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Phone Call


ShewantsthePhD101
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About a month ago I had a phone call with the head of my top choice program. He asked about my areas of interest, and when we discussed my research he seemed genuinely interested. He said that I was asking good questions, some of which he hadn't thought of before, and offered several other resources I might be interested in. His interests and mine are almost identical. But this wasn't a formal interview. Just a phone call I set up to get to know the program and its people a little better. I sent him a follow up "Thank you" email a week later.

My application for this school is due on the 5th, and I was wondering if A) It would be appropriate to email him and let him know when my application is submitted, that I look forward to hearing back from him etc and 2) Exactly how much difference a good call like that makes. Is it reasonable to expect I have a decent change of acceptance based on that phone call (provided I'm not an illiterate moron in my SOP and writing sample)? I'm in love with this program, and I've never had anyone show so much interest in my studies... but I don't want to get my hopes up either.

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Responding to your questions:

A) Yes, you can do that but if you don't it's also not a big deal. Do what feels more natural to you.

2) Since profs don't have unlimited time, if they took the time to call you that means they are interested in hearing more about your work and interests. That's basically all you can glean from the fact that you got this call. Since it sounded like this phone call was over a month before the deadline, I don't think you can conclude anything about your chances of admission because the prof wouldn't even have seen all of the other applications yet. So even if they wanted to accept you, there could have been people that would rank higher than you in between. Not saying this to be pessimistic, but just realistic.

However it turns out, these interactions are a good thing. I know from the applicant's point of view, everything is all about admissions, but that's not always the case for academia in general. It is normal and encouraged for academics to have discussions about their field without anything to "gain" from it necessarily. We just like talking about the topics we spend our lives studying and working on! It sounded like you asked for a phone call and they were at least interested enough in you to take the time to have a discussion with you. 

Finally, if you want some "calibration data", when I have a conversation with another academic about their research, I am always super interested in their work. No matter what they are working on, I listen carefully when they discuss it and try to ask good questions about their work, even if I personally have no interest in their work or even if it's not at all relevant. I find that it's just the respectful thing to do and it's part of the academic culture to be interested in whatever the other person is telling you. It's always way more fun for me when the person I'm talking to is actually listening and cares about what I'm saying so I always try to do the same when I'm the listener.

So when I met with visiting profs speaking at my department, or when I meet someone at a conference, for the brief time I am talking to them, I am fully immersed in the conversation and their work. Also, this is the best / most fun way for me to learn about work happening outside of my area of interest and it's how I can potentially get input/feedback from someone a little more distant from my specific field if they listen to me too.

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Unfortunately, like TakeruK said, there’s no way of knowing what the phone convo you had means for your acceptance given that it took place so early in the process. However, the fact that the professor took the time out of their busy schedule to talk to you means they liked your application, and you raising questions they hadn’t even though of before is also obviously very good. So the phone call definitely isn’t hurting your chances of being invited to an in-person interview/being accepted (I don’t know if your field does in-person interviews). 

I will just issue one caution though (if you do have in-person interviews). There was one program I applied to last year where I had a really amazing phone interview with my POI prior to being invited to the interview weekend. I was really excited when she did invite me, but then during the formal interview we had absolutely NO chemistry. The conversation was awkward as all hell and, no surprise, I wasn’t extended an offer to the program (which was fine - things don’t always work out and I’m now a student in a different but equally amazing program). So I guess the point is that even though your phone convo went really well, it could still turn out that the program may not be for you. Of course ignore all this if you don’t do in-person interviews in your field. 

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Phone calls are a good thing, but I definitely wouldn't say it's a guaranteed admission. In my opinion, anything you can do to make yourself stand out and be memorable will help you in the long run. I have sent follow up emails to several program administrators etc along the lines of "Hi, my name is blah blah, thank you for taking the time to talk to me, I have just submitted my application to your program which is one of my top choices, and I look forward to hearing from you soon" something short and sweet like that. I don't know that it made any difference one way or the other, but I've received interview offers from each of those schools I sent an email to.

Hope that helps, good luck!

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