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Geococcyx

Contacting Professors About Advising After Admission

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Hi everyone.  I'm aware that it's considered largely pointless to contact professors about their research or whether they'd be interested in working with you before being admitted to programs.  Generally, I have further assumed that I shouldn't really discuss whether a professor would accept me as an advisee until I've been in the program for a while, and am getting close-ish to quals -- granted, I might be accepted, but the professors still don't know much about me or my functioning abilities, and they don't even know whether I'll be around or leave with a master's or so on.  

A professor has suggested to me that as part of my graduate school choice, I should contact some professors of interest right now and gauge how open they'd be to advising me on my dissertation.  This professor is in the statistics/biostatistics field and I have pretty strong regard for their understanding of academic politics, but this seems like a really forward strategy, and I'm concerned that professors would largely be annoyed by this sort of behavior from an admitted student.  Is this something people do, and I've just misunderstood the previous discussions on the topic?  Is this something that's coming up because some of the programs I'm interested in (notably Duke) only have 1 year before quals and adviser choice?

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In choosing my program this year, I wanted to be sure that there were at least a few faculty members that I was interested in working with that would potentially be interested in working with me. So before I made any final enrollment decision, I reached out to a couple of profs and asked if they were planning on advising new students from my cohort. This is a bit less forward, but they know what you're getting at, and in any case this is very valuable information; in my case one such professor replied no! That's a good thing to know beforehand.

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Oh yeah, that seems fine from my perspective -- I've been checking on that too (although I'm not sure how much I'd read into that if I was a professor, but that's beside the point).  My concern is pretty much entirely about asking about *my* specific chances, especially since I'd be concerned about accidentally decreasing my chances of working with professors by violating some part of professional decorum.  

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1 hour ago, Geococcyx said:

A professor has suggested to me that as part of my graduate school choice, I should contact some professors of interest right now and gauge how open they'd be to advising me on my dissertation.  This professor is in the statistics/biostatistics field and I have pretty strong regard for their understanding of academic politics, but this seems like a really forward strategy, and I'm concerned that professors would largely be annoyed by this sort of behavior from an admitted student.  Is this something people do, and I've just misunderstood the previous discussions on the topic?  Is this something that's coming up because some of the programs I'm interested in (notably Duke) only have 1 year before quals and adviser choice?

I would have to disagree with your professor who suggested this. That seems kind of presumptuous to ask someone if they could potentially be your thesis supervisor when you haven't passed your qualifying exams yet. Usually you have to pass your qualifying exams before you can start research. Moreover, it seems highly unlikely that a newly admitted student has a good enough understanding of the professors' research area to make an informed choice about advisor. I don't mean that you need to understand the advisor's research in depth before you ask them to advise you. But in order to make a more "informed" choice, one could refine their research interests by attending departmental seminars, taking a "Readings in Statistical Science" class (like the mandatory reading classes that the first-year students at Duke and Stanford have to take), and talking with several different professors about their current research to gain a much better understanding of what it entails (these conversations would still be at a fairly general level, but they would certainly make you more well-informed than just looking at/browsing through papers on their personal webpage).

Edited by Stat PhD Now Postdoc

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Yeah, I think @galois's approach is more acceptable.  I'd ask whether this is really necessary though.  I would definitely not attend a school where there is only 1 or even 2 faculty members you want to work with, so your decision shouldn't come down to one person's reply.  Most advisors take new students. The biggest reasons someone might not be taking students is that they're super famous and it's too competitive or that they're getting old.  Emailing won't help with the famous people, because they won't know if you're a good student yet.  And I would caution against emailing people saying "your grey hair and wrinkles made me concerned about my academic future."

 

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