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Getting the ball rolling- Contacting Professors


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Hello all!

I recently began my quest for the perfect program and grad advisor. I'm persuing a masters in Ecology and not very quickly.

Most of the people I know who have gone down this road began by contacting professors and then applying to the school only after they've confirmed that there is a professor interested in working with them. Is this normal?

And on contacting advisors, how much do I need to tell them about myself? I really don't know what I want my project to be on other than that I'm mainly interested in Herpetology and would like to gain new experience. I've only conducted field work in the past and would like a masters project that gets me into the lab (weither its a genetics component or isotopic signatures for food web mapping..... I don't know).

I'm scared to contact a professor and make a negative impression so I've just been spinning my wheels getting ready to contact them and not actually doing it. Any advice you have to offer on the process would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks for the help!

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To the best of my knowledge, this is common but not the only approach in the Earth Sciences. Ecology or anything biology-ish is sort of its own world though, so you might check the Biology thread as well. I and several of my peer group came in to our program knowing exactly who we would work with before we applied, and had already confirmed funding potential and interest. Maybe half of my cohort came in with more general interests, but they had narrowed things down to maybe 2-3 profs they wanted to work with and been in contact with all of them. You can check with the department you want to apply to and find out more about how they decide on admits. The grad programs I'm familiar with have 4 tiers of decision making, listed below in order of cutoff:

1. Did you turn everything in that you needed to?

2. Did you make GPA and GRE cutoffs?

3. Have you been in communication with the profs, and are any of them interested in hosting you?

4. As a tie-breaker, do you have a compelling personal statement, letters of rec, extracurriculars, publications, external funding? If all of these, a prof you previously did not talk to may cold call you, but life is generally easier if you already fit criteria 3.

For contacting, there are a number of posts in the admissions threads about exactly this subject--check them out! I'd keep it short and sweet to start with, offering your name, stating that you are interested in MS work with them, one sentence of your background, and what about their work you find compelling ('you've published on using genetic markers to trace population exchange, which is something I'd be interested in applying'--not too specific or focused on one project, otherwise they may say they aren't working on it anymore and more or less dismiss you. 4-5 sentences total. Attach a CV for them to look at if they are interested. Half will probably not respond without further prodding (a phone call or follow-up e-mail 10 days later would be appropriate), most of the others probably won't have funding or aren't currently taking a new student. You'll find a few that are worth talking more to, but no reason to give them your life history or get into great detail about projects until you know if both of you are willing and able.

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  • 2 months later...

Hmm - did the programs you apply to have GPA cutoffs? I'm really wondering about that, speaking as someone with very high GRE scores *and* very low GPA (due to ADD). My advisers are telling me to consider applying to MIT again but I'm not sure if MIT even looks at the applications of people with GPAs in the low 3's.

Edited by InquilineKea
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