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I have seen something similar has been asked but I seriously don't know what to do. I applied to 3 PhD programs all from quite good Universities. For all of them I contacted a potential supervisor, and they agreed to supervise me after a skype interview. Recently I finally got an answer from the best of the 3 Unis and after three interviews and a small project, the professor agreed on supervising me.

Due to some life events I had to wait one month to complete one of the applications, which I think it already pissed off one of the professors.

Obviously, I would like to go for the best University, not only for its ranking but also because of the city itself, the people I know in that city, and the research field which is closer to mine and more interesting for me.

All the professors agreed to supervise me after meeting me for an interview and after deciding a research topic. I have already applied to all 3 of them and I am waiting to know anything about the funding.

I did not want to take the risk of getting no scolarship for the position and missing the deadlines for others possibilities (which would then force me to wait up to one full year, which is really not a good option).

Now I may win more than one scolarship, so:

How can I decline the other two offers? I wasted their time and possibly affected their chance to accept other PhD students. I don't want to sound rude, but the PhD it's a very important choice in my life. I know they invested some time in me and my application.

From the way the talked to me, it looked like they did not consider the idea of me applying to other Universities (some of them even introduced me to the research group). I feel incredibly embarassed to be honest.

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    I'd say that being introduced to the research group is a normal part of the interview process (to see if you fit well with the group, and for you to see if you like the atmosphere). Don't feel embarassed about declining even after the professor's investment in you-- this too is a normal part of the application process. – astronat Oct 18 '17 at 17:55
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    I wasted their time — [citation needed] Even if you decide not to join their research group, you've established connections with potential future colleagues. — it looked like they did not consider the idea of me applying to other Universities — Oh, I'm sure they considered the idea, just not in front of you. Remember that they are applying to be your department; why would they even mention their competitors to you? – JeffE Oct 18 '17 at 20:53
  • Thank you everyone. I really appreciate it, for sure I learnt a lot, but I was just worried to make "enemies" or to upset the professors, which is not really my purpose! – Gabryxx7 Oct 19 '17 at 13:43
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I wouldn't say you 'wasted' their time. All supervisors are well aware that most applicants apply to more than one institution at a time; wisely so, especially that PhD admissions for good universities are highly competitive, and one shouldn't risk their chances applying only for one place.

Unless you made a promise or commitments to be working with them, you've been an applicant and have acted as such. As an applicant you have the option to decline an offer, so this is totally normal.

Therefore, you can contact the other supervisors; the sooner the better so that they can consider their other options too. You can thank them for their time and the interest they had in you, and explain your situation like you did here. They will likely understand the situation (TBH this should be happening a lot for them).

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    Thank you for your reply! No I did not commit to anybody, I always specify that "I will be sure after I know the result of the scolarship application". For sure, as soon as I know something I will contact them as soon as possible. Right now I am waiting for my top choice, after which, be it negative or positive, I will be able to decide! – Gabryxx7 Oct 19 '17 at 13:44
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I applied to 8 PhD programs and went to 5 different interviews. I was eventually admitted to 4 programs, and had to notify the rest that I would not be attending their program. Professors do expect you to consider other choices, so do not be embarrassed. Letting them know about the decision is the best thing you can do.

I am posting one of the letters I sent in case that helps:

Hello XXX,

I am writing to let you know that I have accepted the offer of admission from Uni X. It was a difficult choice, and I will miss the atmosphere and opportunities at Uni Y, but I hope that we will be able to stay in touch. I really enjoyed meeting you and your lab members and look forward to learning about your future work!

Best, neuranna

In my case, I also sent similar (but shorter) letters to other interviewers I had, since they also invested their time and effort into considering my application.

Bottom line: there is nothing wrong with declining an offer, but do notify your prospective advisors and do it politely!

  • Thank you! Is good to know this is a common thing among students looking for a PhD position! – Gabryxx7 Oct 19 '17 at 13:48
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It sounds like you do not yet know what kind of funding will be available at the three institutions to which you applied. If that is a defining factor in whether you accept, I would wait until you have the final offers in hand, make your decision, and then politely decline any alternative offers. As @ali14 said, this may be disappointing to the other supervisors, but not at all unexpected or unusual.

  • Unfortunately I cannot be certain until I get news on my scolarship applications. But the applications' deadline are all in the same period, which means I have to apply to all of them at the same time, being potentially notified of the result at the same time (again). – Gabryxx7 Oct 19 '17 at 13:47

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