Odd situation



I would be really grateful for any suggestions....

I started my PhD in October in one institution but at the same time I deferred entry in another one (I'm a triple-check/double-backup kind of person and I had some admin problem with my current institution at that time). Recently I've received the deferred offer from that other institution and it turned out that this time I was assigned a different supervisor (say, Dr Xyz) whose work has become very relevant for me lately (my topic changed a lot).

Although I'm not planning to change universities, I simply have to contact Dr Xyz because my supervisor is an expert for the broader area but not exactly for the topic (and, btw, I'm freaking out because of that). I feel so stressed right now because this whole situation seems so awkward...

How do I explain to Dr Xyz that although I've deferred my place at his institution, I've taken up a place at another one but I'd like to discuss with him several issues anyway.... And also - how do I tell my supervisor about that (the deferral and contacting Dr Xyz)?

Thanks for reading this....


Hello CoffeeRose,

I dont know if it varies based on nature of PhD (I can only relate to biological science PhD) but I would say you would be best to 'take the hit' on this one. I don't want to be harse by any stretch of the imagination but honest (in terms of my experience) and say that its likely more than just awkward. Its actually a fairly complicated process for a supervisor to essentially 'take on a PhD' and its likely that you caused abit of a headache for the institute you defered from.

Additionally unless you have a collaboration or working relationship with the supervisor at the institute you turned down, I would strongly advice not to contact them. It will likely annoy your current supervisor as it would be deemed as 'going behind their back' and secondly the individual at you university you turned down has absolutely no obligation to talk to you at all. Speaking honestly, why should they since they would get nothing out of it?

Being constructive, best thing is if you wish to contact Dr Xyz do it though your current supervisor who may be able to foster a beneficial and collaborative relationship. Do not try to do this yourself, remember you are still a student and your supervisor is technically your boss.

Hope that helps (up)


if you have deferred, that would mean , as far as I understand it that you accepted their offer, but asked if you can take up the place later. They will have assumed that you were going to take up the place and have set in motion plans for your work with them. What you have done is gone somewhere else and not told them. They will not be pleased I should think and you should have told them as soon as you decided to go elsewhere so they could have offered the place to someone else. At the moment I don't think you should approach this other person at all, I think it would be very unwise. You are only at the beginning of your study and will have perhaps a chance to meet them informally later on neutral territory. Get in touch with the other place at once. Apologise profusely for not contacting them earlier and you may be able to rescue the situation, remember people talk to each other and you don't want to be the person who went somewhere else and didn't have the courtesy to let them know.

As far as your supervisor is concerned I would stick with them at this early stage of your research, and later you can tell them that you think the work of X is just the area you need help with, and they may be able to or agree to contact them for you. Don't give them the impression that you are suggesting that they don't know enough to help you, they will certainly know more than enough and to suggest otherwise is quite frankly a little bit insulting and may be taken as just that.

you are just at the start and will, if you approach the situation carefully, and may I add humbly you should be able to rescue the situation. If you approach the situation without understanding the problems you have created you will if you go down the route you suggest create more problems which could result in you antagonising people you need to be on your side. Tread softly or you will be treading on your own dreams. Take care. J.


CoffeeRose, As has been said if it was a genuinely deferred place then you have already accepted it and have some apologising to do.

Most fields of research at PhD level are quite narrow so the chances are that you will cross paths with the others (Dr Xyz etc) over the years so my advice would be to contact asap the institution with the deferred place explaining that you have started a PhD elsewhere and apologising for any inconvenience this causes.

Do not contact Dr Xyz without discussing with your current supervisor and explaining what has happened. Failing to do this could land you in much hotter water. It is not normal to contact academics from other institutions without consulting supervisors anyway.

Hope it sorts its self out.