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How/What should I ask professors at grad schools I'm checking out

  1. Nov 8, 2011 #1
    I've narrowed down a short list of a dozen or so graduate programs it looks like I'd like to apply to. I've heard that it helps to email professors involved in the work I'm interested in, but I'm doing the socially-awkward-penguin and am kinda at a loss for what to say or how to go about saying it.

    Obviously asking people about their research is a good idea, but I'm finding that either departments just list a bunch of people in a theory group without any personal pages/info or when they do list individual research it's usually pretty straightforward. Either I already feel very comfortable with the concepts in a certain area and what the work entails or it's a pretty deep product of QFT/mathematical physics that I'm not yet fully qualified to say I understand.

    Any advice on how to email professors to introduce oneself, get good information or anything else I should be conveying/asking?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 8, 2011 #2
    You clearly did some research to narrow down your choices, that at the very least shows intent. I would just be straight forward, and tell them why you are contacting them. If you cannot find information on their research, ask them if they can help you locate a website or journal where their work is published and/or available. They can't expect you to just know everything about their work when contacting them. I think courtesy and honesty goes a long way, but that's just my opinion.
  4. Nov 8, 2011 #3
    I'm mixed on whether or not contacting professors helps... it depends on the program and the processes of admission, and in programs where where such communication helps, the possibility of it hurting also exists. So first of all try to figure out if the programs you are interested in are the former or the latter. At the university where I was involved in admissions (which was a top 20-25-ranked university, although whether that matters is left to your opinion), contacting professors didn't help. They let the committee do the work of sorting out the best candidates with a wide pool of interests, then later let those admitted students come to them (during both visits to the campus before their acceptance of an offer, or after they had accepted the offer and arrived).

    But if a program you are interested in is the latter, I personally think you'd better really do your homework before you contact the professor (so your contact doesn't hurt your prospects). Make sure you look at their websites (if they have them) and state that (so they don't just link you to those). It should also be easy to find some publications of the research work that is being done (either by lists of their websites or by looking up the researcher on something like http://prola.aps.org/" [Broken] and chances are your undergraduate university has subscriptions so you can get the articles. At least get an idea of the purpose of the current research, make sure you can talk about that at least a little (and how it matches your interests for possible graduate work)... and maybe ask what direction the professor sees the current research taking in the next several years (since that's when you'll be working with the group). Also perhaps note your preparation... have you done any REU's or research on a related topic? What was your contribution? Do you feel you could quickly ramp up and be an active participant?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  5. Nov 8, 2011 #4

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    To add to what PhysicsGirlPhD said, if you are emailing professors to improve your chances to get in, don't. The odds of it backfiring are much higher than the odds of it working. I would only email a professor if you need information that cannot be obtained any other way - e.g. "are you accepting students?"
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