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phone date with a professor


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I contacted a professor I am interested in working in at the top school in my subfield a few weeks back. I was hesitant to do it, but much to my surprise he emailed me back almost immediately, saying that my research sounds very promising and that if I'd like to set up a phone conversation, I could. I didn't really know how to reply to him, except I knew that I had to say yes.

So, two questions:

1) Have any other literature applicants had this happen to them? In the sciences I understand, but I was taken aback by this offer.

2) Does anyone have any advice on how I should approach the phone call? I've already outlined my central interest in our email exchanges. Should I wait for questions or jump right in to why I came to the topic I came to? Should I talk about some of my other ideas and secondary interests? Should I mention my statement of purpose at all? Should I ask for advice about what angles/key ideas to include/cut? Should I ask him to have a look at my statement of purpose or is that an absolute no-no?

I don't know what lines to draw, what to avoid and what to be sure to do...please help!

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I had a couple of phone dates with professors before applying, and they were largely positive. I spoke to two profs at one program and one at another; I was accepted to both programs. It is totally stressful! I feel your pain. I would recommend going in with a list of questions to ask--specific questions not only about the program (questions that can't be answered on the website or by the grad coordinator), but about the professor's work (teaching and research). It sucks to have them ask, "So, do you have any questions for me?" and have your mind go blank. Be prepared to ask a lot of questions yourself, but also be prepared to listen to a long spiel and only respond briefly. Here is my most important tip: make sure you are familiar with the professor's work before the interview. Read as much as you can, and as much recent work as you can. Do not go into this thing cold or clueless about the professor and her work.

Treat this like a real interview. Know your own application, know your work, be prepared to mention scholars/primary texts--though also be prepared for the fact that this stuff might not come up. It is far less important for you to be able to explain how and why you came to your current interests than it is to be able to discuss your interests themselves, where they fit into the current academic conversation and where you're interested in taking that conversation. Know the professor's work, but understand that she might not try to talk about herself too much. Understand she also might want to talk about herself at length. I would definitely NOT ask for any tips or help with your SOP or application. At best, it's a bit tacky. If she brings if up or offers to help, great. But I'd really recommend against bringing it up yourself. Ask yourself: if you were in the professor's position, what would you want to hear from an applicant?

Here is a list of what things I'd recommend you keep in mind. They are more or less things that I did did for my phone dates (and/or things I realize now that I should have done):

1. Write a list of specific questions.

2. Be prepared to give a summary of your writing sample, as well as your research interests and where you hope to go in the future. Be prepared to be specific about all of this.

3. Know the rest of your application well.

4. Familiarize yourself with the professor's (current) scholarship.

5. Take notes while the professor talks, or pay close attention so you can respond well.

6. Have everything you think you might need for the conversation at your fingertips so you can refer to it easily. This might include: list of questions, notes on the prof's work, your application, your writing sample and/or notes on your writing sample, water in case you get parched, etc.

7. Make really sure beforehand if you are supposed to call the prof or she is supposed to call you.

I hope all of this doesn't freak you out! Good luck, and try to enjoy it!

I contacted a professor I am interested in working in at the top school in my subfield a few weeks back. I was hesitant to do it, but much to my surprise he emailed me back almost immediately, saying that my research sounds very promising and that if I'd like to set up a phone conversation, I could. I didn't really know how to reply to him, except I knew that I had to say yes.

So, two questions:

1) Have any other literature applicants had this happen to them? In the sciences I understand, but I was taken aback by this offer.

2) Does anyone have any advice on how I should approach the phone call? I've already outlined my central interest in our email exchanges. Should I wait for questions or jump right in to why I came to the topic I came to? Should I talk about some of my other ideas and secondary interests? Should I mention my statement of purpose at all? Should I ask for advice about what angles/key ideas to include/cut? Should I ask him to have a look at my statement of purpose or is that an absolute no-no?

I don't know what lines to draw, what to avoid and what to be sure to do...please help!

Edited by Pamphilia
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I had a couple of phone dates with professors before applying, and they were largely positive. I spoke to two profs at one program and one at another; I was accepted to both programs. It is totally stressful! I feel your pain. I would recommend going in with a list of questions to ask--specific questions not only about the program (questions that can't be answered on the website or by the grad coordinator), but about the professor's work (teaching and research). It sucks to have them ask, "So, do you have any questions for me?" and have your mind go blank. Be prepared to ask a lot of questions yourself, but also be prepared to listen to a long spiel and only respond briefly. Here is my most important tip: make sure you are familiar with the professor's work before the interview. Read as much as you can, and as much recent work as you can. Do not go into this thing cold or clueless about the professor and her work.

Treat this like a real interview. Know your own application, know your work, be prepared to mention scholars/primary texts--though also be prepared for the fact that this stuff might not come up. It is far less important for you to be able to explain how and why you came to your current interests than it is to be able to discuss your interests themselves, where they fit into the current academic conversation and where you're interested in taking that conversation. Know the professor's work, but understand that she might not try to talk about herself too much. Understand she also might want to talk about herself at length. I would definitely NOT ask for any tips or help with your SOP or application. At best, it's a bit tacky. If she brings if up or offers to help, great. But I'd really recommend against bringing it up yourself. Ask yourself: if you were in the professor's position, what would you want to hear from an applicant?

Here is a list of what things I'd recommend you keep in mind. They are more or less things that I did did for my phone dates (and/or things I realize now that I should have done):

1. Write a list of specific questions.

2. Be prepared to give a summary of your writing sample, as well as your research interests and where you hope to go in the future. Be prepared to be specific about all of this.

3. Know the rest of your application well.

4. Familiarize yourself with the professor's (current) scholarship.

5. Take notes while the professor talks, or pay close attention so you can respond well.

6. Have everything you think you might need for the conversation at your fingertips so you can refer to it easily. This might include: list of questions, notes on the prof's work, your application, your writing sample and/or notes on your writing sample, water in case you get parched, etc.

7. Make really sure beforehand if you are supposed to call the prof or she is supposed to call you.

I hope all of this doesn't freak you out! Good luck, and try to enjoy it!

Thanks so much for your reply. I spoke with him today and things actually went quite well. Very friendly and even a few genuine laughs in there along the way. All in all, it was a pretty relaxed conversation. I did discuss how I came to my current interests and where I wanted to take them. And I got some good feedback on what he thought was good and what he thought I should avoid for the time being. Then, just to keep the conversation going, I asked about resources at the program, class sizes, room for inter-departmental cooperation. I think it went really well and, although I don't know how much he will have to do with the decision-making process (he seemed pretty removed from it actually), I at least felt validated that someone of his stature was convinced by my research. Also, I'm amazed that I didn't make a total ass of myself...or I did and he was just a very nice guy about the whole thing...

Now the big question: Since a brief email led to a phone call that went very well, I'm wondering if I wouldn't have similar luck contacting other professors. Is it too late in the game to make a move like that? Is it better to wait until my application is already submitted? Should I approach this possibility with caution and take what happened this first time as an anomaly rather than standard fare?

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Thanks so much for your reply. I spoke with him today and things actually went quite well. Very friendly and even a few genuine laughs in there along the way. All in all, it was a pretty relaxed conversation. I did discuss how I came to my current interests and where I wanted to take them. And I got some good feedback on what he thought was good and what he thought I should avoid for the time being. Then, just to keep the conversation going, I asked about resources at the program, class sizes, room for inter-departmental cooperation. I think it went really well and, although I don't know how much he will have to do with the decision-making process (he seemed pretty removed from it actually), I at least felt validated that someone of his stature was convinced by my research. Also, I'm amazed that I didn't make a total ass of myself...or I did and he was just a very nice guy about the whole thing...

Congrats!!! That's awesome.

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Now the big question: Since a brief email led to a phone call that went very well, I'm wondering if I wouldn't have similar luck contacting other professors. Is it too late in the game to make a move like that? Is it better to wait until my application is already submitted? Should I approach this possibility with caution and take what happened this first time as an anomaly rather than standard fare?

Yes, congratulations! To answer the question I've quoted above, that's something we've discussed and debated quite extensively before. Check out and and

Edited by diehtc0ke
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