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When a POI doesn't respond to your email?

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What to do when a POI doesn't respond to your email?  I've emailed quite a few faculty members from various universities introducing myself and asking whether they are accepting students, and while some have been super keen to reply and send a nice message within 24 hours of my emails, others just don't reply at all, even after several weeks have passed.  Would you still apply to work with this person?  I'm hesitant because you can't even be sure whether they are accepting students so you could really be wasting over $100 for nothing.  Frustrating!  What have you all done in situations like this?

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This is a frustrating situation! Have you tried emailing them a second time as a reminder? I've sent follow-up emails along the lines of "I know you're probably very busy but I would really appreciate knowing whether you will be taking a student since the application is due soon." In general, I've received replies to my second inquiry quickly.  

I work with a graduate student who advised me to be wary of professors who are non-responsive over email as it may be a red flag to how they work with their students. I would take that advice with a grain of salt... but I would definitely be hesitant to apply to a program where I never heard back from a professor. 

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sometimes it happens when they are inundated with such emails in this season. I think the best strategy is to give a very short summary of your potential project, which is supposedly in line with the POI's interests, (better to be with his current project), showing that you have already consulted their profiles or have read one of their books/articles carefully. being persuasive and determined is a key to attract and "hunt" them but be aware of being pushy! personally, I don't think one gotta wait like 3 weeks to hear from a professor as such a gap might imply his/her lack of interest in the proposed project beside being too busy. maybe another strategy is to contact the head of the program you are intending to apply to and ask him/her to introduce a professor given your proposal context. they are very helpful most of the time. but do not waste your time waiting...just continue sending emails and you will end up finding a "real" professor!;)  

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26 minutes ago, pbjcafe said:

I work with a graduate student who advised me to be wary of professors who are non-responsive over email as it may be a red flag to how they work with their students. I would take that advice with a grain of salt... but I would definitely be hesitant to apply to a program where I never heard back from a professor. 

This is exactly what I think!  To me, it just says that they might be hard to communicate with if you ended up working with them which would be pretty brutal for a program that's 6+ years long.

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9 minutes ago, Ms. V said:

sometimes it happens when they are inundated with such emails in this season. I think the best strategy is to give a very short summary of your potential project, which is supposedly in line with the POI's interests, (better to be with his current project), showing that you have already consulted their profiles or have read one of their books/articles carefully. being persuasive and determined is a key to attract and "hunt" them but be aware of being pushy! personally, I don't think one gotta wait like 3 weeks to hear from a professor as such a gap might imply his/her lack of interest in the proposed project beside being too busy. maybe another strategy is to contact the head of the program you are intending to apply to and ask him/her to introduce a professor given your proposal context. they are very helpful most of the time. but do not waste your time waiting...just continue sending emails and you will end up finding a "real" professor!;)  

Contacting the head of the program is definitely a good idea, not sure why I didn't think of that before! Especially when lab websites can be so out of date that they say "Dr. so and so is accepting grad students for Fall 2014" haha!  I'm just thankful the profs from all of my top choices have replied.

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1 minute ago, js.psych said:

Contacting the head of the program is definitely a good idea, not sure why I didn't think of that before! Especially when lab websites can be so out of date that they say "Dr. so and so is accepting grad students for Fall 2014" haha!  I'm just thankful the profs from all of my top choices have replied.

actually it was Canadian universities directing me to the heads and directors!! :D the professor would not let the heads down (hopefully), should you be successful at winning the heads' approval already B) 

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so don't bother your brain raising such philosophical questions if you have already the targets' replies. you're gonna need your brain for other stuff, trust me :P
good luck!

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I will not apply to faculty who are unresponsive to my emails (currently, there has been only ONE).

Honestly, I know they are busy but this is part of their job description, and I think it is a bit rude as they went through the same process we did to get to where they are today. Ya know?B)

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I had one (of nine) who didn't reply even after the reminder email. I'm still applying anyway seeing as it wasn't close to my top choice. Definitely would consider choosing another program had it been one of my preferred few.

28 minutes ago, buttercup8d said:

Honestly, I know they are busy but this is part of their job description, and I think it is a bit rude as they went through the same process we did to get to where they are today. Ya know?B)

This.

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I agree with the above posters.  You should first send out a quick reminder email (one or two sentences max).  If they still don't respond after a few days you may even want to send a new (brief) message with a different subject line.  If that doesn't work and you are really committed to working with this person, try contacting the director of graduate studies.  While you don't want to be pushy or annoying by sending out too many messages, it's better to do that than not apply in my opinion.  

I also agree with pbjcafe that being repeatedly non-responsive is a red flag.  If someone doesn't have time to check and respond to their email, they may not have time to mentor their graduate students.  This isn't necessarily true but it's something to keep in mind. 

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If you truly just want to know if they are taking students, I would say going to the program head is fine, as long as you don't throw your potential mentor under the bus (i.e. don't say that you asked them already and they didn't respond). I would also double check on the website before you do this that they haven't posted this information anywhere already.

When I was sending out those emails, I framed it as introducing myself and drawing a connection between my current work and theirs. 

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On 10/16/2016 at 10:07 PM, buttercup8d said:

Honestly, I know they are busy but this is part of their job description, and I think it is a bit rude as they went through the same process we did to get to where they are today. Ya know?B)

Actually, no, I'm pretty sure it's not part of their job description. They work with current students and former students far more than prospective ones. And, the process has changed a lot, even in the short time since I first went through it. Think about it. Most of these professors were applying to grad school at a time before email was commonly used and the expected response time was quite different back then. If you wrote someone a letter and sent it via USPS, you wouldn't be surprised not to hear for a couple of weeks, you know? Rude or not, I tend to invest more of my time in my current students and writing rec letters for those graduating or recently graduated. When there's time leftover, then I reply to prospective students. 

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so one should be so! grateful when they bother replying! but sometimes it SEEMS to be part of their job description, sending a template email regarding the program description, facilities and their own websites (if there have any). don't wanna be a cynic, there is a saying, though, about such honey-coated (and also honey-quoted!!) emails...don't get over excited by such emails as they are aimed at gathering more and more money via application fee payments!

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19 hours ago, rising_star said:

Actually, no, I'm pretty sure it's not part of their job description. They work with current students and former students far more than prospective ones. And, the process has changed a lot, even in the short time since I first went through it. Think about it. Most of these professors were applying to grad school at a time before email was commonly used and the expected response time was quite different back then. If you wrote someone a letter and sent it via USPS, you wouldn't be surprised not to hear for a couple of weeks, you know? Rude or not, I tend to invest more of my time in my current students and writing rec letters for those graduating or recently graduated. When there's time leftover, then I reply to prospective students. 

I definitely agree that it isn't part of their job! However, I also agree that no response after a few attempts may be a red flag--not that there is something wrong with the professor and that they aren't going to be a good mentor, but that they might not be a good mentor for you if you are a big email user and like quick back-and-forths. I joke that in academia, if you respond promptly to email you are seen as a rock star, and this is only really half a joke. For me, it's important. I respond promptly and I also expect my students to do so. For other professors, it isn't the way they operate, and this is good to know up front.

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7 hours ago, Ms. V said:

so one should be so! grateful when they bother replying! but sometimes it SEEMS to be part of their job description, sending a template email regarding the program description, facilities and their own websites (if there have any). don't wanna be a cynic, there is a saying, though, about such honey-coated (and also honey-quoted!!) emails...don't get over excited by such emails as they are aimed at gathering more and more money via application fee payments!

I highly doubt any PhD program is sending emails to get rich via fee payments. You are right that for some programs these emails don't mean that much--they aren't necessarily personal. However, it isn't about fee payments, it's about getting the attention of a broad and diverse pool of applicants. That's what we care about! I want good students, including those who may not have had the privilege of having undergrad experiences and support that directed them to me as a potential grad advisor. That's one of the reasons I still come here and why I think this resource is amazing.

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there is a war in the Middle east and one cannot just claim there is none on the basis that she/he hasn't heard about! you're absolutely right; no single university gets "rich" through such fundraising! yet potential POI s like you with such valuable standpoint can be mostly found among younger faculty members who are still passionate about out branching and enriching knowledge by discovering and investing in rare talents. but honestly, doesn't this "pool" of applicants provide the university with quite a "fortune" while only a few are chosen? the point is, some mentors already know that there is a pale opportunity for one to get in, but still insist on applying! neither for money for sure nor for more fame but out of being insensitive to the whole shining future one is dreaming about. your students are lucky by the way^_^

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4 hours ago, Ms. V said:

there is a war in the Middle east and one cannot just claim there is none on the basis that she/he hasn't heard about! you're absolutely right; no single university gets "rich" through such fundraising! yet potential POI s like you with such valuable standpoint can be mostly found among younger faculty members who are still passionate about out branching and enriching knowledge by discovering and investing in rare talents. but honestly, doesn't this "pool" of applicants provide the university with quite a "fortune" while only a few are chosen? the point is, some mentors already know that there is a pale opportunity for one to get in, but still insist on applying! neither for money for sure nor for more fame but out of being insensitive to the whole shining future one is dreaming about. your students are lucky by the way^_^

Appreciate the compliment. Although we don't have insight into the entire university, discussions of recruitment are pretty standard at faculty meetings. Larger pools make us look better too, so that might be another reason people are encouraged to apply. We have never once talked about the application fee in our fairly detailed department budget discussions (I always assumed it just went to the grad school--central office for processing applications--so does not benefit individual programs).

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Jumping off of this discussion, I have a slightly different scenario. I've gotten plenty of replies and some of the professors asked me for my application materials (transcripts, CV, GRE scores, SOP in particular) and I have not heard from them since. It has been a month. Now, my transcript has a sprinkling of C's and a bunch of Bs, so I am really paranoid that perhaps they glanced at my documents and promptly decided they were not interested, and didn't care to respond? This is making me super anxious because I don't know if I should apply to those schools anywhere (and they were my top choices too, darn it!)

Anyone been in this situation before?

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If a professor doesn't respond, and there's 'administrative support' (some schools have one assigned to every professor), I very gently write to them. Usually they reply very quickly, with questions like 'what e-mail did you send your letter to?', and then I get a reply to my initial letter after a while. That said, the professors I truly have rapport with in terms of our interests reply quickly enough, but that might be my field thing - I'm in Education, and people there cannot afford to be all Ivory Tower-y.

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1 hour ago, swannsway said:

Jumping off of this discussion, I have a slightly different scenario. I've gotten plenty of replies and some of the professors asked me for my application materials (transcripts, CV, GRE scores, SOP in particular) and I have not heard from them since. It has been a month. Now, my transcript has a sprinkling of C's and a bunch of Bs, so I am really paranoid that perhaps they glanced at my documents and promptly decided they were not interested, and didn't care to respond? This is making me super anxious because I don't know if I should apply to those schools anywhere (and they were my top choices too, darn it!)

Anyone been in this situation before?

This happened to me with a professor I emailed back in October.  He asked for my transcript and CV and I sent the materials the following day and never heard back.  I'm not sure what the reason could be for this, but it also made me pretty anxious/upset.  I ended up deciding not to apply to that program for other reasons.  It is pretty odd that they even asked for your SOP though, especially considering it would be difficult to have that completely polished over a month before the application deadline.  You could possibly send another email asking if they could confirm they received your materials?  It's also possible that they're hanging onto the materials so that they're ready with a list of students they're interested in when it comes time to sit with the admissions committee and make decisions, since I think professors *technically* aren't supposed to set up an interview or anything with you until after the application deadline has passed.  So maybe it's just a precaution?  No idea, but best of luck to you!

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2 hours ago, swannsway said:

Jumping off of this discussion, I have a slightly different scenario. I've gotten plenty of replies and some of the professors asked me for my application materials (transcripts, CV, GRE scores, SOP in particular) and I have not heard from them since. It has been a month. Now, my transcript has a sprinkling of C's and a bunch of Bs, so I am really paranoid that perhaps they glanced at my documents and promptly decided they were not interested, and didn't care to respond? This is making me super anxious because I don't know if I should apply to those schools anywhere (and they were my top choices too, darn it!)

Anyone been in this situation before?

In academia, some people are just really terrible with email (I'm sure this is true outside of academia as well). If I've waited a while and haven't heard from someone, I often think of some new reason to write them. In this situation, did they come out with any recent research? Are there conferences in your field coming up that maybe you can ask if they are presenting in? Just some reason to reconnect...then, as part of the email, you can reiterate your interest and say you'd love to talk further.

Don't do any blaming for the non-responsiveness and don't let on any suspicion that they found your materials weren't up to snuff. Keep it short and respectful but breezy. They will probably write back apologizing for not getting back to you (if you respond to the same chain from before they can see that they dropped the ball).

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I’m an administrator in a grad. program. My stock advice to prospective applicants is to write to the professors they’d like to work with, sending a brief note and a CV.  But I also advise applicants not to take it personally if they don’t get a response, because faculty are inundated with requests and many prefer not to interact until they can see the entire application, in the context of other applications. To the question of whether a particular professor is accepting new students; unfortunately, that’s not a question we can answer this far in advance, at least at my school. We’re only allocated so many funded spots by the school, and that number can vary a bit from year to year, and we don't get that number until after applications close. In addition, some faculty won’t decide whether they want to admit anyone until they can review applications. If they decide against it, their funded new admit slot may float down to a professor who’s next in line.  I tell applicants to apply to work with the faculty with the best match of research interests, and hope for the best.

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On 11/3/2016 at 4:45 PM, lovesummer said:

I’m an administrator in a grad. program. My stock advice to prospective applicants is to write to the professors they’d like to work with, sending a brief note and a CV.  But I also advise applicants not to take it personally if they don’t get a response, because faculty are inundated with requests and many prefer not to interact until they can see the entire application, in the context of other applications. To the question of whether a particular professor is accepting new students; unfortunately, that’s not a question we can answer this far in advance, at least at my school. We’re only allocated so many funded spots by the school, and that number can vary a bit from year to year, and we don't get that number until after applications close. In addition, some faculty won’t decide whether they want to admit anyone until they can review applications. If they decide against it, their funded new admit slot may float down to a professor who’s next in line.  I tell applicants to apply to work with the faculty with the best match of research interests, and hope for the best.

 

Although I agree that most don't know if they are admitting new students (in the positive), people will know if they aren't (in the negative). Many friends have applied to work with specific PIs only to learn that they were on sabbatical that year or going on phased retirement. It's an easy way to start the conversation and is typically used. I think it is a fine "in" for an email.

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