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How to turn down POIs and still keep in good relationship with them


danbrownie
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Hi, I got accepted into a few BME Ph.D programs and I genuinely love every single school I visited and every POI I met. I have been in contact with all of them since the beginning of my application process and developed a good relationship with them. Since my research interest is quite specific, it is very likely that we will be in the same community as I go further in my career (all the POIs know each other too...!). I have (somewhat) come to decide my top 2 schools, but I would still love to keep in touch with all of the POIs from other programs. I am wondering how I can email them and let them know of my decision, while at the same time keep building up my relationship with them and suggest some opportunities to collaborate later? Thank you :)

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It is great that you are thinking about it but I do think you are worrying about it too much. Faculty members are busy professionals that are 1) used to things like this happening, 2) probably have been in your shoes before, 3) are too busy to really think about us as much as we think about them and 4) mostly professional and would not hold a grudge.

So as long as you are not insulting or arrogant etc. in your email, you will be fine. The fact that you are thinking about how to word it and your past history with these profs suggests to me that you are wise enough to know how to write a respectful email.

My only advice then is to keep it short and avoid giving reasons for why the chosen school is better or comparing the chosen school with their school. The general format would be to thank them for their time, tell them your final choice and say something vague about hoping to see them at future conferences etc. It's premature to discuss or even hint at future collaborations with them. Generally, grad students don't spend too much time on collaborations with external profs who aren't their advisor's collaborators until much later on in the degree or even after graduation. Not only you will be very busy, but these other profs will likely want to prioritize their time on their own students. The advisor-student relationship (what you have been seeking through these conversations) is very different than a professor-student/jr collaborator relationship (what you are proposing for the future). With these differences in mind, it's okay to shift the way your conversations go now that you aren't potentially attending. i.e. don't be insulted if they stop writing to you and don't feel like you need to continue keeping in close contact with them. I would say that unless you have a concrete collaboration in mind (and approved by your advisor/department), you probably shouldn't continue to email them and the normal way of staying in touch is to say hi when you see them at a conference, and maybe chat during a short coffee break.

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