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Graduate Admissions and Supervisor Selection

  1. Feb 9, 2016 #1
    I am a final year undergrad and applied for graduate programs in various universities for Fall'16 admission. I recently got an admission offer from one of the programs. The admissions chair cc'd the offer email to potential supervisors I mentioned in my application. Here's the email from one of these potential supervisors.

    Dear xxx,

    just to follow on Dr. xxx's invitation to xxx University: I was very
    impressed with your record and ambition, and would be very interested in
    having you join my group. I am looking for very motivated and strong
    students at the moment. I have been working on various aspects of xxx, with
    my students and postdocs at xxx University, and in collaboration with
    colleagues in xxx University and xxx University.

    You can read about my recent research at my webpage: xxx or check some of my
    papers on the google scholar: xxx

    Please let me know if you have any questions about living and studying here
    in xxx. I think we have a very lively and a friendly department, in
    spectacular surroundings.

    Very best from
    xxx.


    This is my first admission offer, so I'm waiting for offers or rejections from other places. So, I'm not really sure how to respond. And even if I did want to work under his supervision, what questions do I ask to begin with? I'm totally lost.
     
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  3. Feb 9, 2016 #2

    Choppy

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    You might want to respond with a simple thank-you for getting in touch with you. You can always delay a meeting or further correspondence until a more convenient time.

    Questions that you might want to consider when speaking with a potential supervisor:
    1. Does the supervisor have a specific project in mind and if so, what is it? How much freedom can you as a student expect to have (or be expected to have) in defining the project? Does the supervisor have specific end-goals in mind?
    2. What are the supervisors expectations of the student? How often will you meet? What hours are you expected to keep?
    3. How will those expectations change over the course of the degree?
    4. What is the supervisor's availability? Open door policy? Office hours? Talk to the post-doc?
    5. If you're interested in a project on X, does the supervisor have any recommended reading?
    6. How will funding work? Does the supervisor support you over the summer when there's no/less TA work?
    7. How will you define a successful PhD?
    8. Will you have the opportunty to attend conferences? If so, which ones?
    9. How does the supervisor see the future of the field in terms of anticipated advancements? Career prospects?
     
  4. Feb 9, 2016 #3
    So, should I be honest and just tell him that I am expecting to hear back from other programs before I decide to either go or not go for his program?

    This is my least favourable program, so if I get offers from other programs, it's likely that I will reject the admission offer from this program. But, I have to accept or decline in 21 days, so if I don't hear back in 21 days from other programs, I plan to accept the offer while wait for a better admission offer.

    I'm just worried that if I won't get accepted into other more desirable programs, and if I delay accepting the professor's request to supervise, he will find some other student to supervise.
     
  5. Feb 9, 2016 #4

    Choppy

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    I don't think its necessary to start out with a statement akin to "You're not my first choice."

    Where I'm from (in Canada) the choice of supervisor isn't made right away anyway. Usually students have the first semester or so to concentrate on courses and talk with potential supervisors and read up on projects. I don't know if it works the same elsewhere, but my impression is that it's school-dependent.

    One suggestion might be to thank the professor and tell him or her you'll take some time to read some of the suggested work. You might even want to ask if there's a good starting point. Then get back when you have some more specific questions. I wouldn't lie if you're specifically asked - although I doubt that will happen. Most professors are well aware that students apply to more than one program.
     
  6. Feb 9, 2016 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    Dear Professor X,

    Thank you for your email. This sounds like a very exciting opportunity. This is a busy time for me, but I will be sure to get back to you on this in the next few weeks.

    Best regards,

    failexam
     
  7. Feb 10, 2016 #6

    radium

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    They expect you to be considering other schools. When I visited several professors outright asked which other schools I was considering. I would just thank them for reaching out to you and you are interested in learning more about the research. Do you plan to visit this school?
     
  8. Feb 12, 2016 #7
    Yeah, I'm hoping that I'll receive admission decision for at least some of my other programs in late Feb. So, it might be a good idea to just thank them and say that you are interested in their research.
     
  9. Feb 13, 2016 #8
    This i how I composed my email:

    Dear Professor xxx,

    Thank you for your email. I sincerely apologise for the delay in response. I read about your recent research while applying to the graduate program at xxx and am very excited by the opportunity to join your research group.

    I am not yet able to make an informed decision on my preferences of research project due to a beginner's exposure to your field of research. However, I would quite frankly enjoy working in any research topic you assign and would rather want to make a strong impression on you by working hard and delivering results than by declaring my preferences of research topic.

    In this regard, I have been reading some of your recent papers and exploring the current literature on xxx. It appears that I need to take graduate courses in xxx and xxx as background preparation for my thesis in your research field of interest. If so, I would like to self-study over the ensuing months to prepare in advance.

    I believe I can adapt myself to living and studying at xxx and would like to make the best use of the academic facilities and resources at xxx to produce a successful thesis.

    I was wondering if the official confirmation of thesis supervisor must be made before the start of courses in September. I am enthusiastic about performing research/thesis work in condensed matter theory and would like to get back to you in the coming weeks with further questions.

    Yours sincerely,

    xxx
     
  10. Feb 13, 2016 #9
    Is this good?
     
  11. Feb 13, 2016 #10

    ZapperZ

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    It's good. But you failed to asked him/her if he/she has a research funding to provide you with financial support. Since I don't know where this is going to be, I can't comment further. But in the US, if a faculty member wants you to work in his/her research project, then that faculty member should inform that student if there is either partial, or full support for that student. This support can be either just a stipend, or stipend plus tuition/fees.

    This is something that, if it were me, I want to know. It will also be good at knowing how long the funding will last.

    Zz.
     
  12. Feb 13, 2016 #11

    Vanadium 50

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    It implies that you are accepting the university's offer, but not necessarily the professor's. I understand you are still waiting.
     
  13. Feb 13, 2016 #12
    I got a funding package in my admission offer from the admissions chair.
     
  14. Feb 13, 2016 #13

    ZapperZ

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    What exactly is in this funding package? Is this a TA'ship? Are you required to perform certain tasks as requirement to accepting this?

    This is different than an RA'ship, where they pay you for doing the research that usually is part of your dissertation project. This is usually paid out of the researcher's research grant, while the TA'ship is paid by the dept. itself.

    Zz.
     
  15. Feb 13, 2016 #14
    This sentence was in the admission offer: We guarantee funding for xxx years for xxx students at $xxx per year made up in the form of Teaching Assistantships, Research Assistantships and scholarship.

    The funding is three times the tuition fee.

    I guess it's better to get an RA'ship as that contributes directly to thesis work, but isn't an RA'ship tougher to secure?
     
  16. Feb 13, 2016 #15
    I know. I just feel that he/she might take in some other student if I delay acceptance.

    Here's a modified response.

    Thank you for your email. I sincerely apologise for the delay in response. I read about your recent research while applying to the graduate program at xxx and it sounds like a very exciting opportunity.

    I am excited about performing research/thesis work in condensed matter theory and would like to get back to you on this in the next few weeks.
     
  17. Feb 13, 2016 #16

    Vanadium 50

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    If you don't want that to happen, you should accept his offer. You can't have it both ways - you can't ask him to stop considering other students because you haven't settled on an advisor.
     
  18. Feb 13, 2016 #17
    Would it appear rude to tell a professor that 'this is a very busy time for me'? I feel like I have to treat my potential supervisors with respect, and mentioning that I am busy might make me look like a disinterested student.
     
  19. Feb 13, 2016 #18

    Vanadium 50

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    That's certainly more respectful than stringing him along, convincing him not to take anyone else, just in case you might be interested later on.
     
  20. Feb 13, 2016 #19
    Yes, I realise now that I had been very selfish all along. If I am a really good student, then I guess I should be able to find myself a good supervisor one way or another and not have to keep him stringing along for my own interests.
     
  21. Feb 13, 2016 #20

    radium

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    Oh so you are doing CMT. In that case you really don't have to commit yourself to an advisor just yet. You can express interest in working for a particular professor, (I did when I applied), but you don't need to commit since most people will probably not start research until the next summer (although some do start earlier). This is usually true for theorists.
     
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