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Post-Interview Email from Professor...How to Reply?


LightorDark

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I got an email from a professor who interviewed me last weekend. The professor wanted to know if I got any updates from other schools and asked what is my level of interest in joining the group. I did receive some interviews from other schools and also from other labs in the same school, but I haven't heard from my first-choice school yet. Neither have I got any offer. I like the professor's research, but I don't have any strong inclination at this moment. How should I reply to the professor? I don't want to sound unenthusiastic but I don't want to give any sense of promise, either. Would you have any suggestions?

Thanks a lot!

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This is a hard position to be in. I would be honest about the other schools: Just say that at this point, you have no offers from any school yet. This will also help with the next point. 

As for your likelihood for accepting the offer, you should also be honest, but with some "strategy" (for lack of a better word). Assuming that while this school is not your #1 top choice, it is a school that is relatively interesting to you (i.e. it's in the top half of your list?), you can say something like:

"Although I would like to hear back from more schools before making a decision, joining your group would be one of my top choices." Then you should add a sentence about what in particular about this group excites you.

This conveys interest and no commitment at all. And you have said that you are still waiting to hear back, so there is good reason for your non-committal answer (i.e. it shouldn't read as unenthusiastic). I have had to answer similar questions in my postdoc applications/interviews and the advice my advisor gave to me was to make sure they come away with the sense that you are excited about the opportunity, even if you are telling them they aren't your #1 choice. 

However, if the above is not true, i.e. this is one of your safety schools or something, then I think it's actually a lot harder to reply! You might be able to say the same thing as the above, but leave out the "one of my top choices" phrasing.

Good luck!

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28 minutes ago, TakeruK said:

This is a hard position to be in. I would be honest about the other schools: Just say that at this point, you have no offers from any school yet. This will also help with the next point. 

As for your likelihood for accepting the offer, you should also be honest, but with some "strategy" (for lack of a better word). Assuming that while this school is not your #1 top choice, it is a school that is relatively interesting to you (i.e. it's in the top half of your list?), you can say something like:

"Although I would like to hear back from more schools before making a decision, joining your group would be one of my top choices." Then you should add a sentence about what in particular about this group excites you.

This conveys interest and no commitment at all. And you have said that you are still waiting to hear back, so there is good reason for your non-committal answer (i.e. it shouldn't read as unenthusiastic). I have had to answer similar questions in my postdoc applications/interviews and the advice my advisor gave to me was to make sure they come away with the sense that you are excited about the opportunity, even if you are telling them they aren't your #1 choice. 

However, if the above is not true, i.e. this is one of your safety schools or something, then I think it's actually a lot harder to reply! You might be able to say the same thing as the above, but leave out the "one of my top choices" phrasing.

Good luck!

Thank you very much for the suggestion! Actually, it might be a little bit more complicated. I don't consider this school as my safety school because I'm sure I can be admitted into the PhD program at my undergraduate school and this school is by no means easy to get into. The professor knows what are the other schools I'm applying to and some of them are commonly considered having the very top PhD programs in my area of study. I'm not sure if the professor would think that I take this school as a safety school, but right now, I don't want to give an order of the schools besides my first-choice school. 

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5 minutes ago, LightorDark said:

Thank you very much for the suggestion! Actually, it might be a little bit more complicated. I don't consider this school as my safety school because I'm sure I can be admitted into the PhD program at my undergraduate school (I would say my school has the same ranking as this school). The professor knows what are the other schools I'm applying to and some of them are commonly considered having the very top PhD programs in my area of study. I'm not sure if the professor would think that I take this school as a safety school, but right now, I don't want to give an order of the schools besides my first-choice school. 

I guess I didn't mean it as your literal safety school, but a euphemism for "a school that you aren't very excited about (yet)".

I am guessing that you are saying this school is not at the same tier as the very top PhD programs? But is it much lower (like rank around 30 and below?). If so, then I think you are right that the prof has a feeling that it might be your safety school and that you would much prefer to go to a top ranked school if you could. In this case, you would want to avoid saying anything unprofessional or that might offend, but ultimately, everyone knows the "game" here. 

So, I would go for honesty and say what you said here: you have not yet heard from other schools and you are waiting to see offers before you make decisions between schools. Then reiterate your excitement for this particular group. You can also offer to update them more when you hear back from other places and ask when would they like to know more information, if you want.

This type of response is basically a non-response, but they should understand why it is a non-response. They probably asked because they probably suspected that you might be considering them as a safety school so that if you already have a more exciting offer, you can just tell them no thanks and they can move onto another candidate. I think by being as honest as you can be at this point, and offering to keep them up to date, you are acting in good faith.

In addition to all of this, if you just got the email from the prof today, consider waiting a few more days before responding. You might hear from other places this week. You can check the "Results Survey" of this website or other places that your field might use to see if your other programs typically returns decisions this week. 

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36 minutes ago, TakeruK said:

I guess I didn't mean it as your literal safety school, but a euphemism for "a school that you aren't very excited about (yet)".

I am guessing that you are saying this school is not at the same tier as the very top PhD programs? But is it much lower (like rank around 30 and below?). If so, then I think you are right that the prof has a feeling that it might be your safety school and that you would much prefer to go to a top ranked school if you could. In this case, you would want to avoid saying anything unprofessional or that might offend, but ultimately, everyone knows the "game" here. 

So, I would go for honesty and say what you said here: you have not yet heard from other schools and you are waiting to see offers before you make decisions between schools. Then reiterate your excitement for this particular group. You can also offer to update them more when you hear back from other places and ask when would they like to know more information, if you want.

This type of response is basically a non-response, but they should understand why it is a non-response. They probably asked because they probably suspected that you might be considering them as a safety school so that if you already have a more exciting offer, you can just tell them no thanks and they can move onto another candidate. I think by being as honest as you can be at this point, and offering to keep them up to date, you are acting in good faith.

In addition to all of this, if you just got the email from the prof today, consider waiting a few more days before responding. You might hear from other places this week. You can check the "Results Survey" of this website or other places that your field might use to see if your other programs typically returns decisions this week. 

I'll do so and keep them up to date. Thank you so much! These suggestions really help! 

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