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Any advice on contacting POIs before applying to programs?


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Do professors actually respond to e-mails from potential students or is this taboo? How soon is too soon to contact POIs in the cycle? Do I need to contact POIs with specific questions about their research or is it appropriate to ask professors about the program in general? Can I ask a professor if he or she would be willing to take graduate students in the coming year? Is this contact necessary/ helpful?


I'm a bit overwhelmed with narrowing the list of schools I'd like to apply to and I think that contacting professors could help me find a better "fit." I just want to make sure that any contact I have with a department/POIs is appropriate and productive. 


Thanks in advance for any advice!

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Best advice I've ever had in this area. Read some of their most relavent work. Send them an email about it, how you liked it, some important points, say you really appreciate their contribution. Don't talk about your application or that you will be an applicant.


IF they write back, then you can ask some preliminary questions. But keep it short, if you have ideas about their work and extensions start off with that, it makes a much better impression.


Another source of good information: Find out their current and past graduate students and email them. Ask them questions. They are more likely to respond, and more likely to give the information you need as a potential student.


The contact depends on the department or field. In psych/education/neuroscience and most hard-science areas, some initial contact is very good for you. And as long as you are polite and brief I do not think it will harm you.


I also recommend the book: 

I know the feeling about narrowing the list and that's where knowing your topic and area of interest comes in super handy. The best advice I've gotten here is to look up who is doing what you want to do... don't apply to the college but apply to the researcher/group/lab you want to be in.


I also recommend the book: Graduate Admissions Essays. I think it will help you a lot in answering your questions

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I have contacted POIs at almost all departments I applied to last year. I have checked out their work and tried to understand whether they are suitable potential advisors for me and if they were I did mention that I have read their work and that I am interested in their research; I also mentioned that I will be applying, gave information about my thesis topic and my research interests and inquired about whether they will be accepting new students for the following year. 


Most professors I have contacted have replied, some simply said that they will be accepting new students, or that that they will be on sabbatical that year. Others seemed interested in my thesis topic and asked more questions about it, and one asked how do I see my interests fitting with theirs - to which I gave a reply which pleased them. One of the professors who did not reply, replied later after I mentioned contacting them (after being asked...) in my application form and said they did not notice my email when it was initially sent. 


All in all - prior to doing it - I felt that by contacting POIs I will be 'bothering' them in some way, but after doing it - I realized it was a good way to introduce myself and understand if there is a basic fit.

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