Can naming professors occasionally hurt an application?

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InquilineKea
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Can naming professors occasionally hurt an application?

Postby InquilineKea » Wed Jun 09, 2010 3:39 pm

So I know that naming professors can REALLY HELP an application.

But what if the professors I named weren't taking any new graduate students? Then might it have the potential to hurt the application? Granted, I could always send an email to the professor (although professors frequently don't reply)

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grae313
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Re: Can naming professors occasionally hurt an application?

Postby grae313 » Wed Jun 09, 2010 5:37 pm

You name a professor in your SOP because they are someone you want to work with. If you say you want to work with X when X has clearly stated they will be taking on no new students, you are just showing the committee that you haven't done your homework. If you want to mention X in another context just to illustrate the type of research that is your ultimate goal, go ahead. Is this not just common sense?

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InquilineKea
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Re: Can naming professors occasionally hurt an application?

Postby InquilineKea » Wed Jun 09, 2010 6:10 pm

Oh, well, not all professors who don't take grad students mention that fact. Or some professors may have higher standards for their grad students than the school does (or some professors may have lower standards for their grad students).

So it's really this gray area (which might be quite large) that I'm rather concerned about. of course, "If you want to mention X in another context just to illustrate the type of research that is your ultimate goal, go ahead" might be the best possible choice if I send emails but get no replies. But if I get no replies, then maybe I might still consider naming the professor?

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grae313
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Re: Can naming professors occasionally hurt an application?

Postby grae313 » Thu Jun 10, 2010 11:07 am

Oh OK, I apologize--I thought you were talking about emeritus professors or something. I see what you're getting at now and my earlier response was a bit harsh due to my confusion.

So I definitely think this question warrants some discussion and input from others. My personal opinion is that (as usual) it depends on the school. So for some anecdotal evidence, I know that Cornell does not try to match their incoming class with the research positions available, as in "OK, we have this much room in theory versus this much room in experiment so lets try and match that ratio to the interests of the incoming class." Rather, they look to just admit the best qualified applicants that they deem to have the best research and scholastic potential. So in that case, mentioning a professor who actually didn't plan to take on any new students the next year probably wouldn't hurt to much. On the other hand, I heard the MIT almost admits students into research groups rather than the school, so if you are hell-bent on working with X and X isn't taking new students that year, then yeah you might have a problem. In every single one of my statements of purpose, however, I mentioned three professors and noted an aspect of their research that I found very appealing, stating that I would be excited to work with any of them. This is a good way around that problem, as it's unlikely that all of the three would be full up on students.

Also, emailing a professor to ask if they plan to take on new students in the next year or two is a perfectly reasonable question that is easy for them to answer, and I bet you'll have a good success rate for responses if you send out inquiries.

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HappyQuark
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Re: Can naming professors occasionally hurt an application?

Postby HappyQuark » Thu Jun 10, 2010 11:23 am

The only conceivable way I can see that mentioning a professor could hurt you would be

a) You mention a professor or professors who are not taking on new students and this is a fact that the admissions committee have good reason to think you should have known (as Grae313 already pointed out)

b) You somehow manage to convey in your SOP that not being able to work with this professor would make or break your desire to do research.

Grae's recommendation is a good one. Mention at least a couple of professors that you feel are doing fascinating research and indicate in your SOP that working with any of them would be ideal.

I'd like to point out that there are a number of reasons that you might not be able to do research with a specific professor (in addition to them not taking on new students) and you should make sure you have alternatives at every school you apply to.

pqortic
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Re: Can naming professors occasionally hurt an application?

Postby pqortic » Thu Jun 10, 2010 5:00 pm

I think since you don't know which professor will read your SOP it's not really useful to mention their name unless they clearly ask you to do so. for example you name prof. X and that professor is not going to take any student, professor Y reads your SOP, while looking for some students for his group, and comes across the name of X and then who knows how he deals with that. I mean when at a point, a professor wants to choose between two applicants based on their SOP, he might prefer to see his name.

inquiring by email is a good way but ask explicitly that if you should mention their name. but if you didn't get desired answers, it would be fine to name some of the research programs you like in the department which have involved more than one professor to show the areas you are interested.

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InquilineKea
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Re: Can naming professors occasionally hurt an application?

Postby InquilineKea » Thu Jun 10, 2010 10:56 pm

Ah okay. Thanks to everyone for all the replies! Apology accepted grae, yeah, that makes sense now.

Also, emailing a professor to ask if they plan to take on new students in the next year or two is a perfectly reasonable question that is easy for them to answer, and I bet you'll have a good success rate for responses if you send out inquiries.


Hm, one person I know only got replies from 2 of 6 professors, and another professor said that he did not reply to the majority of requests (and from my own extensive experience with professors, I've had non-replies for many perfectly reasonable questions too)

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grae313
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Re: Can naming professors occasionally hurt an application?

Postby grae313 » Fri Jun 11, 2010 12:32 am

pqortic wrote:I think since you don't know which professor will read your SOP it's not really useful to mention their name unless they clearly ask you to do so.


I don't think this is true, many schools specifically ask you to talk about which research groups you might be interested in joining, and I think doing this shows the school that you've done your homework in that you have somewhat defined research goals and you have found a school that conducts research that is a match for your interests. I think naming some research groups you are interested in working with is a very important part of every SOP. It's not really for the benefit of being read by the particular professor you name.

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grae313
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Re: Can naming professors occasionally hurt an application?

Postby grae313 » Fri Jun 11, 2010 12:35 am

InquilineKea wrote:Hm, one person I know only got replies from 2 of 6 professors, and another professor said that he did not reply to the majority of requests (and from my own extensive experience with professors, I've had non-replies for many perfectly reasonable questions too)


Was he asking the prof if the prof would be interested in him personally as a future student? In general profs don't want to entertain prospective students until they are admitted, but a super quick yes or no question might get better results... but then again maybe not!

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InquilineKea
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Re: Can naming professors occasionally hurt an application?

Postby InquilineKea » Fri Jun 11, 2010 1:24 am

Hm, regarding the last question, not sure:

E.g. here's a professor who prefers entertaining students who are applying and who have done their research and determined they are a good fit for him:

http://soslab.ee.washington.edu/mw/inde ... rospective

I receive at least one email a day from undergraduates at other institutions wanting to join the SOSLab. I cannot answer all of these emails, but I do look at what you send. I respond to those prospective students who have actually taken the time to make sure their interests are in line with the current research interests of the SOSLab, as portrayed, for example, in our recent publications and funded projects. At this time I am primarily looking for students interested in the experimental and theoretical aspects of systems and synthetic biology. All of the grant proposals I am currently writing are in these areas. Existing robotics and controls projects are already staffed with research assistants.


of course he might not be very representative

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grae313
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Re: Can naming professors occasionally hurt an application?

Postby grae313 » Fri Jun 11, 2010 12:19 pm

Hence the "In general" in my statement :wink: Also, there may be some correlation with the prestige of the school/professor.




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