I recently won a scholarship that could (in theory) pay for the remainder of my time in graduate school. However, it comes attached with strings that I'm not comfortable with, and so I've decided to decline the offer.

I was aware of the strings when I applied for it (basically, the public institution funding the scholarship pays x years and you work for them for x years). I thought I had done my research at the time and knew all that I needed to know about that -- it didn't seem like an issue then. Since then, however, I've learned more about the program that has me on edge (some very negative experiences that past winners have had, and a relatively-low salary compared to industry on graduation). Furthermore, the placement is not what I had in mind -- I was hoping for a position on the east coast of the U.S., and they placed me on the west coast.

I have one more year of funding available, so I can continue applying for more fellowships/scholarships; and my advisor had indicated to me in the past that he had other funding available for when my current fellowship ran out. However, I'm worried he'll get angry if I tell him I'm turning down free (for him, at least) funding.

So my question is: how should I inform him of my decision such that (hopefully) he's least likely to get infuriated? Or, put another way, how would faculty members on Academia S.E. want to be informed of such a decision?

(I have already planned to do this in-person; I'm looking for suggestions for what to actually say.)

  • The biggest decision is whether to tell him before or after formally declining the scholarship. Suppose his reaction, whenever you tell him, is to say you are on your own for funding for the rest of the program. Would you still decline the scholarship? Commented May 15, 2017 at 1:23
  • 8
    "I have decided to decline the scholarship."
    – JeffE
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 2:14
  • I still have to meet a single advisor who cares more about funds for a single person than about the growth (personal and professional) of the ones he is advising. Thus I would talk to him openly, present the bad reputation this scholarship has, tell him you will keep looking for a better one, etc. I don't think he made it to his current position without ever declining a bad offer, so he should understand. Furthermore, as Patricia already pointed out, the one with a problem if there is no funding is you, not the professor...
    – Dirk
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 8:36

1 Answer 1


Just honestly tell him your reasons. They are very understandable.

Making a commitment to work for years an institution that you aren't sure you want to work for, at a location thousands of miles away from where you want to be, is a very big deal for your life.

Yes, it might be somewhat less convenient for your advisor, but so what? This decision is about you and what is best for you, not about your advisor. A reasonable person would not expect you to re-order years of your life, just so it is slightly easier to fund their lab.

I would just give your reasons and not worry about it. It will probably be fine. On the off chance that your advisor does get upset, just try to remember that it is not your fault. And certainly don't change your plans in response.

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