boomah

Recent Experiences of Emailing POIs?

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Hi everyone,

I know there are mixed feelings on this forum about emailing POIs. I was wondering about the experiences of those of you applying this year, or recent applications such as last year's etc. Did you get in touch with POIs beforehand? Why or why not? For those who did, I'm wondering how the responses were and whether or not you'd recommend it.

I'm quite on the fence about reaching out to professors and would love to hear some recent experiences to help me decide :)

Thank you!

Edit: I'm applying to PhD programs

Edited by boomah

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Are you applying to PhD or Master's programs?  I think it's more important to contact POIs for potential doctoral studies.  I didn't contact anyone when I applied to my current MA program because I had no prior historical training and had no idea what I wanted to study.  After being admitted my advisor told me to take a broad spectrum of courses to determine my interest and focus.  Now that I'm applying to PhD programs it is essential to know whether or not POIs will be able to mentor and advise me.  To this end I emailed at least two POIs in almost all the programs that I thought would be a good fit.  Only two POIs failed to reply.  I have met potential POIs at three programs so far, and they have all stated that they would be happy to take me as a student if accepted into the program.  I found out at these meetings why the two POIs didn't respond, one was retiring and the other accepted a job someplace else.  Since there remains at least two other professors at each program I could work with, it won't deter me from applying.  Without contacting various faculty and meeting them I wouldn't have known this. 

What is your concern about contact?  The worse outcome would be no reply.  The benefits seem to outweigh the costs for me. 

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Hi ltr, thank you so much for the response! I'm so glad to hear it's been going well for you. And I should have clarified that I am applying to PhD programs. 

I guess my concern is that my emailing will come across as unnecessary and therefore annoying. Especially at the more well-known universities, I'm worried that the professors receive a ton of email and thus all the prospective students' emails might come across as pesky, and these professors would much rather people just apply directly. I remember a friend of mine applying to anthropology doctoral programs reached out to POIs, and at one school he got a response saying that they don't really discuss much before the admissions are out so as to not give an unfair advantage to anyone. So I guess I don't want to come across as doing that.

But I think you're right that the potential benefits outweigh the negatives. Thank you so much for your response, and I'd love to hear from more people who've had good/bad experiences :)

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10 hours ago, boomah said:

Hi ltr, thank you so much for the response! I'm so glad to hear it's been going well for you. And I should have clarified that I am applying to PhD programs. 

I guess my concern is that my emailing will come across as unnecessary and therefore annoying. Especially at the more well-known universities, I'm worried that the professors receive a ton of email and thus all the prospective students' emails might come across as pesky, and these professors would much rather people just apply directly. I remember a friend of mine applying to anthropology doctoral programs reached out to POIs, and at one school he got a response saying that they don't really discuss much before the admissions are out so as to not give an unfair advantage to anyone. So I guess I don't want to come across as doing that.

But I think you're right that the potential benefits outweigh the negatives. Thank you so much for your response, and I'd love to hear from more people who've had good/bad experiences :)

I would like to clarify some more about the potential benefits.  Even if you just communicate with POIs back and forth via email, rather than meeting face-to-face, you still get a better sense of them and they of you than merely submitting an application without any idea of their personality.  If a POI doesn't respond to your email, then you may find that s/he has an abrasive and brusque personality as a mentor.  It's far better to find out during the application cycle than when you're in a program, in which case you don't have to apply there.  Once you're in a program, it's a give and take affair for at least four years.  As far as popular programs with tons of applicants, do you think POIs will remember and signal you out as that annoying aspirant when there are dozens of others contacting them as well?  As you stated, "professors receive a ton of email and thus all the prospective students' might come across as pesky," so you'll be a faceless annoyance along with all the other faceless annoyances.  You can still apply to those programs, but you may want to place other programs higher with professors who are communicative and friendlier.  Just my .02 cents.    

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The only thing that will annoy a professor is wasting their time. Be short, sweet, to the point: you're interested in applying to X school, you work on Y project (keep your description of your project to 1 sentence), you thought they might be a good fit for your research, you were wondering if they were taking students to advise next year? 

That said, I absolutely would not read too much into the tenor of these early exchanges — they're not crystal balls. 

Just because a prof doesn't reply to you or doesn't reply to you quickly doesn't mean they're a bad professor to work with. Maybe they just got behind on your email when you wrote in. Maybe they figured they wouldn't spend too much time having a long email exchange with someone who may or may not even apply to the program. Maybe you're asking them questions that they don't know the answer to; professors are great about talking about your research and their research but administrative questions about the program or the application process are always better served for the grad director or the department office.

Similarly,  someone who is brusque to you in an email may turn out to be a great advisor, in person. I know professors who don't even bother to use capital letters in emails, but they're great scholars who will read 10,000 drafts of your dissertation chapter. And just because someone's gushy and nice doesn't necessarily mean they're a great advisor. They might be so gushy that they'll never actually straight out tell you when you're not on the right track, which might actually be worse. 

The point is, however, that these are all things you can't know until you apply and get in, when people are going to be a lot more forthcoming and a lot more revealing of their true colors. The only reason to not apply to a school based on an email exchange with a professor is if they tell you "I'm not taking students this year, so your application will be rejected if you put one in," or "I don't work on the same thing that you do, so if you came to this school, you wouldn't be working with me," and then you decide there's no one else at the school to work with. 

Edited by gsc

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4 hours ago, gsc said:

The only thing that will annoy a professor is wasting their time. Be short, sweet, to the point: you're interested in applying to X school, you work on Y project (keep your description of your project to 1 sentence), you thought they might be a good fit for your research, you were wondering if they were taking students to advise next year? 

This is good advice but I'd just add the qualifier that the length and content of your email will depend on your circumstances--I was looking to work on a pretty specific project that departed from my previous work, and in the emails I sent I included two relatively short paragraphs explaining what I wanted to do. I am really glad I did that because professors were able to give me very specific tips on where to apply, how to tailor my application to their schools etc. One professor sent me a really long and helpful email that was super enthusiastic, and when I got into that school and she was going to be my potential advisor, she knew my interests very well and was able to give me more advice about the benefits/disadvantages of the various school's I'd gotten into. I didn't end up going to that school, but it was the beginning of a relationship. That's maybe a best case scenario, but I honestly don't think you should be thinking in terms of long/short alone--it's about being clear and to the point, and sometimes that requires a paragraph explanation of what you want to do and why you're emailing that person, specifically. 

NB: if you message me I'm happy to send you more details re the emails I sent. It was the most useful thing I did when I was applying. 

Edited by OHSP

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Thank you all so much! All of your responses were really helpful, and I think I'm getting a sense now of how to approach and what to expect from an email conversation :)

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