yeah, it all sounds almost like a scam.There must be better options.
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 7 '16 at 21:35

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