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How important is it to contact a faculty before applying to a Stat PhD programs?


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How important do you guys think it is to talk to a faculty member before applying to a grad school? I am planning on applying to MS/PhD in Statistics. I have been reading a lot of papers written by the faculties at several universities, and I find myself quite apprehensive about writing to a professor, to whom I am a stranger, and asking him about all sort of things. Some of the FAQ's in universities clearly stated that inquiries about admission chances to faculties are at best frowned upon and at worst detrimental to applicant's chances of being admitted. So, I was hoping if any one in here had some advise for me.

I did look into a lot of programs, and most of the top ones have statistics with heavy Bayesian inclinations. Although I come from a econometric background, application of Bayesian statistics is quite exciting. I am particularly interested in application of Bayesian statistics in policy analysis. Although this method is quite common in law, this seems to be a relatively unexplored territory for other public policy development and evaluation. Do you guys think, it is right to chat with a professor about my expectation and his thoughts about it? My rationale is that it is better for me to get a view from the faculty about my idea before applying because many posts in here have stated clearly the dangerous misfortune of getting into a program with different faculty research interest.

Thanks in advance.


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At least in biostats, nobody expects prospective students to have established any relationship with a faculty member before applying; in stats it should be pretty much the same deal. You might be lucky and get a faculty member excited enough to "talk up" your application to the admissions committee, but you also run the risk of annoying people, which certainly wouldn't work in your favor.

Edited by cyberwulf
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Personally, I only contacted a couple faculty members. When I went to visit the schools, after being accepted (PhD), it was nice to see a "familiar face" among all the faculty I had to sit and talk with. That being said, I don't think it was necessary, and definitely not expected, that I make contact with a faculty member.

A lot of the advice out there for applying to grad schools emphasizes the importance of finding a faculty member you want to work with, and then making contact with that person. I think this is because in the other sciences (and maybe humanities?) you are expected to know, more or less, what type of research interests you. In other fields you maybe "hired" into a research group. However, statistics is an inherently graduate level field. Professors DO NOT expect an applicant to know specifically what sub-field he or she wants to do research in. In my experience, the professors "eyed me suspiciously" because I had already identified a sub-field. (however for the NSF fellowship you are expected to know exactly what you want to do)

So you don't have to make contact. In your case, it sounds like you are quite familiar with a particular sub-field of statistics. So, you might go ahead and contact the people you are interested in working with. You might start off by asking what type of theses are his/her grad students working on (unless this info is posted online). But I'd caution you not to sound like you know a lot, because you probably don't (no fault of yours, they simply don't teach this stuff to undergrads).

Advice about contacting professors:

1) "inquiries about admission chances" Don't ask about admission chances. That would be annoying. Its a big roll of the dice and you just have to decide on your own if your chances are good enough to apply.

2) Don't ask anything that can be found online. That would be annoying.

3) If you want to contact a professor, see if any of the professors at your school know him/her. This will give you a way to start the conversation: "Hi I'm Bob, and I'm currently at the U of X. I've been researching graduate programs, and a professor of mine, Prof So and So, suggested the program at U of My Dreams. ...

4) Don't be worried if the professor takes a couple weeks to get back to you, or if his/her response is really brief. Professors are busy and they generally hate email (because they get LOADS of it). Its nothing personal.

5) If you have a lot of questions (and you better have a good reason to be asking), ask to set up a time to call.

Hope that helps!

P.S. In my experience, getting grad students to respond to your emails is harder than getting professors to.

Edited by dendrogirl
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