Contacting Professors

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  • There are applications, personal statements, letters of recommendation, visiting schools, anxiety of waiting for acceptances, deciding between schools, finding out where others are going, etc.

skk
Posts: 14
Joined: Wed Nov 24, 2010 9:57 am

Contacting professors

Postby skk » Fri Jan 21, 2011 8:42 am

Hey all,

Congrats to all for being done with applications!

I am actually wondering if it is all right to contact professors now... i have actually sent some, but mostly received no replies and a few reminding me to go through the application process. I have been hesitant since then, because I am not sure whether it will have a negative impact on my application. Can you guys please give me some advice? Also, is it too late now to contact?

Thank you all again for your help.

rhythm_keeper
Posts: 11
Joined: Mon Nov 01, 2010 3:13 pm

Re: Contacting professors

Postby rhythm_keeper » Fri Jan 21, 2011 11:23 am

Our applications are already being reviewed. If there were a legitimate, important reason to contact them, I would do so. Otherwise patience, my friend.

skk
Posts: 14
Joined: Wed Nov 24, 2010 9:57 am

Re: Contacting professors

Postby skk » Fri Jan 21, 2011 1:20 pm

Hello rhythm_keeper,

Thank you for your reply. Yeah, it seems like waiting is the only option left for us, but I am concerned about contacting the professors whom I am strongly interested in, not the admissions committee. :D

Would it still be worth to contact them to personally show my interest in the research group? Or, is it too "late?"

Thanks!

vttd
Posts: 53
Joined: Wed Jul 15, 2009 1:23 pm

Re: Contacting professors

Postby vttd » Fri Jan 21, 2011 1:40 pm

I'm wondering what you hope to gain by contacting professors at this point. Schools usually encourage you to contact professors BEFORE you apply to see if you are interested in research at that school. It really doesn't make much sense after you have submitted your application and are waiting for a school's decision. If you are accepted, they typically have visitor weekends where you meet professors. At this point, I think writing emails to professors is counterproductive because it just seems like you're trying to get them to speak to adcom. At least that's what I would think if I were in their position, I could be way off base.

rhythm_keeper
Posts: 11
Joined: Mon Nov 01, 2010 3:13 pm

Re: Contacting professors

Postby rhythm_keeper » Fri Jan 21, 2011 1:51 pm

They will probably expect that kind of e-mail (i.e. interest in a particular group or research topic) from admitted students over the next several weeks. For example, "Do you expect to have funding? How many students are currently in your group?" etc.

But unless they already plan to admit us (and I suspect most already know who their strongest applicants are), it doesn't seem like they would have much motivation to respond at this point.

skk
Posts: 14
Joined: Wed Nov 24, 2010 9:57 am

Re: Contacting professors

Postby skk » Sat Jan 22, 2011 12:10 am

Thanks all for your advice.

Hope we all hear good news!

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: Contacting professors

Postby bfollinprm » Tue Jan 25, 2011 7:57 am

Sure, contacting after admissions does look like you're trying to get them to speak to adcomm, but what's wrong with that? That is what you want them to do anyway.

I do think this only makes sense if your POI's will also have an interest in you (and your research background). If an email after applying can convince a professor that you'd be an excellent member of their research group, I think it's worth sending. It's not cheesy or inappropriate--you want admission and they want good students for their research group. The worst thing that can happen is they ignore you, and the best thing that can happen is they stick their head into adcomm, or know more about you when reading your application.

Case in point:

After sending an email (after application) detailing my research experience and my interest in Professor XXXXXX's research, and responding to an email asking more about my background (and if I'd be interested in RA funding for the first year :D :D ), I received the following response:

"
Dear [bfollinprm]
I am not on the admissions committee, but I will look out for your application here.

Professor XXXXXXX"

I got something similar from 2 other faculty from different schools, including an offer for a phone conversation about a professor's research.

cclee
Posts: 2
Joined: Tue Nov 27, 2012 6:50 pm

Contacting Professors

Postby cclee » Fri Dec 28, 2012 3:10 pm

Anyone know the policy, or general idea how to, contact professors you are interested in working for in graduate school?

TakeruK
Posts: 816
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Contacting Professors

Postby TakeruK » Fri Dec 28, 2012 4:38 pm

I'm assuming you mean during the application process, before submitting applications? (Compared to after being admitted or after starting a graduate program).

I don't think there is an actual policy! Some people say it's not even necessary at all. I think in the US, it's definitely not as important as in Canada where most departments hire grad students based on whether or not a specific professor wants that student in their group or not (i.e. committees only exist to screen applicants for minimum requirements).

Personally, I liked to contact them before submitting my application because I want to confirm that they do want to take students in my cohort and that they have plans to continue research in the topics that I'm interested in. Sometimes research websites are out of date!

I did this by sending a short email introducing myself (name, current school, what I'm working on) and say that I'm interested in working on topic X at their school. Then I asked if they were planning to take students for this topic in the future. I kept it short, and didn't include any application information because I don't want them to feel like they have to make an admissions related comment. I send simultaneous and similar emails to 2-4 profs per school.

For about 2/3 of the profs (always at least 1 per school though), I would get a response. Half of these would be in depth and really encouraging -- sometimes offering to help clear up any questions about applying and also expanding on their research plans. The other half who responded just wrote something very short: they answered my question about taking on students and said that we can talk more if I get accepted (this was the minimum I was hoping for anyways). The other 1/3 of profs did not respond at all.

I think these emails are useful for me because I wanted to have some initial contact with people I might be working with. I also wanted to make sure that they do plan to supervise more students before mentioning how much I wanted to work with them in my SOP. It was also nice to see what kind of initial impression I could get from the profs from their first emails too. I have to admit that when it came time to make a decision, I was less excited about the profs who did not respond to me, even though they might have just been too busy to respond meaningfully to every applicant.

astroprof
Posts: 95
Joined: Fri Feb 15, 2008 4:47 pm

Re: Contacting Professors

Postby astroprof » Fri Dec 28, 2012 8:01 pm

This is a topic of debate on this forum every year. On the positive side, personal contact with a research group that you may be interested in working with may provide a slight edge if your application is on the border-line, as it indicates motivation and interest in the program. However, as the recipient of these e-mails, my strongest recommendation is that you should only contact professors if you have a specific reason to do so. Specifically, such contact can result in a negative evaluation of the applicant if the e-mails are of the generic form: "Here is my CV. I am very interested in your program." In addition, e-mails to multiple professors working on diverse research areas that all state "I am extremely interested in your research" (even if the generic "your research" is actually replaced with the topic of my research) will be noticed and the applicant runs a risk of being judged negatively due to a lack of focus and/or understanding of the field.

Also, as long as I am on the topic, one of my pet peeves is for students to write to me to ask if they are likely to get into our program. As with most graduate programs in the US, we evaluate students based on the entire application package (statement, transcripts, GRE scores, and letters of recommendation). I cannot evaluate likelihood of admission without the entire application, at which point the decision is up to the combination of opinions of the professors serving on admissions committee this year (which can vary significantly, as professors rotate on and off the committee). The one exception to this rule is for students with unusual backgrounds, for which it is appropriate to ask whether their background is sufficient for us to consider their application. However, for students with typical physics or astronomy backgrounds, there is no point in asking individual professors about the likelihood of admission to their program.

On the other hand, as TakeruK mentions, it may be useful to find out if a specific research group is likely to take students in the near future. It can be difficult to tell from web pages whether a group is overloaded or is seeking students. While you will be able to learn about the different research groups after you have been accepted, it is also reasonable to exclude some schools from your list if it seems unlikely that you'd be able to work on the research topic of your choice.

To summarize: it is not necessary to contact professors in the US regarding graduate admissions, your application to our program is sufficient. However, if you do chose to contact professors, it is important to remember that all e-mails should be professional in tone, free of major grammatical errors, and contain specific queries that can/should be answered by the recipient.

User avatar
quizivex
Posts: 1029
Joined: Tue Jan 09, 2007 6:13 am

Re: Contacting Professors

Postby quizivex » Sat Dec 29, 2012 12:02 am

Check out the classic "Suck Mails to Profs" thread for more discussion.

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: Contacting Professors

Postby bfollinprm » Sat Dec 29, 2012 1:56 am

Also merged this with an older "Contacting professors" thread from 2 years ago.




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