Prof. A and I were working on a proposal which we intended to submit to a current call. Upon learning from my ex-supervisor Prof. B that she was also preparing a similar proposal to submit to the same call, I told Prof. A about it, and he suggested that we submit to another call, whose deadline is about two months later. Recently, however, Prof. B invited me to join her team for the current call.

I am considering the following scenarios:

  1. I decline Prof. B's invitation. What should I do in this case? I think I should let her know that I have been working with Prof. A on a similar proposal but planning to submit to a future call. Is this the right thing to do? How do I decline Prof. B's invitation without disappointing her?
  2. I accept Prof. B's invitation and do not continue my plan with Prof. A. Under what circumstances can this be justified?
  3. I join both teams. Under what circumstances can this be justified?
  • Are you a student, postdoc, faculty, or something else?
    – Mad Jack
    Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 18:11
  • @MadJack, I am a faculty. Profs. A, B, and I are in different institutions.
    – adipro
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 4:51
  • 1
    Is making a three way collaboration an option? That is, A, B, and you work together in the same project and applications.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 8:32
  • @Davidmh, B's team is led by C, whose area of expertise is similar to that of A. I actually don't see any value for B to be in C's team, except that B was a PI of a project on which the proposals are based. I was a postdoc on that project.
    – adipro
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 8:56

2 Answers 2


Whatever you do, both Professors A and B will certainly find out. So why not just ask them now how they feel about this dilemma? Perhaps you could even get them into the same room for a discussion. You obviously like them both and would like to work with both. Now you're simply trying to do right by both of them. Who knows. Unless A and B don't like each other, maybe there's a fourth option where all 3 of you work together.

  • I am not sure if I would want to work for Prof. B now that we are in different institutions. If all of us were to be in the same team, there would be significant overlaps of expertise.
    – adipro
    Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 15:13
  • That's an important fact to have left out. I mistook that A and B were in the same department and you actually did like both. If you prefer A, then do A and tell B of your decision. Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 15:44

There is no unique right answer as to what course of action to take in any but the most trivial moral dilemma even if all circumstances is fully known (which, as the story with the previous answer shows, is not even the case). So, you are technically free to do whatever you want, provided that you keep open and honest with all parties involved about your decisions and take into account their concerns as much as your own principles and circumstances allow you to.

The only thing you certainly should do is to tell A about the invitation from B and discuss the situation because you clearly caused his decision to postpone the application by having told the previous story, so now you are sort of responsible for that flow of events. On the other hand, you have no formal responsibility towards B: she hasn't changed any of her initial intentions because of your actions or words, and an offer to join is just an offer to join: you always have a right to decline politely and if somebody gets grumpy over it, it is her problem, not yours.

  • I feel that I should tell Prof. B what my plans are with Prof. A, but I am worried this would disappoint her. But as Nicole Hamilton says, perhaps it is better to disappoint her now than later.
    – adipro
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 5:03
  • @adipro I do not see why she should be disappointed if you tell her that you were already working with A on it and just decided to postpone the submission to avoid unnecessary competition. Any normal person would actually be grateful for the gesture. That is, of course, if what you want is to continue with A. If your heart is elsewhere, just follow it.
    – fedja
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 14:17

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