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Contacting professors in the sciences


katethekitcat
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Hi guys,

 

My apologies, as I’m sure this question has been asked a thousand times, but: what exactly does one say to a professor whom you’re interested in working with for graduate school? I’m coming late to the PhD bandwagon – I was originally going to apply only for master’s programs – and so I haven’t yet contacted anyone. Do you just ask if they’re taking graduate students in the next year? Should we be commenting on their research? (I have at least read papers by professors I’m interested in working with – it was necessary for personal statements).

 

Essentially, I’m awful at networking, cold-e-mailing a professor leaves knots of terror in my stomach, etc. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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A) They're people. What's the worst that could possibly happen?

 

B) You don't contact them and you've got a much slimmer chance at getting into their program because not every program has a dearth of slots. Most don't. You need that familiarity for many of the best positions. 

 

C) "Hello. I'm interested in your school for XYZ program and you seem to be the professor in charge of XYZ. I was wondering if you wouldn't mind if I picked your brain a bit? I saw you did XZY and would love to ask you questions about it and possible future studies.." 

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At first contact, you should be concise and provide them with all the details of your purpose of emailing them. You also may provide them with your background specifications if you feel that it's something worth sharing. 

 

You should refrain from complimenting them and their publication record, however, you should make scientific comments on their recent publications (within 3-5 years). You don't have to read all their publications, but you should read the ones that were published in respectable journals, the ones that were published solely out of their lab without collaborators, and the ones that relates directly with what the professor needs help with (if the position was advertised). And keep an open mind when you're writing about these scientific stuff, you're not the expert nor do they expect you to be. 

 

At the end of the day, if you are enthusiastic and polite, you should be able to obtain responses from most of them and whether or not they are available space or funding for a PhD student. Don't be discouraged if you don't obtain a response, because some emails really do get lost and never read. You should also refrain from emailing a bunch of professors within the same department at the same time, they do talk to each other and if they sniff that it's a mass-email (although it's really not), they will never respond to you.

 

One at a time, with personalized emails really do help, and within the Canadian institutions as a domestic applicant, this is the main way of getting into graduate school as a PhD student. I cannot say the same for international applications because there are other factors to consider, but as a domestic applicant of your own country it should be the easiest and the best way to apply into graduate school. 

 

Hope that helps. If not, whatever. 

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Oh and make sure you're Actually interested in what their doing. Which you should be able to figure out while reading their publications.

 

You may or may not be desperate to find a PhD position, but don't be so desperate that you're asking for projects you are not interested in. It makes you look terrible if you start complaining about the project 2-3 years into your PhD. 

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Also, make sure to email your CV  - this can tell them a lot about you GPA/where you went for your undergrad/scholarships/awards/publications/research esperience, etc. I also included relavent coursework on mine.

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These are the three sites I found the most helpful when I was at this stage of my application season:

 

1) http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~evans/advice/prospective.html

2) http://theprofessorisin.com/2011/07/25/how-to-write-an-email-to-a-potential-ph-d-advisor/

3) http://science-professor.blogspot.com/2007/12/writing-to-me.html

 

Hope that helps & good luck!

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These are the three sites I found the most helpful when I was at this stage of my application season:

 

1) http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~evans/advice/prospective.html

2) http://theprofessorisin.com/2011/07/25/how-to-write-an-email-to-a-potential-ph-d-advisor/

3) http://science-professor.blogspot.com/2007/12/writing-to-me.html

 

Hope that helps & good luck!

 

These are great - having them written by professors is invauable. My greatest fear is worrying I'm going to annoy professors to the point they will actively seek out my application and block my admission. Obviously, this is irrational, but hey, I'm a paranoid applicant (particularly enjoyed the comic halfway down on the second link - so true!) Hearing professors say straight out they not only receive but fully accept to receive these types of e-mails is very reassuring.

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Hi guys,

 

My apologies, as I’m sure this question has been asked a thousand times, but: what exactly does one say to a professor whom you’re interested in working with for graduate school? I’m coming late to the PhD bandwagon – I was originally going to apply only for master’s programs – and so I haven’t yet contacted anyone. Do you just ask if they’re taking graduate students in the next year? Should we be commenting on their research? (I have at least read papers by professors I’m interested in working with – it was necessary for personal statements).

 

Essentially, I’m awful at networking, cold-e-mailing a professor leaves knots of terror in my stomach, etc. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

 

I am also new to this process.. is it always necessary to contact the professor whom you're interested in working with or  does that happen after you get accepted?/ 

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It depends on the field which is more usual - contacting a POI before or after.  I contacted mine before because I was trying to whittle down a too long list of schools but I know people even in my field that contacted people after or never were in contact until an acceptance.

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It really depends on the departmental/admission system of the institution of interest.

 

As far as I understand there are three primary methods:

 

1) contact professor prior to making an application to receive general support that he/she would take you as a graduate student once you are accepted into the school. In this scenario, the department with not even consider your application unless you have at least one professor's support. (In this system, most of your stipend is coming directly from your supervisor)

 

2) Apply to the department where they will consider your application first, and once accepted to the department, they provide you with a list of faculty members that are able to take in graduate students that year. You will make contact with them and once you have a support of a professor, you will get a final notice of acceptance. (On average, the stipend varies for this system, where university fellowships and departmental awards help professors subsidize some of the costs). 

 

3) Apply to the department, interview, and get accepted by the department. You start your PhD with laboratory rotations where you will gain experience in 3 different laboratories. The entire process may range from 6 months to a year, after which you will decide a single professor and a project you want to work with. In this scenario, it's rare for the student to get kicked out after rotations, and the department in most cases will make sure that you find a position. (The department will also pay your stipend during your rotations, the rest I'm not sure where it comes from but I'm sure you'll get it). 

 

extra 4) you're a self-funded student who's willing to pay for your own living expenses and research costs associated with your degree. You pay for everything. adds up to 50,000 dollars per annum and you apply like number 1), while mentioning that you have independent source of funding. Only place that still allows this to my knowledge is UK. 

 

Sorry if you weren't interested in the stipend information, but I think it's important for people to know where it's coming from. 

Edited by Jungshin
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