Jump to content

When to contact faculty in PhD programs? How important is it to contact them?


Recommended Posts

Hi this is my first post in Grad Cafe. I'm really glad I found this place and I hope I am not writing this in the wrong place.


A little about me: I'm a rising senior at a highly ranked public research university and I'll be applying this fall for Environmental Toxicology PhD programs this fall. In many programs' websites, it says I should directly contact the faculty I'd like to work with. 


So here's where I'm at with the application process:

- I have a list of all the programs I'm interested in, there are about 11, and I am whittling it down/changing around which faculty I'm interested in working with. So, I am pretty much set on most of the faculty and am doing some more Googling on the other ones.

- I have a tentative resume and CV prepared. Still paraphrasing some stuff!

- I asked a bunch of people who are already in grad school when I should email the faculty, and they all gave me different answers - some said ASAP, some said a few weeks into the fall semester, some said anytime during the summer...I don't know what's going to work best for my situation.


Also, my parents are visiting this summer, and are willing/pushing me to visit different potential campuses in mid-July to talk to faculty. Would this be too early to see potential faculty? I feel like seeing the faculty that early has major benefits as well as some drawbacks.


I don't know if I'll be ready to discuss my specific research interests in mid-July and make the best impression I can make. I will be able to visit those campuses later, on my own, as well, aside from one, which is too far. It's just more convenient for me to have my parents drive me + they have a serious case of grad school application fever and think it's the only and best time for me to visit. It's because I'm taking the GRE just before they arrive and I wanna make sure I own that test and have been spending a bit more time studying for that than preparing other portions of my application.


When do you think I should email the professors? How knowledgeable/ready should I be when emailing them? (Like, would I be more prepared to email them after I begin writing my SOP, etc.) When do you think would be most convenient/leave a good impression for the typical faculty (if there is such a thing)?

Edited by breakfastea
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would do it in the late summer, when professors are probably back from any vacations but haven't yet started classes.  I don't think there's necessarily a "best" time, though; I'd just say late summer through October.  


As far as how knowledgeable you should be, I heard somewhere that you shouldn't contact anyone unless you've read at least a few of their papers, and I think that's fairly solid advice.  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A bunch of questions but I'll answer a couple.


1) Will you be more prepared to email after writing your SOP? Probably, in all honesty. I say this because writing your SOP helps you craft a compelling narrative about who you are and what you want to study. POIs are going to want you to get straight to the point about what you want to study and why you want to work with them. Drafting your SOP can help you be more clear about these things in your head, which will probably make them come across clearer in your emails.


2) Don't visit or even ask about visiting unless you're already going to be in the area. You'll get flown out for an interview or for an accepted students' visit and that will be your chance to visit the campus, meet the faculty, etc. No need to spend money on that when you'll already be spending plenty on applications.


3) When to email really depends on your field. If the POIs are likely to be in the lab all summer, rather than out in the field, then it probably doesn't really matter when you email. In my discipline, people use the summer to do fieldwork so they may be away from email for days/weeks at a time. So, I don't email in the summer unless it's important (and I mean not even with my committee). If you have grad student contacts in your specific field, ask them about emailing now vs waiting. Definitely don't email in late August/early September when people's semesters are getting underway, since that's a busy time and your query may get lost.


I'm actually going to disagree with gellert about the papers thing. I didn't read the papers for nearly everyone I applied to work with (this was 7 years ago, btw) and it was fine because I knew what I wanted to study and I knew enough about their work to know that they'd be able to advise me. I say this because there's often a lag where publications reflect what someone used to do, rather than what they're doing or working on right now. For example (with specifics changed), when I applied, the person who became my advisor had published extensively on youth development in Africa but was now working on responses to climate change in southern Canada. Now neither of those was/is my area but, the methodology and theoretical framework were the same in both of those projects and that's the same stuff I knew I wanted to use in my own project (which, when I applied, was studying tiger hunting in India). Because I knew what I wanted to study AND knew how my planned future work intersected with theirs, I was able to present myself as an interesting, compelling candidate.


If you need to specifically read their work to do that, then read it. But, keep in mind that what the lab is currently working on is probably not reflected in their publications. In your case, reading lab websites and the websites of grad students in that lab can be helpful in figuring out what the lab is currently working on.


Good luck!

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