I am in the process of applying to summer PhD research internships in industry (I'm in CS). Last year I had two appealing offers, but of course could only take one. This year I am still interested at working at the company whose offer I declined last year. However, I am unsure if it's considered inappropriate to reach out to the lab director again to inquire (this is how I approached it last year). It's not as though I burnt any bridges previously, it just feels strange, kind of like saying "Hey, I didn't want to work with you before, but what about now?"

Is this appropriate? It is research and I am in a research program, so I don't want to ruin potential future collaborations, and I hope I have not already done so by declining a previous offer.

And more generally, if inappropriate, when making a decision between multiple offers, should it factor into your choice that you may declining for this, and all future, internship opportunities?

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    Yes of course you can, it's just a bit embarrassing is all.
    – Jessica
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 4:17
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    It's not the same internship, but a new one. And do you really think they were so heartbroken when you turned them down last year they'd still hold a grudge? Really.
    – Karl
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 5:13
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    @Karl: Of course I don't think that, although your attitude is lovely. It is a bit of an awkward exchange though. I asked because, particularly in my case, I wasn't dealing with random HR folks or arbitrary interviewers, but the group director and a few of the staff researchers in a small group of roughly a dozen researchers. It's not as though I expect them to be "heartbroken," but, as I said above, it feels strange to come back to them a year later.
    – marcman
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 5:50
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    Why would it feel strange? OK, if they spend quite some time/money on preparing your visit, and you only cancelled last minute. But i guess that was not the case, right?
    – Karl
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 6:03
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    On second thought, i think i know what you mean. Best be prepared to be the target of a few jokes when turn up for the internship. I'd certainly raze a rookie who thought my company only second best. ;-) But really I'd be glad to get your higher educated, one year older version.
    – Karl
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 7:11

4 Answers 4


I've been in this situation twice so far in just the last few years, and having to turn someone down who gave you an offer seems...well, downright unpleasant and awkward, doesn't it? I think this is because most of us do not like to receive rejection, and so we feel that saying no is itself unpleasant, and thus we can make the quick assumption that surely the person we said no to will dislike us or bear us ill-will, right?

Here's the funny thing: human behavior almost never actually works this way! It has taken me a long time for me to personally accept that people don't think the way I imagined they did, so I assure you this unpleasantness is completely natural - and something you'll need to get past right away, or it is going to hold you back.

It turns out that most decent people, when offering a job/position/opportunity, genuinely want you to take the best offer, even if they might be a bit disappointed that they couldn't offer you the most compelling option. Most people in positions to offer other people such opportunities have had to tell other people no themselves, and in fact regularly tell people no all the time now. They don't bear anyone ill will for this, and they themselves remember having multiple offers and having to take the subjectively best option at the time.

As a personal anecdote, the first time I recall experiencing this was for a summer internship at a company. I'd received a much higher offer to work somewhere else (nearly double), and I called the first company back and explained that I was very interested in their company, but received a very compelling offer and wondered if they had room to negotiate a bit. They checked, explained they could not for interns, but welcomed me to reapply once I graduate and they promised they'd be able to make a much more compelling offer. I thought they were being polite and would never seriously consider me again, but their corporate recruiter contacted me multiple times over the next few years to see if I might be interested in working with them. I had it happen again in a research position, where again the people I turned down seemed keen on trying to recruit me again!

It turns out that not only do reasonably people understand if you take a more compelling offer (especially if they consider the other offer impressive!), but the fact that you had the other offer - and how politely and sincerely you handled turning them down last time - reflects very well on you, and sometimes you'll find they end up liking you and wanting to recruit you even more! Not all the time, surely - but I've had it happen more times than I had the reverse occur. People who have a lot of options are desirable for lots of reasons, and the funny thing about being desirable is that a genuine expression of interest from you in them and their program is a far more valuable compliment than from someone who is deemed "less in-demand". They know you can afford to be picky, and that's often a desirable trait in any recruiting effort.

So by all means, it is absolutely appropriate to reapply - go for it! Be sincere, and if you feel like it you can even express how you hated to be unable to accept their offer last time, and would very much like to work with them. One caveat, though - this will only work so many times. If you decline them again and again, that's going to get old for just about anyone, so I'd suggest you be reasonably sure you actually want to work for them, or otherwise you're just stringing them along.


"It wasn't the best choice at the time, but now I think it's the best fit for me" is a phrase that has worked wonders for me. I wouldn't use this line twice with the same person though. Especially if it's a new program I wouldn't expect them to be upset or annoyed. They were once in your shoes, remember. They know what this process is like, and sometimes you have to turn down things you like.


This is perfectly fine.

You did not burn any bridges, which should always be avoided since there is nothing to gain from it. Since you still express interest in the same position it is obvious that you did have a reason not to pick up the offer the last time round. Obviously some reasons might be a red flag but I would not preemptively offer any sort of "explanation". Your updated CV will state what you have done last summer. This also shows that you did not just procrastinate, which is probably the biggest red flag.

I assume you chose the other offer because it was objectively the better choice and not just more convenient. In this case the people from the other side might very well be aware why they were not your first choice. Any sort of excuse would just insult their intelligence. They also know that everyone serious about getting an internship is looking at more then one position.

Since you are dealing with humans interactions can always have unforeseen consequences if one side is not reasonable at a professional level but this is certainly a rare exception for someone with responsibility towards staff. So yes it might be possible that you have already poisoned the atmosphere but if things are as described this would not be your fault. I would not expect the other side to hesitate to make you another offer for the sole reason that you turned the last one down. However, you will certainly be remembered if you turn down two in a row. Wether or not this will reflect on someone else in your group depends on the human factor as long as you did not make someone vouch for you.

If you do not facilitate a believe in the other party that you will definitely take their offer and thereby cause them to make arrangements you are not wasting their time and possibly resources to an extent greater than what they have to assume anyway.

Also, always remember that you are also offering something to them. You are hopefully not in such a desperate situation that you have to be grateful to get an internship. Which you did prove last year. One of the keys in job applications and interviews is a balance between showing that you are motivated and interested but not desperate. As well as that you are valuable and aware of it while not coming across as arrogant.


Omnia munda mundis

To the pure ones, all things are pure

In my experience, if you have a solid explanation (eg familiar or professional) it is totally appropriate for you to apply again (unless it was clearly spelled out in the original or current call that it is not allowed).

You might even make a reasonably credible case that now you are more experienced and skilled to better hoard your internship.

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