Contacting "Famous" Professors
For this post, I wanted to share my experience attempting to contact a certain prestigious CM professor at a certain top 20 but not top 10 University. I would characterize the attempt as unsuccessful, and I hope somebody someday might actually read this and learn from my mistakes.
So there's a prof at this school, he is doing exactly the sort of research I am interested in, and he's really famous. He's got like 200 plus publications, multiple books, and he has Nature and Science publications up the wazoo. He's also the only prof at this school that I am really interested in working with. So here I am with an acceptance from Cornell, and I figure I should get in contact with this guy to see if he will be accepting new students in his group in the next year or two. I figure if he says "no," then I can just go ahead and cross his school off my list because there are like five professors I would like to work with at Cornell...
So I email the prof. I title the email with the name of his research group, which incidentally contains the word "biophysics", so he won't junk it, and in the email I tell him that I've recently been accepted to his University, I tell him I've been doing CM/CNT research for the last two years and want to continue this in grad school towards applications in nanoelectronics, biosensors, and/or photovoltaics. I tell him his research interests are a perfect match with mine and I'm eager to know if he will have room for a student such as myself in his research group in the next year or two. I attach my CV, I thank him for his time.
I get a response:
Unfortunately, we are no longer performing biophysics research."
I write him back and tell him that both my research experience and my interests are in nanoelectronics, and once again express my interest.
I get a response:
"come see me next week, Tuesday or Wednesday"
I tell him I'm a six-hour drive away, but that all I want to know is if he will have room for a student such as myself in his lab. If so, I'll be at the open house and we can meet then. If not, then I have other options I'm more interested in.
He responds and asks me for my phone number and a good time to call, which is at the very top of the CV I sent him in the first email.
I respond with my phone number and told him the afternoons that he could call me, but that he'd have to tell me what time he will call so that I can be in an area with cellphone reception at that time. I haven't heard back from him.
The good part is, he actually answered the emails, even though he is obviously extremely busy. The good part is, he was interested in meeting me (although it would seem that he is either very absent-minded, or that he never even looked at my CV).Here is where I think I went wrong and what I could have done better:
When contacting a famous professor, realize that they are so very busy, with probably hundreds of these emails, that they really only have time to read maybe the first sentence of your email before responding, if they respond at all. My dad gave me some advice in regards to this. He said, "read your email, and if you see that the point of the email comes five or so lines into it, cut and paste that line and make it the first line in your email."
I think that would have saved a lot of time with this prof. When contacted these profs, put the point in the first sentence.
I think he stopped contacting me because it was just taking too much time and effort. I still don't know if he even realizes that all I need from him is a simple "yes" or "no" answer, because I never asked my main question in the first sentence of an email.
I'm not stressing it, because I have three acceptances from top 10 Universities now. I consider it a learning experience and hopefully I'll be able to do this better when I start contacting profs at my first choice schools.