Jump to content
Josh J.

Advisor suggests not emailing POIs....thoughts?

Recommended Posts

Hello everyone,

I am currently in the second and final year of a masters program, and I spoke with my advisor the other day about PhD applications.  My advisor is well known in his specialty, and is the dean of graduate research, so he is the go-to guy at my school for discussing PhD aspirations with.  

 

I have a good relationship with him, and he very much likes my work.  I mentioned that I was getting ready to prepare applications, and that a friend of his is one of my top picks for a POI at a certain school. I asked him for advice on anything in particular that a contact email to this and other POIs should entail, and he told me that he typically advises against his students contacting POIs out of the blue.  He said that he found it annoying when he received emails like that, and that he thought many professors found it patronizing.  He suggested that I concentrate on my SOP, securing a couple of other good references, and making the application the best that it can be. His bottom line was that he didn't think email contact would really help at all, but that the application is where it is at.

Now that I am actually working on the electronic application for this school that is my first choice, they want to know who in the department I've been talking with about my application on the form itself.  So now I am a bit torn...do I listen to my advisor, or do I contact his buddy after he advised me not to email POIs at all?
 

I would love some feedback on this. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm sure some professors don't like getting emails from prospective students, but you need to figure out if your POIs are actually accepting students. I've heard on this forum that some programs say not to contact faculty, so in that case you wouldn't. Nearly all the programs I'm applying to explicitly stated on the department webpage that applicants should contact faculty of interest.

Honestly, I'm shocked at how kind and generous nearly every person I emailed has been--and I emailed A LOT of scholars. Doing so helped me narrow down my list of potential schools--if none of the POIs were accepting students I knew my application would be a waste of money. Also, I received informative responses from scholars who told me things like their department was retiring all the people in my field within the next few years or had poor funding/placement prospects. Even more importantly, some programs I felt were out of reach had POIs really interested in my research, so I decided to take a chance and apply. Not saying these conversations will help me get in, but I feel that having them added to my knowledge about the programs. The list I started with looks completely different now.

I know many people get in without contacting a single POI, so don't look at it like you will secure a spot because of an email. I just don't think it hurts to get in contact with people you could potentially be working with for the next 6-7 years.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Go with your advisor's experience-based suggestion. My two advisors also do not enjoy getting random emails from prospective students. This takes up time and, ultimately, has no bearing upon their decision whether or not to offer admission. The writing sample and overall application is what my advisors weigh heavily when making their decisions, not whether or not the applicant has already introduced him or herself to them via email. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I didn't contact anyone at the universities I applied to, and got plenty of interviews, all but one of the schools I got an interview and following an acceptance into.  Most of the places that I applied to sometimes asked about professors you are interested in working with and in that case I listed but none of them outright asked me who I had been in contact with.  However, I applied to programs that all had rotations so it was not necessary to select one person to join their lab or research so I think that is why there is not a lot of stress on that aspect of the application.  I would imagine this depends on the program and the area of interest.  In my realm, most people have funding and if your first POI can't take a student there will definitely be someone else that can.  If that is not the case I would see why it is important to be in contact with a specific person of interest.  I don't know what history is like so I can't speak to that.  

I'd err on the side of your professor, only email someone if you legitimately have a question about something they are doing don't just email them to check that off a list of "things you are supposed to do",  Best of luck.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't disagree with the above posters, but I'd recommend you list multiple POIs in your SOPs if you aren't contacting them to see if they are actually accepting students. If you hedge all your bets on one scholar and they are near retirement or have too many students already, then you risk not getting admitted. I have a friend who called one program after being rejected and asked why, and they told him his POI was retiring.

Keep in mind, some history programs admit as a department but most programs admit students directly to advisors. Many require some form of sponsorship (if not an advisor, someone who indicates they'd be willing to advise the admit). Like I said before, people do get admitted without contacting anyone but I really think you should read through department websites and see if they suggest you contact faculty members. Some programs I've seen are pretty explicit about it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The other option is to try to meet with POIs in person - either at conferences, talks or if you are visiting the area where their schools are (it might be possible for the grad administrator to schedule appointments with prospective faculty on your behalf). Making a good impression on a POI could well help your application. Cold-call emails are less likely to make a positive impression, and more likely to make a negative one.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hello everyone,

I am currently in the second and final year of a masters program, and I spoke with my advisor the other day about PhD applications.  My advisor is well known in his specialty, and is the dean of graduate research, so he is the go-to guy at my school for discussing PhD aspirations with.  

 

I have a good relationship with him, and he very much likes my work.  I mentioned that I was getting ready to prepare applications, and that a friend of his is one of my top picks for a POI at a certain school. I asked him for advice on anything in particular that a contact email to this and other POIs should entail, and he told me that he typically advises against his students contacting POIs out of the blue.  He said that he found it annoying when he received emails like that, and that he thought many professors found it patronizing.  He suggested that I concentrate on my SOP, securing a couple of other good references, and making the application the best that it can be. His bottom line was that he didn't think email contact would really help at all, but that the application is where it is at.

Now that I am actually working on the electronic application for this school that is my first choice, they want to know who in the department I've been talking with about my application on the form itself.  So now I am a bit torn...do I listen to my advisor, or do I contact his buddy after he advised me not to email POIs at all?

 

I would love some feedback on this. 

 

If the program you're applying to specifically wants to know who you have gotten in contact with, it's in your best interest to get in contact with someone. If you feel worried about it, tell your advisor that this particular program requires or suggests it on the application itself (show them if necessary) and state that you understand the cold-email can be annoying but is perhaps a required irk of this particular program's admissions. See if your advisor has specific suggestions then, or just email this POI and explain your connection, your interest in the program, and that you'd initially been advised not to contact, but saw the part on the application form asking who you'd contacted, etc. Thank them for their time and try to take no more than 4-5 sentences to say it all. Maybe another if you follow up with "I understand you are probably very busy." 

 

Being polite, concise, and honest will probably get you far, or at the very least you're going to be a rather minor annoyance on the scale of things that a potential POI will probably forget about if you didn't make any egregious errors. I contacted people at 4 schools. One POI said they weren't taking any PhD students so I saved myself $75 in application fees. One was polite but also busy traveling so not much was said (rejected later in the process), and the other two school whose POIs I emailed both accepted me. One POI at one of these places also told me to email and discuss my interest in the program to another POI at the department -- in fact, encouraged my contacting them. 

 

You might get "pre-rejected" by a school for contacting a POI -- either because you're rude and memorably so, because they can't be bothered with potential students, or because they simply aren't taking students. I assume it's more likely that prospective students viewed as minor annoyances are just ignored rather than written into a "REJECT THEM" pile, but I tend to think the best of people. Even if that was the case, would you really want to work for them -- especially when the school predicts and/or expects you'll have made such contact? 

 

Your advisor is right that your main concern is the actual application, but contacting a POI should take about 15 minutes tops, especially if all you're going to say is:

 

"Hello Dr./Professor ______, My name is ____ and I'm an MA student in ______ at _______ University advised by ________. I'm hoping to apply for a ____ PhD [program degree] at ______ for this upcoming fall, and was particularly interested in your work in ______. I am interested in/am researching _______, and saw that the application asked who I had gotten in touch with at the department, and so I thought I should email professors with whom I shared research interests. I am interested to know if you are potentially accepting or looking for PhD students in the upcoming year [, as I would enjoy working on _____/hope to work on _____/ would like to do _____/think ______].

 

I understand you are busy, and thank you for your time. 

 

Best, 

 

___________. 

 

Alternately: Hello, Dr./Professor,  

 

I am an MA student in _____ at ____ University. My advisor, Dr. ______, recommended I apply to ______ University for a PhD due to my interest in researching ______, [and suggested I might fit under your research interests/look into what you do/etc.] After some research of my own, I became interested in your work on _____, and was wondering if you[/the department] were potentially able to take on doctoral students in the fall. 

 

Thank you for your time, 

 

_______. 

 

Which is more or less the same thing I said in an actual email:

 

Dear Professor/Dr. ________, 

My name is _________ and I am a ____________ at _______ University. One of my professors, Dr. _____ attended the ____________ for their PhD some time ago, and after some discussion we agreed the university seems like a potential ideal fit for my graduate studies. I was most interested in the ________ and the emphasis on _______. In particular, your work in ________ and _______ fascinated and intrigued me, as I am currently [in a class on related thing] ____________, and doing research on _______.  
 
I was wondering if you were taking or looking for doctoral students for Fall of _____. 
 
Thank you for your time, 
 
_______.
 
It's such a short and formulaic email that honestly it could be done in between breaks or classes and should in no way cut into the work you put into your applications. If you spend more than 30 minutes trying to write one, you're honestly stressing out over what is essentially a short cover letter/a 3-4 sentence statement of interest and should just let it go and focus on something else. If you already have a SOP or have drafted it, just use the information there to fill in blanks. 
Edited by zigzag

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Go with your advisor's experience-based suggestion. My two advisors also do not enjoy getting random emails from prospective students. This takes up time and, ultimately, has no bearing upon their decision whether or not to offer admission. The writing sample and overall application is what my advisors weigh heavily when making their decisions, not whether or not the applicant has already introduced him or herself to them via email. 

 

It depends on why you're emailing. If you're trying to up your chances, bad idea, but if you're trying to determine whether that person is taking any students, it's a must. Emailing professors saved me $400 on applications that would have been wasted because I did not know the profs had decided to retire.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It depends on why you're emailing. If you're trying to up your chances, bad idea, but if you're trying to determine whether that person is taking any students, it's a must. Emailing professors saved me $400 on applications that would have been wasted because I did not know the profs had decided to retire.

Yep, I agree. Just have to be tactful and not come off as a sycophant. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My program is not History but I've been saying do not contact professors, especially do not contact professors via email, unless you really have a purpose. Most posters incorrectly infer I am saying do not email or contact professors, which I am not. But I feel really good that half the posts on this thread including the dean mentioned in the first post, are against it. The more people you network with the better, but spamming people in positions of authority is a bad idea. I just checked my pending applications and only one asked about POIs - the question was not who I have talked with but who I would like to work with.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A few of the schools I applied to stated specifically on their department website NOT to contact POIs because the profs get so many emails that it's only a bother to them (unless you have a really, really good reason for doing so). These were institutions that get more than 500 applications per year for less than 20 spots, so I could understand the reasoning behind it. Be sure to check very carefully on the website to see whether contacting POIs is discouraged, encouraged, or not mentioned, because frequently there is some text about it on the FAQ or info page for applicants.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

that is super weird and i guess it depends on the field. my field is East Asian history and literature and it is absolutely essential to contact the POIs beforehand. our department chair even carefully screens my emails before i send them. what is your field??

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm in Modern European history, but at the institution I'm at (and several others I applied to), you were discouraged from contacting POIs personally regardless of your field (this was listed on the history department application homepage). Of course you were expected to check and see if there were profs there working on things in your area of interest, but that was as far as it went.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm in Modern European history, but at the institution I'm at (and several others I applied to), you were discouraged from contacting POIs personally regardless of your field (this was listed on the history department application homepage). Of course you were expected to check and see if there were profs there working on things in your area of interest, but that was as far as it went.

 

I wonder if this is a "Euro/American" history vs "Asiatic" history/studies/sub-field thing. There are simply so many more scholars of the West, so I can imagine dealing with that kind of overload would be more stressful (as a POI). But in any asian-studies related field (from my experience) connecting and contacting people is extremely important.  Sure there might be 500 applications total, but maybe a small fraction of those in any kind of department (excepting JUST asian studies depts I'm sure, rather than say, soc, history, art history, philosophy, etc) are asian-focused. Contacting people can be a HUGE gain in that respect. If they're taking any asian studies folks, you would want your name to be recognized one out of 20, vs the one out of hundreds. 

 

This is just a wild guess...?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think it's a combination of what field and what school, to be honest. My classmate was applying to a small subfield of history with relatively few scholars and applicants, so the expectation was that he contact them. Then again, my professors advised me to contact POIs, as did many department websites and graduate coordinators at programs of interest, and I'm a modern Americanist. Obviously there are a ton of other modern Americanists applying, but not all programs get 400+ applicants. Somewhere like Berkeley gets so many applicants that it's completely understandable when the department would rather people not contact scholars there.

I think if the OP is posting here they are concerned about not contacting POIs and this is perhaps indicating a lack of confidence in their advisor's advice. If you feel that way, OP, you should really look at department websites and maybe contact the graduate program coordinator or admin and ask for their particular department's recommendation. You can also ask them nuts and bolts questions that are not on the website (don't email anyone and ask about things you can easily find yourself).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wow, I am really amazed by the number of people saying not to send e-mails! I think, even with the cons taken into account, that you lose very little by venturing a note. I had an amazing applications season last year, and I think it was in large part due to the advice that I received in replies to even very basic introductory notes. It helped guide me in which schools to apply to, and how to shape the applications for specific programs. I had not expected to get replies from everyone, especially from POI's at some of the top schools, but they were in fact the most helpful, and it even led to a couple of Skype meetings. 

 

This process is so crazy that I think you need to seize every opportunity to stand out! At very least, there is no harm done. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm a bit surprised as well. When I applied 4 years ago, I absolutely contacted POIs with an email very similar in length and content to the one(s) in the post above. You are contacting them ostensibly to find out if they're taking students. I didn't apply to 3 schools (so saved maybe $300) when my POI advised me that they'd be retiring in the near future. I sent emails to 12 POIs and 11 responded and all of them were kind. The POI at my first choice responded to my email by asking to meet with me and I have no doubt that that meeting played a big role in her decision to choose me as the one admit she had for that year. 

 

For the OP's specific situation I agree with the poster above who says you might go back to your advisor and mention that the application asks with whom you have been in contact. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was advised not to do this as well. I wonder if it has less to do with subfield than where you're applying. Scholars at large, prestigious schools like Harvard and Stanford are swamped with email and may not appreciate the extra burden. People at smaller institutions with less in demand expertise might be more receptive. The few people I did contact (out of concern that I wasn't doing so, because I'd heard I should on places like this forum) were courteous and wished me good luck but we didn't have any sort of helpful exchange.

 

For the record, I did not get into any school where I did contact professors, and did get into a school that said I should on its website. And I was waitlisted at a school where I contacted no one, although one potential advisor there said he would never admit a student who didn't get in touch with him first.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I notice people keep referring to whether or not a POI is accepting students. Would anyone care to give me a rough outline of the selection process? Does an individual professor admit a student? I assumed it was a central selection committee and you mentioned some professor's work that interested you and you would hope to have as an advisor but that would not be finalized until after you are accepted?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I notice people keep referring to whether or not a POI is accepting students. Would anyone care to give me a rough outline of the selection process? Does an individual professor admit a student? I assumed it was a central selection committee and you mentioned some professor's work that interested you and you would hope to have as an advisor but that would not be finalized until after you are accepted?

 

This varies based on institution, but the general answer is no, a professor does not have his or her own "slot". Still, you really want to have at least one advocate, a professor who is interested in working with you, and the particular person you fit best with with at a university might not be taking students for a variety of reasons. They may be retiring soon, or they just took a student last year and will wait a few before taking another, for example. In other cases, they may be sitting this round out for political reasons or because they're on sabbatical and won't have as much influence on the selection process.

 

More generally, if you are applying to work at a institution and not to work with one or two specific professors, I would re-evaluate what exactly you want to do at graduate school.

Edited by telkanuru

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This varies based on institution, but the general answer is no, a professor does not have his or her own "slot". Still, you really want to have at least one advocate, a professor who is interested in working with you, and the particular person you fit best with with at a university might not be taking students for a variety of reasons. They may be retiring soon, or they just took a student last year and will wait a few before taking another, for example. In other cases, they may be sitting this round out for political reasons or because they're on sabbatical and won't have as much influence on the selection process.

 

More generally, if you are applying to work at a institution and not to work with one or two specific professors, I would re-evaluate what exactly you want to do at graduate school.

 

I assume it depends on both professor and institution in general, but how often would you say a professor takes on a new student? Every other year?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would really hesitate to generalize, but in my limited experience, no one looks to have more than five primary students at one time.

Edited by telkanuru

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would really hesitate to generalize, but in my limited experience, no one looks to have more than five primary students at one time.

 

There's definitely at least one historian I know with way more, but he only meets with them for very short intervals of time on rare occasions, so you probably would want to reconsider working with such an overloaded person anyway. 

Share this post


Link to post
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

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.