Contacting Professors at Graduate Programs

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G01
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So, I'm filling out applications for graduate school. In each of the applications there is a section to mention the names of any professors you have contacted. I have yet to contact any professors at any graduate institutions.

I know that this can help in getting accepted to competitive programs, but I do not know what to say. When I contact a professor at a graduate school, what should I talk or ask about?

If anyone has corresponded with a professor during your application process, or if you are a professor that has been contacted by a prospective student, can you give me some advice on what I should ask about? Any advice at all will be appreciated.
 
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Vanadium 50
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This is not a quiz question with the correct answer being, "yes, I contacted someone". It's there so that the admissions committee can ask the professor what (s)he thinks.
 
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Take one sentence to introduce yourself as a prospective graduate student - tell the professor where you are currently studying and when you hope to begin your PhD.

Take a couple of sentences to tell the person what you find interesting about what they work on. If the professor has advertised a specific project or if they have a well-developed website this is easy. Look for publications the professor or his/her group have worked on, especially Science or Nature articles - which are usually very readable. Say what you find exciting about particular result or discovery and mention any additional questions that the result raises for you - a sentence of the form "I saw that you demonstrated X and I wondered what would happen if you did Y..."

You also need two or three sentences summarizing your research experience and any related projects that you've done as part of your coursework. You can use this paragraph to pitch any relevant skills you have.

Close by asking if the professor has any projects suitable for your skills and interests. Offer to e-mail your CV and transcripts.
 
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G01
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This is not a quiz question with the correct answer being, "yes, I contacted someone". It's there so that the admissions committee can ask the professor what (s)he thinks.
Yes, I know that. My problem is that I don't know what I should say to a professor should I contact them. My question is, how have previous applicants made good impressions with professors? Obviously this will depend on the individual student and professor, but this information will at least give an idea of what an average professor looks for in a prospective student.
 
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If you don't have anything to say to a professor, you shouldn't contact him or her.
 
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Choppy
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+ 1 to what Oedipa Mass said.

Before I applied to the PhD program I took, I emailed several professors, introduced myself and told them what my interests were at the time. Later, I came down to observe a few seminars, introduced myself in person and was met with a friendly reception.

Don't try to go overboard trying to impress someone on first contact.
 
  • #7
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If you don't have anything to say to a professor, you shouldn't contact him or her.
I agree. I didn't contact anyone via email before submitting my application.
 
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I agree. I didn't contact anyone via email before submitting my application.
I third this. Contacting a faculty member is a chance to make a good impression OR a bad impression. Sometimes letting your record stand on it's own (with appropriate faculty recommendations) is enough if there's no good reason to contact someone.

As a graduate student, I was on a selections committee for a pretty prominent school (in certain research fields) and our department selections committee sometimes even turned down some applications that had recommendation letters from our own faculty (from when those applicants were REU students). It made us uncomfortable, but we did it based on the records of our prospective students (which were improving), and we weren't questioned on it (we usually imforved those faculty. Consultation from our committee to faculty in our department only came in two forms: when we were considering who to give our top graduate fellowship offer to, or when we were deciding on a borderline student... and in most cases the faculty impression just backed up our pre-existing tendency. I know not ALL departments work this way, but that's the way ours did).

We also, in our personal lab, rather laughed behind the drove of "prospective students" that tried to come in and visit the lab prior to or during the selections process hoping to get some sway.
 
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Moonbear
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I also have to agree that if you don't have a good reason to contact a particular professor, don't. I always interpreted that line as a subtle inquiry into who is advertising for the department, not an indicator of student initiative.

But, yeah, there were always students who would sort of blindly send emails around application time. I got a good laugh over them when I was a post-doc and they indiscriminately contacted anyone in the department listing with Ph.D. after their name. They were the most suck-up emails I ever got!
 
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G01
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OK. Maybe I'll avoid sending any emails to professors in the departments. I have a good application so I'll just let it speak for itself. Thanks for the advice!
 
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