I am currently an undergraduate in Computer Science, and I am seriously thinking about getting a PhD (I have to apply next year, and I like to do my homeworks way beforehand).

Last year I worked as an assistant researcher in a group at my university. Everybody was really pleased with my work and they said they would be very happy to have me as their student, including the head of the group (he was also one of the professors of some undergraduate courses).

The problem is, while my School is quite good, and I wouldn't mind at all to pursue my degree in this group, I would like to try other opportunities. This would imply requesting a letter of recommendation from him.

Is there any way to suggest that I want to try to apply somewhere else (quite objectively a better grad school, in a different country) and, if that fails, I would like to stay in his group, without being rude? How would this be perceived?

  • 2
    I think it is reasonable for you to pursue any and all opportunities, and reasonable for you to expect your current group to support you - that's no guarantee that they will, but I would suggest being up-front about your intentions, without unnecessary rudeness like referring to your current group as a 'last resort' or something like that. There are many reasons to pursue a diverse education, even without 'ranking' the quality of your opportunities.
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 9, 2016 at 3:29
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    When I was finishing my masters, my supervisor offered me a PhD position. I truthfully told him that I was looking to move and searching positions elsewhere, so he offered me any letter I needed. Later on I changed my plans and asked him if I could still get the position... and in the end I did. If he is willing to employ you he sure is willing to provide you with a nice letter. Just be truthful about your reasons.
    – skymningen
    Nov 9, 2016 at 7:13

1 Answer 1


To your first question, yes. There's nothing inherently rude about wanting to look for positions elsewhere despite having an offer. Professors often want to their top students to stay on for graduate work, but these students often go to other, often better, schools (or don't pursue graduate studies) so your situation is completely normal. Most professors wouldn't be offended by such information. (There may be some cultures where professors' expectations are different, but not the ones I know about.)

I would suggest a frank discussion where you say that, while you'd be happy to continue your studies under that professor, there are some other schools in other countries you're interested in. There's no need to tell him now, but if it comes up again, there's no need to withhold it either. You can also bring it up as a question to see if he has any advice: "Yes, I'll probably apply to the program here, but I'm also thinking about trying to study at XXX--what do you think about that?"

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