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University's website lists PhD in <xyz>. Should you email professor and ASK if he/she is actually taking students?


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Hi,

I am applying for PhD, Computer Science in a niche area of security.

 

I see schools listing PhD in computer science with focus on information security. I see that they are taking applications for Fall, 2015.

 

Should I apply right away after seeing this information off the website, or do I need to actually ask the relevant faculties whether they are looking for PhD students?

 

I am afraid if I blindly apply to programs based on information on website, I might not even be considered if they don't 'actually' require candidates this Fall, 2015. That would be a waste of an application. I have heard faculties going on 'sabbatical' and not taking students at all (which the website wouldn't mention, of course).

 

What do you guys think?

Edited by thegraydude
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It is quite possible for a program to be admitting students without a particular professor admitting students.  Like let's say you're applying for a computer science department with an information security concentration, and there are 3-4 professors who are actively teaching in that concentration.  The department may be taking students (both in IS and other comp sci fields), and the concentration might be taking students, but the professor you really want to work with might be on sabbatical the following year and not taking anyone.  That doesn't mean that you won't be considered, though, because ideally you'd list 2-3 professors in your statement who could supervise you and even if Prof X is on sabbatical, Prof Y or Prof Z might also be interested in taking you in.

 

SO yes, you should probably ask, but I don't think it's a waste to apply as long as there are a couple professors in your interest area and at least one of them is taking students in the fall of 2015.

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Yes, I think it's worth it to ask. It might differ from field to field. I asked and got a ton of useful information. For example, one prof was doing pretty much exactly what I wanted to do. But when I emailed to ask about him taking students, he said yes, but he has no funding for this work so I would have to TA 20hrs/week every semester. That was not something I wanted to do. Despite the good research match, the funding problem would be a dealbreaker. Also, websites can be out dated.

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Hi,

I am applying for PhD, Computer Science in a niche area of security.

 

I see schools listing PhD in computer science with focus on information security. I see that they are taking applications for Fall, 2015.

 

Should I apply right away after seeing this information off the website, or do I need to actually ask the relevant faculties whether they are looking for PhD students?

 

I am afraid if I blindly apply to programs based on information on website, I might not even be considered if they don't 'actually' require candidates this Fall, 2015. That would be a waste of an application. I have heard faculties going on 'sabbatical' and not taking students at all (which the website wouldn't mention, of course).

 

What do you guys think?

It doesn't hurt to ask but I would get in touch with the program coordinators first.  One of the programs I am looking at states on their website that contacting professors is mandatory.  I talked to two different program coordinators from this particular program-one the head coordinator and one a student in the program-both said that it is not required but helpful. Another program said the same thing:  getting a faculty member on board with your application is helpful for admissions but not required.  

 

Another program I am interested in won't admit you unless you have a faculty member who is willing to mentor/advise you, which must be established prior to application, and yet another program will admit students into the program but not let students matriculate into the program until they find a faculty advisor.  A few only want applicants to indicate who they would like to work with and then there are those programs who do not seem to care either way.  

 

One of my [former] professors claimed to have applied to the program where he eventually earned his Ph.D. "blind".  He said that the prof who eventually became his advisor liked his application and wanted to bring him aboard.  Another prof claimed to have applied to the same Ph.D. program three years in a row.  The third year, a prof from the program recognized his name from the two previous years and decided to bring him on based on his persistency. 

 

Yes, I think it's worth it to ask. It might differ from field to field. I asked and got a ton of useful information. For example, one prof was doing pretty much exactly what I wanted to do. But when I emailed to ask about him taking students, he said yes, but he has no funding for this work so I would have to TA 20hrs/week every semester. That was not something I wanted to do. Despite the good research match, the funding problem would be a dealbreaker. Also, websites can be out dated.

I was talking to a prof about grad school this and that when she told me that she had the chance to attend the #1 ranked program for her field.  She turned it down because it was not funded (reason, I don't know).  She later found out that the guy she would have worked with (her would-be mentor) has an organism named after him and that funding would have eventually come in.  Her advice to me was not let a lack of funding stop you (me) from attending a program as funding can be acquired from many different sources.  

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I was talking to a prof about grad school this and that when she told me that she had the chance to attend the #1 ranked program for her field.  She turned it down because it was not funded (reason, I don't know).  She later found out that the guy she would have worked with (her would-be mentor) has an organism named after him and that funding would have eventually come in.  Her advice to me was not let a lack of funding stop you (me) from attending a program as funding can be acquired from many different sources.  

 

That's true--it could work out! The prof in my example also said that if I went to work for him, the goal would be to write grant proposals while I was TAing until I get one funded. I don't mean to imply that everyone should always choose to avoid projects with no funding.

 

However, I made my personal decision to avoid this project because I don't want to be spending my grad school years writing grant proposals or TAing for 20+ hours every semester. I want to be spending my grad school years doing research! Of course, there are still some benefits if I had taken the project: 1) get to do a really cool project, 2) get great experience with grants, but I felt that the risk was not worth the reward. I can easily see this extra obstacle (increased time away from research writing grants and TAing) costing me 1-2 extra years to finish the project and reducing opportunities like travel to conferences or purchasing computing resources. There were also other reasons: the prof in question was not famous like in your example and the school's stipend is well below the poverty line, so additional financial stress would negatively impact my performance as well.

 

Overall, I felt that the chance for success was small and the consequences of failure were too great. I am very flexible in my research interest and make my choices in project based on future opportunities rather than personal interest in topics, and there were many other equally interesting and better funded projects. Your prof's story is also an example where you don't have to attend the program with the very best research fit / highest ranking as it sounds like she attended a different program yet was still successful (i.e. a professor). 

 

Again, I didn't intend to advise all students to avoid projects without funding! People should make the decision that best fit their goals, and my goals/desires preclude unfunded projects!

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