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Contacting POIs before applying to Ph.D. programs

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I'm curious about the best practice for reaching out to professors I'd like to work with.  I know that, for programs in the sciences, this is necessary to check availability and lab space, but I've heard otherwise for communication programs.  Some programs encourage contacting faculty, some discourage it, and others say nothing.  Is this something commonly done, or even a good idea?


Furthermore, in the one email I started drafting, I have found it incredibly hard to describe my master's thesis and intended doctoral research concisely.  Can someone provide tips about length and initial disclosure in such an email?  I don't want to bombard the receiver with too much.  





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Below is the basic communication I used for my initial contact across three schools amended accordingly. It's worked for me:


My name is .............................., a graduate of the University of **************** with an MA in New Media and Society.

I have been researching Communications departments seeking a fit for my applications to Ph.D. programmes in Fall 2014.

The research focus on the humanities based study of Media, Culture and Communications at (insert school) has led to this inquiry given my research interests in post colonialism, race and representation, the public sphere, nationalism, identity and autoethnography.


My MA dissertation, "@@@@@@@@@@", an autoethnographic exploration of  identity through the lens of sport, has kindled a desire in me to explore autoethnography both as practice and product in an attempt to answer questions of creole identity.

In researching the Department, I have downloaded and am currently reading your article in "The Journal of Whatever". As such, I would be interested in knowing if you will be taking on graduate students in Fall 2014.

I do hope to hear from you.

Thank you for your time.


Here is a typical response:

Thank you for your email. Congratulations on the recent completion of your MA. Your thesis on identity formation through the play of sport sounds fascinating. Perhaps you are familiar with Lisa Tillman-Healey's book Between Gay and Straight, an ethnography of gay baseball players from Southern Florida (US) or Mark Orbe's article "Remember, It's Always White's Ball" which is a qualitative study of African American men's communication.
You are strongly encouraged to apply to our program. I'm sure you realize this, but in order to apply you will need to follow the application procedures we have set up. For information about that, I am referring you to our web site:
While all faculty are eligible to take on students, ours is a highly competitive program with a limited number of slots. As such, not every faculty member will be able to bring in a student each year. So, while I *can* work with students, the highly competitive nature of our program does not allow me to admit all the students that request to work with me. I hope this makes sense.
In short, you absolutely should apply! Read more about our program. You might also want to contact Professor A and Professor B who may also be interested in your work . The more faculty who might advise you the better!
All the best.


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Very thorough, thanks!  Coincidentally I'm familiar with Mark Orbe's work from one of my term papers.  I appreciate your help! 

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The one thing I can't over emphasise is that mysterious thing called 'fit'. I really worked my way through departments until I found the professors with whom I thought I shared possible synergies and it was those whom I contacted. One respondent, a DGS no less, told me that it wasn't necessary to contact professors before application, another virtually introduced me to colleagues who share my interests.


There is much more sage advice on this forum about this topic should you need more. Every school is different as is everyone's experience through this skeet shoot. Good luck!

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  • 2 months later...

Although I felt weird about it, I did contact POIs at most of the schools I applied to. Although I won't know if it "paid off" until I am hear back from admissions, it was probably the best decision I made during my application process. In many cases, the faculty member related my interests to another faculty member's in an unexpected way. Often, he/she was able to tell me a bit more about the admissions process and things about the program itself that were not necessarily clear from the website. Their thoughts really guided the process of writing my personal statement and building my case for applying to each school.

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