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Emailing mass amounts of professors: Prospective PhD student

  1. Aug 5, 2015 #1
    I'm planning to apply for PhD programs for Fall 2016, and I would like to get in contact with physics professor in the universities I'm applying to. I'm applying to 16 PhD programs and after doing research I came up with a list of 64 professors in total out of the 16 schools whose research really interests me. Now, as you know, this is a large amount of professors, and it would take lots of time to go through everyone entire C.V. So I want to ask if it is acceptable to send a mass email to all of them introducing myself and saying I read their research interests on their webpages, and that I'm interested to know if they are taking research assistants. Or would it be expected that I read lots of there papers and be able to cite them in my emails?

    Thanks a lot I eagerly await your responses.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 5, 2015 #2
  4. Aug 5, 2015 #3
    Narrow it down further. Unless you address each professor specifically and tailor the email to that professor it might be viewed as spam. No short cuts here. Do the work :)
  5. Aug 5, 2015 #4


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    Well, when a student writes to me I tend to put in an effort to respond that's proportional to the effort the student put into the initial letter. If it looks like a copy and paste for example, I'll often just delete. I tend to get a fair number of these - usually more from post-doctoral researchers who quite clearly have no idea what I do.

    On top of that, what if all 64 of them reply to you? Do you want to burn bridges by not being able to give an approriate and timely response?

    16 programs is a lot to apply to. You might want to start by making a short-list - maybe try to whiddle it those 16 down to a top 3-5 and concentrate on a more thorough investigation of those programs. If you're not finding what you're looking for with those, then move down your list.
  6. Aug 5, 2015 #5


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    Don't forget that most profs in an a research area know each other. At least by reputation. So if you do something that winds up pissing off five or six of them, you likely have the story spread around pretty widely.
  7. Aug 5, 2015 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    And spamming 64 of them has a high probability of that.
  8. Aug 6, 2015 #7
    I understand, I will individually tailor 64 unique emails to those professors referencing papers that they have done. In my email I will show them that I have read their work and why their work interests me.
  9. Aug 7, 2015 #8


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    I don't think contacting 64 people would be a good idea no matter what amount of research you've done. I would personally assume that someone was just "fishing" if I learned that someone had contacted that many of my colleagues. Also, are you REALLY interested in the research of all 64? There will obviously be a lot of overlap, especially between scientists working at different universities, but we are still talking about 64 different researchers here which is a LOT. Again, it is a small world so there is no way you can "hide" the fact that you've contacted that many people.
    Also, I am not very familiar with the system in the US, but isn't 16 programs a bit excessive? I thought a "normal" number was more like 4-6. Presumably you should also be able to visit the schools before making a choice.
  10. Aug 7, 2015 #9
    I don't know. Obviously 64 people is a lot, and it's hard to imagine that the OP is interested in ALL of those people. But I don't think it would be negative if people find out that he contacted other professors. Certainly not if it shows that he has done a lot of background research. I think it is obvious that the OP is "fishing" at this stage, but I don't see that as a bad thing. The professors know too that he's just trying to narrow his options.
  11. Aug 7, 2015 #10
    From 64 you will probably be left with very few options because getting a PhD position depends on many variables:
    - availability of funds (scholarships, group funds etc.)
    - availability of projects/positions
    - you preparation in the field
    - some of professors will never reply back to you (try also to contact some postdoc from the group to find out more about PhD positions)
    - some professors will say "yes" but in the end it will be a "no" because things changed in their group.

    Prepare a list starting by "most wanted" and send unique emails let's say to the first group of five or seven professors, then wait for their reply and decide if you go to the next group of five.seven.
  12. Aug 7, 2015 #11
    16 is a bit above normal, I believe. I think it's normal for people to apply for maybe 8-10, but a lot apply for 13-14. Just depends on what you can afford and how much you hate yourself when it comes time for applications.
  13. Aug 7, 2015 #12
    I'm applying for 16 programs because I'm not taking any chances. Last time I applied to only a few schools and got into none of them. The paper work isn't too difficult I already filled out the applications, the only missing thing is the SOP and the recommended letters. My applications are due in December so I'm ahead of schedule. Thanks for all of the replies.
  14. Aug 8, 2015 #13


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    You will also run the risk of revealing your ignorance about their work. After all, how confident are you that you've read, understood, and interpreted ALL of these work from 64 different professionals correctly?

    The last time an undergraduate tried to impress me on his knowledge of "Accelerator Physics" and what I had been doing, he fell flat on his face.

  15. Aug 8, 2015 #14


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    From what you've said, it sounds like you want to email all of these professors because you think it will give you an advantage when you apply. You are not confident in your application so you are trying to find ways to get in "through the back door". A lot of the professors will probably see right through this and not even respond.

    I think the number of schools you apply to should depend on your situation/where you are applying. If you are applying to mostly top ten schools, 10-12 is a good number. If you feel some parts of your application are weak this may also be a good number.
  16. Aug 8, 2015 #15
    Is contacting professors of interest really necessary for the application process of graduate programs? Considerable number of professors explicitly mention that the contact (between professors and prospective applicants) and admission process are not really correlated, and the department as a whole grant the admission to the applicants.
  17. Aug 8, 2015 #16


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    This is unlikely to be applicable to the OP, but as an aside, this really depends on the country that you're in. In the US admission to grad programs might be done on the department level, but in, say, Australia, admission to PhD programs is primarily decided by the supervisor.

    ETA: Which makes it more important not to mass email an entire department. We do talk.
  18. Aug 8, 2015 #17
    I've never been in quite that situation, but I'll relay for you some advice that was given to me in regards to early-career networking: pretend that they're a sorority full of hot girls. I'll explain:

    1.) On the one hand, you don't need to try quite as hard to get their attention as you think, but...

    2.) On the other hand, they probably get a hundred minimal-effort messages a day from people who want the exact same thing as you and have just as much to offer, and...

    3.) They almost certainly all know each other, people love to gossip, and "annoying person" stories make for great chatter. Furthermore...

    4.) They can sense when someone is just "trolling", that is, making no effort to present yourself in a positive light and hoping quantity will save you where quality can't.

    Now, imagine a sloppy drunk frat boy hitting on 64 girls at a party hoping that just by chance one of them will be bored/desperate/indifferent/inexperienced enough to play along. That guy is a jerk, and that's no way to present yourself in any context.

    The advice was obviously meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but apply metaphorically to networking in general. If you make a feeble effort, then you will be judged as a person who makes feeble efforts, and your results will be accordingly feeble.
  19. Aug 8, 2015 #18
    Thanks for the advice. Do professors in a department (say Department of Mathematics) chat with each other about emails they got from prospective students who want to study under them?
  20. Aug 9, 2015 #19


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    Sometimes. Over lunch, say, or between the group leaders -- "Oh, I got an email from this student who wants to do a PhD, she seems quite switched on!" -- "I got an email too! What was her name ... " etc.
  21. Sep 4, 2015 #20
    So after narrowing down further what exactly I want to do in graduate school, I narrowed my list down to 32 professors. 2 from each school. The gist of my email would be to tell them what my research interests are and if they feel that there is room for somebody like me to be in their group. Is this acceptable?
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