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Email professors for graduate school?

  1. Nov 9, 2011 #1

    I am beginning to apply for graduate schools. Normally I wouldn't have thought to email the professors I am interested in working with on research.
    However, I heard from a professor that when they were applying to graduate schools they were only accepted to those programs that they had directly contacted individual professors.

    So, now I am wondering if this is normal or acceptable to do? I don't want to come across bad to those professors, and I already tried emailing one of them, it didn't go as I expected.
    In the email I simply stated that I would be applying to that school and that I was interested in the research that professor was doing and asked if they were looking for new students to join the research in the 2012 fall semester and that I would be interested in hearing more about this professors current work.

    However, the response I got was that the professor said the process is intricate, requires approval from more than one member and that he would forward my email to the graduate chair who would be able to "answer more precise questions about our admission

    He did state that he looks forward to reviewing my application...

    So I don't know if emailing him directly made me sound incompetent of the application process.. Or motivated..

    Can anyone offer some advice?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 9, 2011 #2
  4. Nov 9, 2011 #3


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    It's perfectly acceptable to email a professor to ask about graduate student research opportunities within his or her group. So long as you're polite and don't spam them with dozens of emails, you won't leave a bad impression.

    After all, in graduate school you'll be spending several years of your life on your project. It's well worth taking the time to talk to the people you're considering working with so you can make an appropriate decision.

    That being said, if you ask whether or not a professor can take you on as a student, he or she will likely respond as this professor did because the admission process is not a case of the professor saying 'yes I'll take you on.' Rather, you're accepted by the department and then you get to pick a supervisor.
  5. Nov 9, 2011 #4
    Something that you have to realize is that in the "pre-web, pre-email" days, it was a lot harder to contact a professor from a school than it is not. In 1985, if you got one handwritten letter asking for information, it's a lot different than today when you get fifty e-mail. Also, pre-web, it wasn't that incredibly easy to get information about which professors were working at which schools and what their research was.

    One question that you have to ask yourself is "what will this look like if everyone does it?"

    My guess is that he is sending out the same form e-mail he sends to the fifty other people that are e-mailing him.

    I have found one trick in getting a useful reply from a professor. Professors tend to like to talk about their research, so if you ask them a specific question about their research which shows that you spend a lot of time and effort thinking about the topic, you are likely to be able to get the professor into a conversation.
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