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First contact with potential supervisor

by tsw99
Tags: contact, potential, supervisor
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tsw99
#1
Oct28-10, 10:49 AM
P: 35
Hi, I am going to contact a professor and ask him about the possibility for him to supervise me for the master degree. (Yes, we do masters first before PhD)

But I have some important questions.

Since this professor is from a different school of mine, I have never met or contacted him before. Would it be too strange to contact him said, "I'm interested in your research on (topic)"?

Secondly, I have never done any research nor learnt anything about that particular area (though also in physics), because no one in my school did research on that area. I felt very insecure when I knew nothing but asking for research opportunity. Should I read his recent work first? But they're somehow too difficult for me because I have nearly no background knowledge on that.

Any advices are welcome! Thanks!
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blechman
#2
Oct28-10, 11:11 AM
Sci Advisor
P: 779
you should never feel inhibited in telling a potential adviser that you find his or her research interesting! they'll LOVE you!! ;-)

as for your second question: you should probably try to read some of his or her work, but as you point out you probably won't understand all of it. but that's okay. concentrate on the abstract, intro and conclusions (don't worry about the details in the middle) and try to formulate a few questions you can ask the professor. they can be VERY basic, such as "I don't understand this word, do you have a good textbook I can borrow?" ignorance (that is, lack of knowledge) is totally forgivable in a young student, and is expected. the hard part (for you) is to overcome every student's instinct to not sound stupid! but you have to fight that instinct, and just ask every question you can think of.

anyway, i hope that helps. good luck!
tsw99
#3
Oct28-10, 11:17 AM
P: 35
Quote Quote by blechman View Post
you should never feel inhibited in telling a potential adviser that you find his or her research interesting! they'll LOVE you!! ;-)

as for your second question: you should probably try to read some of his or her work, but as you point out you probably won't understand all of it. but that's okay. concentrate on the abstract, intro and conclusions (don't worry about the details in the middle) and try to formulate a few questions you can ask the professor. they can be VERY basic, such as "I don't understand this word, do you have a good textbook I can borrow?" ignorance (that is, lack of knowledge) is totally forgivable in a young student, and is expected. the hard part (for you) is to overcome every student's instinct to not sound stupid! but you have to fight that instinct, and just ask every question you can think of.

anyway, i hope that helps. good luck!
Thanks for your advice, but would you suggest I should propose a meeting with the professor first (then discuss and ask question if he is willing to), or to ask questions in the first email?

jeffasinger
#4
Oct28-10, 11:47 AM
P: 46
First contact with potential supervisor

Personally, I would send an email saying that you are interested in his work, and then ask him if he could point you to either a good introductory text or survey paper, in the area. He's probably extremely busy, and answering this simple question won't be too difficult for him, and will help give you the background to understand and ask intelligent questions about his most recent work. It will also give you a much clearer idea of what exactly he is doing, to be certain that it's something you see yourself enjoying.

However, there is also something to be said for meeting in person. You'll get a much better idea of who he is, what it might be like to work with him (as a person), and it will show that you're very serious about wanting to do research with him.
lisab
#5
Oct28-10, 11:51 AM
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I'd advise you to read his research, definitely. You probably won't understand it all, but it shows you are interested and enthusiastic.
tsw99
#6
Oct28-10, 12:06 PM
P: 35
Quote Quote by jeffasinger View Post
Personally, I would send an email saying that you are interested in his work, and then ask him if he could point you to either a good introductory text or survey paper, in the area. He's probably extremely busy, and answering this simple question won't be too difficult for him, and will help give you the background to understand and ask intelligent questions about his most recent work. It will also give you a much clearer idea of what exactly he is doing, to be certain that it's something you see yourself enjoying.

However, there is also something to be said for meeting in person. You'll get a much better idea of who he is, what it might be like to work with him (as a person), and it will show that you're very serious about wanting to do research with him.
Thanks for your idea, I think that is very useful. Hope that he will give positive response
tsw99
#7
Oct28-10, 12:09 PM
P: 35
Quote Quote by lisab View Post
I'd advise you to read his research, definitely. You probably won't understand it all, but it shows you are interested and enthusiastic.
Yes, I am going to skim through his papers, introduction, abstract and summary, and perhaps some of the details. Thanks for the advice.
negru
#8
Oct28-10, 12:37 PM
P: 308
Be sure NOT to make the email longer than A FEW lines whatever it is you're saying/asking!
tsw99
#9
Oct28-10, 12:45 PM
P: 35
Quote Quote by negru View Post
Be sure NOT to make the email longer than A FEW lines whatever it is you're saying/asking!
Really? That's a real challenge, so I need to trim it to a few lines, but still expressing the same level of interest....now I have 8 lines and a CV attached
negru
#10
Oct28-10, 12:55 PM
P: 308
Yeah it's not easy but it's been my experience that most profs get annoyed/don't like/don't answer back/don't understand everything you're saying because they're skimming/forget some of the questions you're asking if the text is too long.

The last two can definately happen even to profs with the best of intentions. This will continue to hold true even if he becomes your advisor. Especially when you're asking for favors or complicated questions which will require effort on his part. The last thing you want is his first reaction to be "god another wall of text".

If you absolutely must write a longer email, be sure he will know what it is about by the second line. Don't write like "blablabla i like ur research bla bla i've been doing blabla, so yeah can i has u as advsior nao plz?"
tsw99
#11
Oct28-10, 01:08 PM
P: 35
Quote Quote by negru View Post
Yeah it's not easy but it's been my experience that most profs get annoyed/don't like/don't answer back/don't understand everything you're saying because they're skimming/forget some of the questions you're asking if the text is too long.

The last two can definately happen even to profs with the best of intentions. This will continue to hold true even if he becomes your advisor. Especially when you're asking for favors or complicated questions which will require effort on his part. The last thing you want is his first reaction to be "god another wall of text".
Thanks, I understand what you mean, so which part do you suggest to trim a bit for a first email to professor? Expressing interest on his research or my background information?

Quote Quote by negru View Post
If you absolutely must write a longer email, be sure he will know what it is about by the second line. Don't write like "blablabla i like ur research bla bla i've been doing blabla, so yeah can i has u as advsior nao plz?"
oh I'm sorry I don't quite get the meaning of your last sentence.
blechman
#12
Oct28-10, 02:24 PM
Sci Advisor
P: 779
i've always been one for casualness. you want to check out his papers so at least you have an idea about what he's doing, then (assuming you're still interested), you can send him an email saying something like, "Hi! I'm looking for an adviser and I find your work very interesting. I've done <blahblahblah> and I've looked at <blahblahblah> but I don't understand <blahblahblah>. Maybe we can meet to discuss <blahblahblah>. Would you be willing to talk to me? Thanks!"

something like that. good luck!


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