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PhD / emailing potential supervisors


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Hi all! I'm wondering about what to expect re: emailing potential PhD supervisors (in art history). E.g.,

> I've been told that if I email a potential supervisor and they don't reply, I shouldn't bother applying to that person/school. Is this true? 
> If I email a professor and they don't reply in, say, a week, do I send a follow-up email, or am I supposed to "get the message"? 

Generally speaking, I'm just interested in what's typical for these emails (as much as I imagine it varies across schools and individual faculty members).

Any insights appreciated! 

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Yes, you should always email the person you are interested in working with. But I think response rates, speeds, and styles vary. Even if the professor is not responding, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply. They might be busy. Or inundated with emails. Or on leave. Etc. If you don’t hear in about ten days or two weeks, no harm in following up. 

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Definitely still apply even if you didn't hear back from a potential advisor. Just as a response—even a friendly and encouraging one—is no guarantee of admission, a lack of one doesn't mean rejection is imminent. Like @ChimpArt said, people are busy, go on sabbatical, miss emails, or don't feel inclined to respond if a message from a potential student doesn't ask something specific or include anything to take action on. I'd only follow up if you do have something you want to know that only they can answer and hasn't been covered by the department's website. 

Edited by killerbunny
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I think the posters above really covered it. I just wanted to add my two cents for a bit of perspective: the two profs that did respond to me were also from the only two programs that seriously considered my application. While silence is not a rejection, the kind of response you get still sets the tone. One of the responses I got came half an hour later, not addressing me by name and worded like a text that basically said "it's more competitive this year but apply and we'll see how it goes." They did not even bother removing the "sent from iPhone" signature. So trust your gut on whether you should apply based on what you hear back, if you hear back!

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  • 2 months later...

Thanks, all, for your replies!

I just wanted to add an update for anyone that might be reading this thread: although I obviously haven't received any admissions results yet, I ultimately did end up hearing back from everyone I emailed. I even sent two follow-up emails to one prof (they're at a Big School, so I'd already adopted an "I have nothing to lose" attitude about that application—and I'd also heard from some others that this person was a notoriously flaky emailer), and they finally replied, late December, full of apologies and with an entirely pleasant invitation to apply (nothing too personal or specific, but not a discouraging or aloof email in any way). 

So, like @emerald_hedgehogsaid, it seems to me that one probably should expect to receive replies from the schools to which one applies. (Not that I would have refrained from applying had someone not replied, but I would have been most prepared for that rejection...)

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