Welcome to the GradCafe

Hello!  Welcome to The GradCafe Forums.You're welcome to look around the forums and view posts.  However, like most online communities you must register before you can create your own posts.  This is a simple, free process that requires minimal information. Benefits of membership:

  • Participate in discussions
  • Subscribe to topics and forums to get automatic updates
  • Search forums
  • Removes some advertisements (including this one!)
fasboo

Contacting POI: experience and the possibilities

15 posts in this topic

So I would like peoples thoughts and experiences on contacting POI and visiting schools. Last year, I applied for the first time and heard from about 40 percent of the POIs I contacted. However, I cannot really determine if contacting them was of any use. Most everyone encouraged me to apply and usually had something very formulaic to say about the admisisons process, their program etc etc.Several recommended other people in their department and as well as other department to contact - so that was useful. However, overall I did not benefit from this process and effort in contacting POIs. My interaction did not develop into a phone call and I couldnt visit as I was working outside of the US. I did not see how to maintain a relationship 'throughout the admissions process' as many have suggested because many are very reserved about their statements and someone even outright said they cannot say further as it biases the admissions process.

 

I think I am really not sure what to say to them as I can pretty much determine if I match their interests by looking at their work and publications. So all i really do is introduce myself, ask if my interests fit their program and ask if their taking graduate students?

 

I have read other people visiting schools and talking to POIs on the phone - and to me thats just seems impossible considering the type of response I have been getting. So this mystery about how you develop a relationship or interaction with your the department and POI - can someone really it breakdown for me? 

 

For now, I have put contacting POIs very low on my priority list. Someone needs to convince me otherwise? I am back in the US for a few months and I am open to visiting schools - however, again how does one arrange that and is that really worth investing in vs just focusing on writing my SOP and applying for funding that takes a lot of time??

Thanks

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well I am in a different field but this is something that I have also been giving some thought to lately. I am not sure whether I should contact professors or not. In the sciences (at least my science), you usually do rotations before choosing a lab so its not like you go in commited to one usually. If I am a good enough candidate that they would be interested in keeping in touch throughout the process then I feel like i am also a good enough candidate that they will be ineterested in my application after it is submitted. I have contacted one PI so far and it was because I wanted a copy or a paper that I couldnt get online. He responded really positively actually! He didnt give me the paper until the next week since the was out of the office but responded within a couple hours actually to let me know that he got my email and would get in touch next week to send the paper. I was really happy with the positive response! I will be contacting another PI today (my top choice eeeek im nervous to hit send) because I actually have a legitimate question. Maybe I should continue like this and find reasons to contact PIs... like finding a paper that I cant get online or asking a question about research. This might be better than a standard "are you accepting students" sort of email.

 

What is your research experience expereince like? Do you have skills or experience that could directly benefit the professors who you are contacting? I feel like they might be ineterested in keeping in contact if they are interested enough that they want to try to make sure that you choose their school. I could be wrong... I am just as confused about this!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Right, i see what your saying. Well, I have ample research experience as I have been working professionally for several years now - so thats not a problem. But like you said - even when i contacted professors - i felt really good when they replied and said anything - it was a real nice 'feel good about myself' feeling - but i dont know at the end of it if it really adds value in the application process or just takes up time. Some students I contacted in these departments actually mentioned they had never contacted POIs in the process and some post-docs i have talked to said the same. So, im really curious about stories of people who are talking to professors on the phone, visiting departments and meeting everyone - that just doesnt to be happening for me - and also i dont know if its really worth putting energy into. One of the clear message I have gotten in my email to POI is this "we select students as a a group, we look at fit to entire department and overall university resources and opportunities" - there is a bit of discouragement in focusing on single POI but rather appealing to the range of scholarship in a department and the value that holds to one's topic.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am also from a different field but I have successfully maintained a working relationship with a POI (I mentioned several times on the forum that I am currently research volunteering for my top-choice POI and even had my own summer project). I don't know honestly how I got this far, but I'll try to give a few tips:

1. Be patient. I didn't hear back from the POI for 3 months after I told him my research experiences. I would email him once in a while to follow up (I found that putting substance in those emails helps as well) and the next time he emailed me he wanted to set up a phone conversation.

2. Be confident. I don't know what kind of school you attend right now, but I found that not being afraid of your professors is pretty helpful. I attend a liberal arts university so I interact with my professors intensively. Don't be sorry for bothering them; they probably get more "annoying" emails than yours every day.

3. Ask questions. Not just about the admissions process but about their research that doesn't appear in manuscripts, too. The POI I worked for this summer appreciated questions about the research process at the lab.

4. If there doesn't appear to be a personality fit as well as a research fit, then I wouldn't apply for that lab. Research fit is important, but personality fit is almost just as important.

 

Overall, I'd say it's worth contacting POIs but don't expect them to guarantee you admission to the program.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I shoot an email to anyone and everyone who looks interesting.  I've gotten back formulaic responses but I've also received personal and encouraging ones.  So far this has lead to one phone call with a POI.  He explained the school culture, put me in email contact with a grad student and offered to look over my application.  Another one has sent me some unpublished work and mentioned an upcoming project I may be interested in.  Both of these folks where better fits than most others I contacted; we shared esoteric interests. Is it worth it?  I'm not sure but I suspect it is when most folks applying are good students with a whole wack of work/research experience.  And for those of us who are unusual students with a patchy past it might be even more valuable.  I didn't go to a prestigious school, my grades aren't perfect, I'm pathetically monolingual and I'm a terrible test taker so I'm hoping networking with POI's, a solid SOP and LOR's will do the trick. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think the value in it is probably knowing from the source what people are working on.  For example, I recently ontacted a POI and while I thought she was a good match for me overall, I couldn't have known that her next project was an even better fit. Now we are planning to meet in person to chat.

 

I'd say those are the rare 'wins' in the process of reaching out to a POI.  The other side of that is when you think someone is a fit, but they can tell you that they are moving away from your area of interest or even taking a leave/sabbatical and this changes how you relate to them, etc. etc.

 

Hope that is helpful.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you guys for sharing your experiences. Makes alot of sense. Gives me ideas how to strategize contacting POI and keeping balanced expectations.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just heard back from another potential POI.  I only emailed her this morning.  It was posi and not too professional.  I think it's all about finding that sweet sweet esoteric interest that no one in their right mind would care about. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When I contacted POIs last year, I always began by sending them a short email with a few lines about myself and my research interests and asking them if they would be willing to answer a few questions about their program, either by email, phone, or Skype. To my surprise, most of them actually agreed to Skype straight away. It has led to natural and interesting conversations that were a lot more informative about the program and the admission process than polite emails. (For those who are wondering: all the profs turned their camera on.)

 

As for campus visits, keep in mind that some universities don't like students asking to visit the department during the application season. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When I contacted POIs last year, I always began by sending them a short email with a few lines about myself and my research interests and asking them if they would be willing to answer a few questions about their program, either by email, phone, or Skype. To my surprise, most of them actually agreed to Skype straight away. It has led to natural and interesting conversations that were a lot more informative about the program and the admission process than polite emails. (For those who are wondering: all the profs turned their camera on.)

 

As for campus visits, keep in mind that some universities don't like students asking to visit the department during the application season. 

 

Your email prescription is great. I think that is what will work best for me. I'm behind in contacting some of my POIs because I keep second guessing how much detail I should include in the email. I also worry about writing an email that is either too formal and formulaic or one that is too casual.

 

How much should one mention regarding the POIs research? And has anyone ever sent their CV with the first email?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Right, i see what your saying. Well, I have ample research experience as I have been working professionally for several years now - so thats not a problem. But like you said - even when i contacted professors - i felt really good when they replied and said anything - it was a real nice 'feel good about myself' feeling - but i dont know at the end of it if it really adds value in the application process or just takes up time. Some students I contacted in these departments actually mentioned they had never contacted POIs in the process and some post-docs i have talked to said the same. So, im really curious about stories of people who are talking to professors on the phone, visiting departments and meeting everyone - that just doesnt to be happening for me - and also i dont know if its really worth putting energy into. One of the clear message I have gotten in my email to POI is this "we select students as a a group, we look at fit to entire department and overall university resources and opportunities" - there is a bit of discouragement in focusing on single POI but rather appealing to the range of scholarship in a department and the value that holds to one's topic.

 

One piece of advice I can give you is to not just limit yourself to one professor. If you see any sort of resemblance with multiple professors regarding any aspect of your research interests, contact them and connect with them. I have more than one adviser assigned to me because of this and it's nice knowing I can talk to more than one person when it comes to my research.

 

Also, I didn't have the time nor money to visit any of my programs, and I still got accepted to 3/4 of the ones I applied to so don't let that stress you out.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm really not sure why this is standard practice. Don't academics have better things to do than listen to the half-baked research proposals of prospective graduate students who likely won't be admitted to their departments? I would never bother with this if I were a faculty member. There's an application process for a reason! Maybe I'm the crazy one though.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm really not sure why this is standard practice. Don't academics have better things to do than listen to the half-baked research proposals of prospective graduate students who likely won't be admitted to their departments? I would never bother with this if I were a faculty member. There's an application process for a reason! Maybe I'm the crazy one though.

 

Faculty are also trying to make sure someone is a good fit. Mentoring a graduate students can be a lot of work and there is a great deal of financial investment, as well as time. It benefits them just as much to get to know the candidates as well as possible, and some things will never shine through a "paper" application (I know they're all online now, yadda yadda). I think faculty are just as curious (maybe more so) about who we are as we are curious about them. 

 

Just my two cents/another perspective on the situation. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The reason they invest a lot of time in picking the right candidates is because their graduate students build their researcher program more than they do themself. Thats the key to a successful researcher program, and of course, getting tenure. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have reached out to a lot of POIs this cycle (about 30) and more than half have responded thoughtfully. Some queries have panned out into larger conversations (IRL, phone, email) and some have not, but they have all usefully provided information I should incorporate into my SOP. Examples of the kind of things I've learned about via exchanges with POIs:
 

- Emerging department projects and areas of interest (ie. "We are increasingly focusing on X and Y")

- Incoming faculty

- Centers/working groups/research institutes/labs relevant to my topic
- Faculty in other departments I should mention

- Graduate students doing similar or complementary work

 

A lot of the email exchanges fill in the blanks of what isn't always online or readily accessible through GSAS-type sites. The tips they've been supplying will, I hope, really make my "Why X university" section stand out. Just an FYI on why this type of communication has been valuable.

Edited by NOWAYNOHOW

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now