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Turning down an offer when I don't have a better one?


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Hello Grad Cafe Goers,

I was hoping to get some quick advice regarding my journey towards a PhD in an engineering-related field. I'm currently sitting on an offer for a funded PhD at TU Vienna, and I'm interviewing later this summer for a funded PhD at ETH Zurich.

Anyway the problem is that the offer from TU Vienna expires before my interview at ETH.

What is the optimal gambling strategy in this situation? Does anyone have any experiences to share regarding this type of gambling? Did it go well? Did it go horribly wrong and you regretted not taking the first offer?

I feel like my chances for acceptance at ETH are high. Originally ETH was going to pay for my flight (from Canada) to interview with them. Now they won't have to pay for it because I'll be in western Europe anyway presenting a recently accepted paper at an internationally competitive conference. This helps my application to ETH in two ways: (1) I'm saving the department money on an international flight; and (2) I'm the first author on a paper from a highly ranked conference in my field.

I mention this only to make the point that if ETH was interested in my application before my paper got accepted, they'll definitely be even more interested in my application now that my paper has been accepted.

I'm willing to turn down my offer at TU Vienna and hope for an offer from ETH unless someone on here talks me out of it :)

But what about the other American schools to which I haven't applied? My ideal school is Stanford, but the soonest I could apply would be December 2010. This would be long after any offer from ETH (which I don't even have yet) materialized. Should I turn down a potential offer from ETH just so I could apply to Stanford several months later and maybe get an interview?

Am I being stupid? Is this like one of those threads where the person is like "should I go into $100k of debt to do my MSc at Harvard or should I take the fully-funded PhD at Princeton?" If I get an offer from ETH for Fall 2010 should I just accept it and not try to get into a better American school for Fall 2011?

Here is my background in case it affects the optimal gambling strategy in this situation:

Accepted Publications: 1x first-author paper at a top international conference, 1x middle-author journal article in a top journal, 1x first-author poster at an international conference, 5x first-author posters at various regional conferences (one of which won a nationally-sponsored award for best poster).

Submitted Publications: 1x first-author American patent, 2x submitted posters at top international conferences.

Master's GPA: 3.85/4.00 from a top-200 university.

Undergrad GPA: 3.3/4.00 from a top-200 university.

GRE: not written yet, although I'm confident I could do well enough not to sink my application.

Edited by curvature
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Well to be honest, I would definitely take the ETH option over a school in the US with no funding. I mean it depends on where you want to work, but ETH has a great reputation and it is just so cheap in comparison.

I am not sure about the TU Vienna. Can you not just accept the offer and then reject it later? I mean I paid my enrollment deposit for GWU although I am probably still going to go somewhere else just to keep my options open. I think this sort of money is well spent... I know it is a bit of a pain in the neck to go through all the procedures and then not go, but it is still better than regretting it all later right??

Best of luck!

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