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A question that's coming up on my applications that I did not expect is that the portal asks me to name faculty members I am interested in working with. Does anyone know how they use this in our field? Obviously interests change and I worry about naming faculty on their way out or who have no interest in taking on new students.

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31 minutes ago, Adelaide9216 said:

You usually ask faculty if they'd like to work with you while you're in the process of applying. 

That depends on the field. I never contact any professors before submitting applications, and I did name several in every app.* 

@WildeThing read up on the instructions for your schools. Unless they advise otherwise (some do!), you could try writing potential advisors to ask if they're taking new students and if they think you'd be a potentially good match. There's always the chance that someone is retiring soon or considering taking another offer, but even if you reach out to them they may not be ready to share that information with new applicants. All you can do is try, and work with the information that you have. There's some chance that you'll get things wrong, but if your people of interest are retiring or not taking new students, you probably don't want to go to that school anyway. One way to address this concern more generally is to only apply to schools that have several potential advisors for you, and name several of them in your application. This isn't just about the application -- this is about your actual time at your prospective school; things do change over the course of 5+ years and it's very important to have as many options available to you as possible.  

* And I mostly got things right; there was one case of someone who was on the faculty when I applied but left that year; I have no idea if she would have told me if I'd emailed. Another prof who would have been an obvious advisor at another school left the following year, so there's nothing I could have done about that. One of my main committee members spent years 3-5 of my time in my program abroad and we mostly talked on Skype, including for my defense. Life happens.

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You may notice other posts on this forum from current doctoral students who have had advisors retire or leave the program a year or several after that student joined the program. So, even if they aren't leaving this year, life can still interfere with your plans. In your case, I would do what fuzzylogician suggested and make sure you're applying to programs where you have several potential advisors.

When a program encouraged it, I contacted professors and spoke with them about my interests. However, I wasn't able to do this for all programs (some explicitly said not to contact faculty until you were admitted). For these, I still listed faculty I was interested in working with as part of the fit section of my SoP. I made a point to not apply to any program where there were less than 3 faculty who connected with my research interests. I also have a research interest set that crosses major subfields in my area, so I also made sure that the programs I applied to offered people with specialties in the subfields I'm interested in, in addition to the basic research project connection. In short, I looked for programs where my current research interests matched multiple faculty and where I could learn the tools I need for the research I want to do in the future.

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2 hours ago, Adelaide9216 said:

You usually ask faculty if they'd like to work with you while you're in the process of applying. 

While true in the sciences and some social sciences, it isn't true in English. A lot of departments would prefer that you don't contact them unless you are admitted. Interests change and programs are aware of that. I think that question is asked to see how well informed you are of your program. If interested in X, would you list someone who's major work is in B and doesn't know anything about X? Did you list someone who was interested in X or did you only list someone because they are the most well known at that university? It's one of the few ways they can evaluate "fit" on their end.

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I didn't really e-mail professors in advance.  I named two profs on each statement I wrote (whether I could make a good case for two was actually a good litmus test as to whether it was worthwhile to apply).  Oddly enough, neither of them is on my dissertation committee five years later - so this whole business about someone being available or not being available isn't all that important.  Your work is going to change substantially by the time you submit a prospectus, the adviser you think you want now may be miles and miles away from your interests by the time you decide what you're actually going to do.

Edited by jrockford27
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