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Is it worth contacting specific professors?


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Hey there!

I'm currently looking at about 7-10 schools, studying for the GRE, and I'm wondering if it is important at this stage to reach out to specific professors. I understand the importance of looking at programs and the areas of research done by specific professors to determine fit, but should the professors know that I'm looking at them? Maybe if they are on the acceptance committee for example they would recognize my name and be interested in working with me. Have any of you done this/had success? Would it be weird?

Thanks!

p.s. if anyone is interested, I'm looking at 19th/20th century American lit, realism/naturalism/modernism.

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In my experience, not really. I didn't reach out to anyone for my MA and it was fine; I reached out to a few for my PhD and it was fine, too. 

I've found that reaching out to profs is more necessary in the sciences, where your funding is usually tied to a prof's research & a grant they may have to support their lab. In English, your funding is usually from the department and you usually teach or work in a writing center (or a combo of both). 

I'm sure it wouldn't hurt if you sent a quick "I'm applying and I'm really interested in x that you do" or to ask a question about something, but I wouldn't expect it to necessarily give you a distinct advantage. Someone may remember your name from it and may be on the committee, or they may not be. 

Edited by klader
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I actually emailed the DGS of every program if I had a question about the application process and many times they would forward my emails to the professors I was interested in working with. I think this helped the faculty remember my name in a good way. So I don't think it could hurt to send an email if you have something to say.

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I was told, e-mail if you actually have a worthwhile question. Don't e-mail just to introduce yourself. I think worthwhile questions would be things like, are you taking advisees, what is the status of subfield [x] in the grad program right now, etc.  The same goes for emailing a DGS.  

 

As a general rule, e-mailing to introduce yourself probably wont help. In my experience, you probably won't get a reply to e-mails with legit questions, much less introductions. Most people have a hard time getting e-mail responses from professors who are actually on their committee, much less professors who are total strangers.  The only e-mail introduction I sent was to a school I didn't get into. I only got into schools where I didn't contact any professors, except the DGS.

Edited by jrockford27
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1 hour ago, ResilientDreams said:

Hm. I guess it might be different because I'm in psychology, but I emailed a lot of the professors I was interested in working with and got really positive responses. 

Funding isn't usually tied to a lab or a professor in the humanities whereas funding is often tied to a lab or a specific professor in the Sciences. 

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On 8/19/2018 at 7:15 PM, jrockford27 said:

I was told, e-mail if you actually have a worthwhile question. Don't e-mail just to introduce yourself. I think worthwhile questions would be things like, are you taking advisees, what is the status of subfield [x] in the grad program right now, etc.  The same goes for emailing a DGS.  

 

As a general rule, e-mailing to introduce yourself probably wont help. In my experience, you probably won't get a reply to e-mails with legit questions, much less introductions. Most people have a hard time getting e-mail responses from professors who are actually on their committee, much less professors who are total strangers.  The only e-mail introduction I sent was to a school I didn't get into. I only got into schools where I didn't contact any professors, except the DGS.

Great advice. A follow-up question: what kinds of things did you find it was helpful to reach out to DGSs about? I think I'm too early in the research process to know.

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I didn't reach out to too many.  In the case of the school I got into, at the time our English department had different "tracks," and I was confused about which one I should apply for given my split interests at the time. I e-mailed another to ask about their advertised "soft" GRE score cutoff. 

Formal questions, procedural questions. I think if you go beyond those, you're just putting people in a difficult position, and people hate being put in difficult positions. Examples of things not to ask would be, "what are my chances of getting in with [x] GPA?" "do you think the program would be interested in a project involving [ x ]" or [really more a comment than a question] "i just wanted to let you know that I really feel like I was born to study literature at Yale, and I just think you all are fabulous."

My first time around, when I was totally shut out, I e-mailed a few professors asking if they thought my project was interesting. Only one replied, and it was a very boilerplate, "I look forward to reading your application" type thing. I cringe whenever my memory of doing that pops into my head.

Edited by jrockford27
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6 hours ago, indecisivepoet said:

Great advice. A follow-up question: what kinds of things did you find it was helpful to reach out to DGSs about? I think I'm too early in the research process to know.

I've reached out to a DGS about the vitality of digital humanities projects in their department. Their last update about DH was in 2015, and that, clearly, makes me wary of applying to their program (even though they have a professor I'd *love* to work with). They told me that DH is largely student-based and all blogs, projects, etc. depend on the students of any given cohort and their interests. Basically, my wariness is still there - especially since, if I were to get in, I could be potentially the only student in my cohort seriously interested in DH. 

On another note, I reached out because one program I'm interested in has connection to the school's women's and gender studies program, but they don't have a graduate certificate or minor. I asked about this specifically, because they have an undergraduate minor, and I found out that their PhD students can take classes in WGST, and if you do take coursework, you have the opportunity to teach WGST classes along with composition/literature for your teaching assignments. 

TL;DR I've basically just reached out to DGSs about the vitality of certain programs, centers, projects, their willingness to allow interdisciplinary coursework, etc. 

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7 hours ago, jrockford27 said:

"i just wanted to let you know that I really feel like I was born to study literature at Yale, and I just think you all are fabulous."

This. Is what comes to mind right now when I imagine myself reaching out to someone at a program.

Thanks for the examples, and thank you for yours as well, @victoriansimpkins. I'm working on getting over the pressure I feel to do ALL the possible things because they've worked for some other people and to instead do what feels authentic for me. I imagine in a year's time when I've done more thorough research on the programs that really interest me, I'll either have unanswered (procedural) questions I know I need to reach out to a DGS about or I'll know I have no business contacting the department -- I've, at this point, been swayed against contacting professors to let them know I'm interested in working with them.

I suppose an exception might be if a program's main appeal is one "dream" professor and I want to find out if they're even planning to take on new advisees. Unlikely since I know this is not a good reason to apply to a program anyway and I feel more comfortable applying to programs with wide-ranging but thorough support.

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