I am a physics student in the UK.

A university (university A) has made me a PhD offer. The email from admissions was very clear that there is a 30-day time limit on this offer. As it happens I am likely to accept the offer, but do wish to take advantage of these 30 days. This is because my partner has also applied to university A, and their application is going well, we think it probable that we may both get offers from this university. However, there is a second university (university B) who has already offered my partner a place and will get back to me in 24 days.

In fact, we will both accept the first of A or B to make us both an offer. Perhaps this is not the best reason to chose a PhD place, but that is beyond the scope of my question.

The professor who would be my supervisor at university A has emailed me to encourage me to accept A's offer sooner. Clearly, I wish to remain on good terms with this professor, in case I do end up at university A. I'm not sure that telling A about the two-body problem is a good idea. How can I politely tell A that I will not accept yet?

Edit; I did inform A of my reasons for hesitating. Not only were they very sympathetic, they did their best to get my partner interviewed sooner, and helped them find an intern-ship with the relevant people.

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    Such situations are more common than perhaps you realize, and it would be perfectly find to inform the professor of your two-body problem. Mar 8, 2017 at 20:38
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    I will respond with an honest explanation for my delay. If it has a noticeable impact either way I will leave a note here.
    – Clumsy cat
    Mar 9, 2017 at 1:31
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    No. Bad idea. Don't unnecessarily give that information out. Might get a worse offer because they know your decisions will be co-dependent and that your choice is somehow limited. Mar 9, 2017 at 8:21
  • @mathreadler fortunately my offer is already made, and unalterable.
    – Clumsy cat
    Mar 9, 2017 at 9:25
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    Thanks for adding the update - I think that result supports the advice you got here from most contributors and will help guide people in your situation in the future. To add one more thing for other folks: remember a PhD advisor is a person you are going to be spending a lot of time with. Although there are a lot of reasons to choose a particular advisor, your life will be easier with an advisor who you can trust to have your best interests in mind in situations like these, and there might be more value in that than the prestige of an institution. Professors are people, too, good or bad.
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 22, 2017 at 20:57

2 Answers 2


In my opinion, since you are already accepted, there is no harm in telling about the two-body problem; if you end up going to University B, [email protected] would likely feel better about that reason than some negative impression of them personally or of University A.

You are well within your rights to take the full 30 days to decide. Certainly not all professors are equally versed or sympathetic towards the two-body problem, but most have experienced it, if not personally, through their colleagues, friends, etc.

Ultimately I think it is your choice whether or not to explain your reasoning, but I would personally lose a bit of respect towards your [email protected] if they were unable to accept you stating simply "My offer gives me 30 days to respond, and I would like to take that entire time to ensure I make the right decision for me. I will inform you immediately of my decision once it is made."

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    I can see what you mean about not really needing to give a reason, perhaps if I did reject A I would tell them about my ulterior motives at that point. I suppose I should mention that my partner is applying in the same subject as me, so I would not want to damage their chances, although it's unlikely that anyone could work out who they were anyway.
    – Clumsy cat
    Mar 8, 2017 at 18:07
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    If your partner is applying to University A in the same field as you, and [email protected] is eager to take you on, I don't see how that would affect their chances negatively, though there could be some unexpected or convoluted politics, who knows. I haven't heard of "spousal hires" for graduate students though for professorships it is very common for spouses to effectively apply together - in many cases, the simple odds of ever having two applicants independently offered a job at the same institution would be minute.
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 8, 2017 at 18:18

I would encourage you to tell your potential advisor, the department, your partner's potential advisor, and their department, about your situation.

I was in a similar situation (in the US), and not only were the advisors and departments sympathetic, they were actively supportive. They helped introduce us to other potential advisors, sought additional funding, etc.

In my situation, we had spent multiple years applying to PhD programs to find a good fit for both of us. In the first year, we did not mention the two-body problem to anyone until after the decision deadline. When I mentioned the challenges we were facing, one professor expressed regret that I had not informed the department sooner. He explained that they try to help in such situations, as it is often beneficial to the university to compromise on joint hires.

The following year, we were more up front about our two-body situation. We experienced no negative reactions and a lot of support. It took us an additional year to find funding for both of us, but we are now both in the PhD program at the same university.

Many academics have experienced 2-body problems. It is becoming more common in the US for universities to joint hire, and it looks like this might be extending to the PhD level as well. I would welcome commenters who can assess whether this is also true internationally.

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