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Contacting a professor to potentially transfer into their program


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i'm a 2nd year grad student and heard that a professor at another university is working on a project that highly interests me. not only that, but he is looking for a grad student with my particular expertise.  


i really want to transfer to this grad program now and i am writing a letter to him right now.  but i am at a lost on how i should word the letter. any thoughts? in the end, i want to know if he would be willing to take me on and i don't know how to say that. 


another complication is that i applied to his department before, but was rejected (he was not on the admissions committee however).



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An admissions comittee will rarely be dominated by a single person, and often when a conflict of interest arises, such as in your case - you are applying to a person who is part of the comittee, that person may be asked to sit out for the admission process.


So consider if your application is actually better now then when you were initially rejected.


But I think the bigger problem arises in the following, should you be speaking first to this potential professor or to your current supevisor.


If you speak to this potential professor first, and he rejects you - can you be certain he will never talk to your current professor or word won't get out that you tried in secret to abandon ship?  I'm sure you can understand the awkward situation it could create.


Similarly, if this professor does accept you, what then do you tell your current supervisor?  Do you pretend you haven't yet spoken to anyone - despite having done so, or do you tell them you had without first consulting them, gone to speak to someone else?


And of course, consider the sceanrio where this professor accepts you, you tell your supervisor, and then are rejected during the application cycle. 




While you of course are not married to your current supervisor, you should keep in mind their expectations.  They took you and not a different graduate student into their lab, they have invested time and comittment into you - not someone else.  After having been groomed for a year, to decide to leave, will require careful treading, as you could easily burn bridges and wind up in a difficult spot.


Lastly, be cautious, the grass is always greener on the other side.

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I'm going to begin by agreeing with the above two - I don't think you should transfer, but rather that you should investigate the possibility of a collaboration.  Or at the very least, maybe this is someone to keep in mind for a postdoc.  But the rest of this is geared toward if you absolutely want to transfer.

I doubt that a professor would be asked to sit out of the admissions process because he was in contact with a prospective student.  Most professors ARE in contact with prospective students; it's part of the game.  In fact, knowing or having worked with a professor in the department before can be a significant factor in admission to the department.  And while no one committee member will dominate the entire committee, an influential professor may be a very strong ally in gaining admission into a program.

I advocate just being straightforward.  Tell him that you are currently a second-year student in X Department at Y University, and you've heard of his project and it excites you.  Tell him that you'd really enjoy working with him on this project, and that you are interested in getting the PhD in X at his university and have applied there before.  Then ask whether or not he's taking students in 2013-2014.  You may even add a line about whether the department would be amenable to a transfer application from you.  Attach your CV to the email.  (A lot of students don't want to, because they think it's presumptuous.  It's not presumptuous at all - if he doesn't want to look at it, he won't.  But he won't be able to make a good judgment without the CV, and this saves him from having to ask for it - or worse, just waving you off because he doesn't want to bother asking for it.)  Keep it short and simple.

If he's not taking students in 2013-2014, then it's a moot point.  If he's insightful (or if you include the last line about transferring), he'll give you a short statement about whether or not the program takes transfers or whether they'd be interested in him.  Some programs rarely if ever take transfers; some take tem, but require them to start over.  Think about whether you would want to start over after completing 2 years somewhere else.

I wouldn't necessarily go to my current supervisor first; I would put out feelers to see whether the opportunity is even there.  No use in sending up the alarm if the new professor isn't even interested.

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