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psych_33

Advice needed: contacting POIs already known to be accepting students?

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I would greatly appreciate some advice/input here. 

I'm applying to a few clinical psychology PhD programs this season and all of them have professors who are accepting students for fall 2018 listed on their websites. When I was initially writing my email drafts to POIs a few weeks back, only one of the universities' websites had this information listed and the other universities have since updated their websites with this info. I got a bit busy with working on a publication and my master's thesis in that meantime, so I am just now revisiting my email drafts and application materials. However, I'm beginning to question whether I should even email these POIs now, given that they're already listed on the website as accepting students and my email drafts have followed the format of "I am currently studying X and researching Y at such-and-such university. I am writing to inquire if you anticipate accepting students for the fall 2018 term, as I am very intrigued by your work on Z. [Details about the project and why I am interested].  Short explanation of my previous work and how it relates, blah blah blah. I have attached a copy of my CV for your consideration." (oversimplified, but you get the point.)

I actually already sent my first email to a POI last week (literally the day before I noticed the website was recently updated with professors taking students too) and I got a response back almost immediately (within 1 hour). It was nicely worded and enthusiastic, but the professor didn't respond to my question regarding their research, nor did they directly address anything else that I mentioned in the email, just said "It looks like you have had wonderful training experiences and it sounds like your interests could fit well with the ongoing projects here at [university]. It is likely I will be taking students for fall 2018. As you are preparing your application, feel free to check my lab's website for more information at [website]." The font size for the greeting was different from that of the body of the email too, so I can't help but assume this POI just copied and pasted this generic response to my email and others. (It's quite obvious from what I wrote that I had already checked the lab's website and read quite a few of their papers, so that last sentence kinda bummed me out. I was hoping to speak with this professor about their research a bit and if the email interaction went well, I was considering possibly even requesting to schedule a skype meeting or something if they were willing to discuss their work and lab opportunities in more detail with me.)

What I'm wondering is, should I even bother sending any more emails to POIs that are already listed as accepting students? I know it's generally a pretty good idea to email POIs, especially because program websites often don't list professors accepting students, or if they are listed, there's a chance the information may not be current. However, in my case, I know the information is current since I have been checking these websites fairly often throughout the last year and noticed the updates, and now I just feel a bit awkward emailing a professor knowing they are already planning to take students. My whole approach to this process was going to be: 1) see if they are taking students and demonstrate good fit, 2) discuss their work and potential projects in more detail, and 3) if all goes well, see if they would like to arrange a skype call or meeting to discuss things further.

Trying to write the initial email without asking about whether they are taking students just feels awkward. Taking that part out just makes me feel like I'm skipping a huge step and saying "Hi Professor, here's my background and my CV, I will fit well with your lab." I don't know, I just don't like it no matter how I word it. I also don't think that it will give me any huge advantage in the admissions process if all of them respond in the same manner as the professor I've already contacted did either. I mean, I highly doubt this person is going to remember my name or anything about me if all they did was copy and paste a reply to my email. I can't really blame them for doing so because I'm sure that they get a lot of these emails, but I kind of feel like contacting these professors could even be a waste of my time.

What do you think? Should I still contact these other POIs? Do you think it would necessarily decrease my admission chances if I didn't contact them, but rather mentioned a few names in my essays?  

Edited by psych_33
forgot quotation mark, changed a pronoun for anonymity, and added one additional sentence for clarity

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I did write them - mainly proposed some ideas and research questions, asked maybe for some papers (some where supernice about this and send me a bunch) AND asked them to point me to more people working in this direction - they also know you're not going to apply to only one PhD position so this can be a good question as well. 

 

It depends on the PI how they will respond, some don't, some do. Don't take it personally. 

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Are these prospective supervisors in your city (or close by)? If so, you can ask to meet with them/visit their lab to get a first-hand familiarity of where you may end up for the next few years. If you are further away, ask if you can speak with them through Skype to learn more. Just because you received one possible generic email doesn't mean that'll be the same for all the other POIs you want to connect with. 

 

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3 hours ago, Jay's Brain said:

Are these prospective supervisors in your city (or close by)? If so, you can ask to meet with them/visit their lab to get a first-hand familiarity of where you may end up for the next few years. If you are further away, ask if you can speak with them through Skype to learn more. Just because you received one possible generic email doesn't mean that'll be the same for all the other POIs you want to connect with. 

 

Generally speaking, you will not be able to get 1:1 in person or Skype with prospective mentors because of the sheer volume of applicants. However, if you are going to a conference and you know they’ll likely be there, you can inquire about meeting them in person there. I did that with a POI last cycle and met her at a conference I attended last October. I got into that program but chose to attend a stronger/more well funded program. 

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1 hour ago, Clinapp2017 said:

Generally speaking, you will not be able to get 1:1 in person or Skype with prospective mentors because of the sheer volume of applicants. However, if you are going to a conference and you know they’ll likely be there, you can inquire about meeting them in person there. I did that with a POI last cycle and met her at a conference I attended last October. I got into that program but chose to attend a stronger/more well funded program. 

You're indeed right that attending a conference in the field is a good opportunity to meet prospective mentors, but falls under the same concerns that there may be not enough time for the POI to attend to every prospective student. There is also considerations that the conference(s), however many OP chooses to attend, are accessible or affordable. OP cannot go to every conference for all of his or her prospective mentors, and sometimes an email exchange with a possibility of more is more convenient for both the applicant and the mentor. Quite a few colleagues of mine were able to meet their eventual mentors by asking to connect with them in advance of the recruitment cycle in December- February (depending on the program). 

Most importantly, I think, is to not to lose the opportunity to connect with the POIs even if it is through email! Those that you know are accepting students are particularly important to speak to! The worst they can say is that they will contact students that meet the requirements at a later time, but at least you know they will be aware of your application. 

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1 hour ago, Jay's Brain said:

You're indeed right that attending a conference in the field is a good opportunity to meet prospective mentors, but falls under the same concerns that there may be not enough time for the POI to attend to every prospective student. There is also considerations that the conference(s), however many OP chooses to attend, are accessible or affordable. OP cannot go to every conference for all of his or her prospective mentors, and sometimes an email exchange with a possibility of more is more convenient for both the applicant and the mentor. Quite a few colleagues of mine were able to meet their eventual mentors by asking to connect with them in advance of the recruitment cycle in December- February (depending on the program). 

Most importantly, I think, is to not to lose the opportunity to connect with the POIs even if it is through email! Those that you know are accepting students are particularly important to speak to! The worst they can say is that they will contact students that meet the requirements at a later time, but at least you know they will be aware of your application. 

Oh, I definitely agree and advocate for emailing POIs. However, it is my understanding that most (if not all POIs) will rarely entertain more than email correspondence before interviews, at least in clinical here in the US. 

 

The conference thing was wonderful for me and a bit of a coincidence. I met the prospective mentor because they came by my poster, which I alerted them of during my email correspodence. 

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Thank you all for your responses! I guess I'm still just lost as to what to say in the email, as the ones I had written before at least had the goal of finding out if they were accepting students and they came off as more professional. Now that I already know that they're accepting students, I just feel awkward writing the emails because it feels like I've skipped the introduction and I'm just trying to sell myself to them or something. I don't know, it's really hard for me to explain. I sat here trying to re-write one of my emails for about 2 hours and still hated it to be honest.

 

19 hours ago, Jay's Brain said:

Are these prospective supervisors in your city (or close by)? If so, you can ask to meet with them/visit their lab to get a first-hand familiarity of where you may end up for the next few years. If you are further away, ask if you can speak with them through Skype to learn more. Just because you received one possible generic email doesn't mean that'll be the same for all the other POIs you want to connect with. 

 

Unfortunately no, they aren't close-by at all. I am about 4,300+ miles away until I finish my Master's thesis and return to the US next month. I won't be in the area until about 5 days prior to the application deadlines, and I suffer from pretty bad jetlag when I travel back west too (not only being really sleepy, but just generally feeling "off" and not being at my normal mental capacity for about two weeks), so I think setting up an in-person meeting before the deadline would be pretty difficult for me. Skype is definitely still an option, but I honestly still feel awkward skipping the question about accepting students and going straight to something like "here's why I'm a good fit, can we skype?" in my emails. It just feels like a more natural step to take after already making the initial contact via email to see if they were accepting students. That was like my "icebreaker," if you will. Do you know what I mean?

I guess a good analogy for how I feel about this would be like if I had went to a party and met someone new, but I completely skipped over introducing myself and having initial "small talk" with them and just started telling them my whole life's story instead. It's awkward. That's the best way I can think to describe it, I hope that makes sense. 

Edited by psych_33

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I'm thinking about putting together an email that basically says "(Greeting)  I saw that you are accepting students on your website.  I am interested in your lab and am considering submitting an application, but I would like to know if my research interests are a good fit with your lab.  Here's what I study......here's what I've done so far.....do you think there might be a good fit for your lab?  Thanks, me."

Obviously much more formal, but that's the gist.

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I don't think there's any harm in emailing. I felt the same way as you about contacting them without having any real questions, but everyone does it and the worst that can happen is they won't respond. You could tell them a little about your past research/interests, maybe attach a CV, or ask them about future directions in their research. 

1 hour ago, Piagetsky said:

I'm thinking about putting together an email that basically says "(Greeting)  I saw that you are accepting students on your website.  I am interested in your lab and am considering submitting an application, but I would like to know if my research interests are a good fit with your lab.  Here's what I study......here's what I've done so far.....do you think there might be a good fit for your lab?  Thanks, me."

Obviously much more formal, but that's the gist.

I think this is a good idea. I sent a very similar email to my now-supervisor (also asking if they were accepting students since it wasn't online) and got a very positive reply. I think it helped me get in because my experience was a strong fit for the lab and they kept an eye out for my application. 

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I emailed professors even if they said they were accepting students. Instead of saying "I'm emailing to ask if you are accepting students for Fall of ___", I wrote "I noticed you are accepting students for Fall of ____" and went on with whatever shpeel followed. I also usually attached my CV to these emails. (Sorry if any of this was already said, I didn't read all the responses in detail before responding)

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Agree with the above posters. Instead of taking it out completely, you can just change it to say you noticed on the website they are accepting students and then follow it with your request to discuss whatever more (their interests, your interests, the program, etc). I also left the method of continued communication open to the prof by ending this sentence with something like "through email, Skype, or by phone." This actually led to a few phone conversations (though I was emailing earlier and in a different field). You are in the busy season for profs getting emails, so some may be willing to speak with you and others just won't make the time. IMO, it's still worth it to email and get on their radar.

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Just to add, don't be discouraged that you may have gotten a generic email! The fact that you heard back at all is a good sign. Most PIs don't have time to review your application before you apply, most of times it's just because they don't have time.

I've had PIs who emailed me back with emails saying the same things as your email (ie encouraging me to apply) and explicitly telling me that due to the volume of inquiries, they can't answer my research related question at this stage, and if I proceed to later stages of applications they will have more in-depth discussion with me, which was fair. And for one of them I did get to the "later" stage, so getting such a email doesn't necessarily mean that they are not interested in you.

So definitively email, every PI is different and you might be able to connect with some PIs before the application, and if not, at least your name is on their radar. There's a lot of good suggestions above already on what to ask!

Edited by CCPsycfan

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