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scarvesandcardigans

When a professor says you sound more interested in another program...

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Hi everyone!

So I'm in a weird situation here. I have two offers from my top two choice schools, and just finished an interview/recruitment event with one of the schools, Program A, we'll say. I visited, talked with faculty, current students, etc. It was a lot of information in a short period of time, a lot of very intense things to learn about and experience. I think that I gave an awful impression of myself and my interest in Program A because I personally felt like I wasn't enjoying it as much as I thought I would, but I think that's because it was just so much to take in that I wasn't exhibiting a super excited attitude 100% of the time.

I just received an email from my POI at Program A saying that it sounded like, when I talked, I gave the impression that I was more interested in Program B from which I have an offer. It says that the decision is supported either way, whichever I choose, but to let them know if that's the case, that I'll decline the offer they've given me at Program A. 

The thing is, when I was there, I felt a lot of questions were thrown at me regarding "why Program B over A?" And various people asked if I had other visits or offers, and this was my first visit, but I do have a visit coming up with Program B. I don't want to lie, but I didn't realize that my feel for the school came off so negatively. I'm just a harsh critic, I guess...Maybe a lot of how I acted was comparing or thinking of questions to ask at Program B, but they are extremely similar in a lot of ways. I just felt like a lot of questions were meant to dissuade me from Program A, and now this email from the POI is distressing because I feel like they think I don't want to go there. I do, but I really, honestly, have no clue until I visit both places and get a feel for both. 

In gradcafe users' experience, am I interpreting this totally wrong? I'm just distressed about it because I felt like I gave them the wrong impression the whole time I was there, but every time we had a conversation they always steered it toward Program B and comparing the two. I really do love both places, and I could see myself at them, so I have no idea what to do... 

Thanks!

 

Edited by scarvesandcardigans

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6 minutes ago, scarvesandcardigans said:

...and now this email from the POI is distressing because I feel like they think I don't want to go there. I do, but I really, honestly, have no clue until I visit both places and get a feel for both. 

...

I really do love both places, and I could see myself at them, so I have no idea what to do... 

 

 

Just tell the POI these things (not that their email was distressing, but everything following that). This is the truth, and it's completely understandable.

In my opinion, the email your POI sent sounds pretty inappropriate. I've mentioned that I'll be visiting other places to one of my POIs, and they were completely supportive and encouraged checking out all of my options. And that POI is at my top choice -  I just want to use all of the resources at my disposal to make completely sure I'm making the right decision. I'm shocked that this person would guess at your intentions in an email they sent to you. 

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36 minutes ago, 2017 Applicant said:

Just tell the POI these things (not that their email was distressing, but everything following that). This is the truth, and it's completely understandable.

In my opinion, the email your POI sent sounds pretty inappropriate. I've mentioned that I'll be visiting other places to one of my POIs, and they were completely supportive and encouraged checking out all of my options. And that POI is at my top choice -  I just want to use all of the resources at my disposal to make completely sure I'm making the right decision. I'm shocked that this person would guess at your intentions in an email they sent to you. 

That's the plan - and it's 100% the truth. I mean there was definitely a "we support whatever decision you make" tone but at the same time the implication was just, yeah, disconcerting. Thank you for the input.

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I can understand why you feel it was disconcerting but I can also tell you why they asked you! Maybe this will put things in perspective and it might make you feel better. I do not think your POI sent an inappropriate email at all (but maybe the tone of it wasn't great if it is causing you concerns!)

Let's say that they already made 10 offers to candidates ranked #1 to #10. Maybe you are #2 on their list or something. They want to know if you have already decided because if you are already set on Program B, they would like to know ASAP so that they can make an offer to #11. If you wait 6 weeks later and then tell them, they might miss out on #11 since #11 probably would have taken an offer elsewhere.

So, they want to check with you to see if you are still interested. If you are, they obviously prefer you over #11 so they would be glad to have you! They are just checking in case you're already certain to turn them down, this gives them a chance to pursue #11. This is why they say they support your decision either way.

Therefore, you should tell them that you are equally interested in Program A and Program B at this stage. Reinforce this by saying a few things that show your interest in Program A. Tell them that you will make your decision after you are able to visit Program B.

Don't worry too much about the impression you left them. People do mostly understand that visiting students are often jet lagged and overwhelmed with information. We just finished hosting admitted students this week and we certainly understood that some people are more expressive than others. We also know that people who are really quiet during visit week can turn out to be some of the most sociable and outgoing people when they arrive!

However, if you want to learn from this experience, it is helpful to remind yourself in the future to keep the focus on the program you are visiting. Even if you are asked about other programs, keep the focus on the positives of the program you are visiting. Redirection the conversation. You don't need to lie. But you also don't have to go on and on about other programs! You may be visiting schools and such for postdoc or other job applications in the coming years. Impressions will matter a lot more then, so whenever you are visiting another program in the future, keep your focus and energy on that one!

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1 hour ago, TakeruK said:

I can understand why you feel it was disconcerting but I can also tell you why they asked you! Maybe this will put things in perspective and it might make you feel better. I do not think your POI sent an inappropriate email at all (but maybe the tone of it wasn't great if it is causing you concerns!)

Let's say that they already made 10 offers to candidates ranked #1 to #10. Maybe you are #2 on their list or something. They want to know if you have already decided because if you are already set on Program B, they would like to know ASAP so that they can make an offer to #11. If you wait 6 weeks later and then tell them, they might miss out on #11 since #11 probably would have taken an offer elsewhere.

I didn't mean it was inappropriate to ask for a response ASAP. I still maintain that it was inappropriate for them to mention they're asking because it seemed like OP was more interested in another program. I just can't imagine a way of phrasing that to make it redeemable. At the very worst, they are prescribing an opinion to OP that was never there in the first place. At best, it comes off as a program with bad self-esteem, so to speak.

On a separate note, I know for sure that not every department follows the selection procedure you outlined. On one of my visit days, we noticed that there was a very large group of visiting students, and the graduate director made it clear that they were expecting an incoming cohort of 15 (less than the number of students in attendance). He told us that they actually had insurance to cover the costs of any students over the 15 they were expecting. Apparently they provided the agency with statistics from past years to justify why the large number of acceptances is likely to result in only 15 matriculations. I guess in this way the department was able to accept the top students and accept their "safety" students without worrying about being able to afford everyone. This also has the benefit of being able to send out all acceptances/rejections at once, and not putting pressure on your top students to make up their minds quickly.

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I still disagree with you on the appropriate-ness of that question. But nevermind, it's a minor point and I'm happy to agree to disagree.

On the second point, I completely agree with you that other departments may do things differently. My own department does it exactly the way you describe the department you visit. We accept about 40 and expect about 20 to take the offer. Like the school in your example, there is enough funding to act as insurance...if we get 25 acceptances this year, we might only make 35 offers next year. We also take it to another level: our department hosts a number of different PhD programs and we don't pay too much attention to the number of acceptances per program, only long term averages. So for my particular PhD program, some years we have 7 new students and in other years we have 0-2 students. We also rarely make a second round of offers.

This is the ideal scenario for students for the schools that have the means to do so. But not every school could do this, so some may employ strategies like I wrote above. I only meant to provide it as an example of why @scarvesandcardigans had this experience in hopes that a logical explanation might ease some of the frustrations. I personally think it is an appropriate strategy and that everyone will encounter more of this as they progress later on in academia for postdoc and faculty hires, where the numbers are even smaller and the stakes are even higher. In these cases, even the top schools may want to know as much about your willingness to accept as they can get.

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