Jump to content

Talking to professors at a conference


Recommended Posts


I recently graduate with a master's degree and I will be applying for PhD admission for fall 2013.

I will be presenting at a conference next week where I will possibly meet a lot of professors who do research in areas I am interested in.

How can I approach the professors? What should I tell them?

I know it is early for them to be choosing future grad students. I am hoping that if they get to know me and I am able to keep some sort of correspondence with them, maybe they will remember me if they want to get a new PhD student.

Does any one have experience in this regard?

I also may be going on a trip toward the end of summer and I will pass by four of the universities which have professors I am interested in. Should I bring this up? Maybe to ask to visit their labs some time?

Thanks in advance!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am just a fellow applicant myself so I may not have the best insight, but I did go to a conference and will be going to another one before applying, and I thought about what I did and what I could have done better in talking to potential PIs. So here are my 2 cents.

Definitely talk to some of the professors you are interested in. Other than the possibility of helping your application, meeting them in person might also help ypu figure out if you would really like working for such a person. I met a professor whose research sounded really interesting, but my first impression about him wasn't so good and I am not sure anymore I would like to work for him.

As far as how to approach them, I really thought about this because I don't think I handled it well enough at my last conference. What I plan to do next time is to approach them by saying something like "assuming I get into school X, would you have spots in your lab for students starting Fall '13"? (if that is when you would start). In that way, you won't come out as just wanting them to help you get into the school, but show that you are actually interested in working with them. And you may want to check if they have spots anyway and it is more likely that they will reply in person than if you ask them by email. If you want to stand out even further, go to their talks and ask them what you think is a reasonably intelligent question for a Master's student either during the questions time or as soon as you can catch them after. A lot of people do so, and if you mention at some point in private that you didn't start your PhD yet, they shouldn't look down on you for not knowing what someone with a PhD should know.

If you feel like the conversation is going in a direction where s/he was able to see your genuine interest, definitely mention that you plan to visit the schools. A lot of students approach them for visiting anyway, and just the fact that you attended the same conference as them makes you seem from the start a little more competitive than some unqualified applicant who just visits hoping to boost their small chances.

That is how I would approach everything. If you choose some other approach, I would still recommend to be careful to show genuine interest and do not leave them with the impression that you are approaching them just to boost your chances of getting in.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Last fall, I was applying for graduate school and I was attending a conference in October that was one of the annual meetings for Planetary Science. So, I emailed a couple of people that I was interested in for graduate school, introduced myself, explained that I am interested in graduate school for Fall 2012 and was wondering if they would be interested in taking students from the Fall 2012 cohort. I also mentioned that I was attending the conference in October and wondered if they would be there too.

Everyone responded positively, one person said he was attending and he actually found me before I could find him. Another prof wasn't attending but told me to talk to his post-doc and current student, who were going to be there, if I wanted to learn more about the school and his work. That was actually really helpful!

But you probably don't even have to email everyone else beforehand -- conferences, especially coffee breaks, are meant for meeting people. I would definitely agree that you shouldn't make it sound like you want them to help you get in. Instead, you should just mention that you are planning to apply to their school and you are interested in their work because of X, Y, and Z. You will hopefully have a good discussion about this topic and you can ask if they are taking more students. Timing these things can be quite tricky though, because they might be trying to find someone else to talk to, and there are probably other people trying to talk to them. So try to be aware of the situation so that you don't monopolize their time!

If possible, having a mutual contact introduce you is ideal. Generally, your supervisor will introduce you to his colleagues so that's a good start. As you get to know other students, they might be able to help you out by introducing you to their supervisors, collaborators, or other faculty at their school. On a related note -- conferences are a good way to make contacts and let professors know you, but make sure you make good contacts with your peers (i.e. other students) too. In the future, knowing these people will help when you/they are looking for collaborators, etc.

Finally, as for asking questions at the end of the talk, it's risky since it's pretty obvious when a student asks a question just for the sake of asking a question/talking. In conferences that I'm used to, talks tend to run over their time, so the question period is very tight!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you for all the responses. I'm writing this post for whoever might find this thread in search results.

I went to the conference. I decided to email the professors a bit too late, and the the professors whom I sent emails to did not attend the conference. However, I approached several other professors at the conference. Everyone was nice and polite and most of them showed interest. I was a bit afraid of approaching professors (Members in another forum advised me not to approach them without arranging a time beforehand by email) and I was always reluctant to go speak to them. It was a mistake though, everybody seemed please to be speaking to a prospective PhD student who is interested in their research and has attended their presentation at a conference.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use