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Archive for January 19th, 2009

It may seem daunting but take it one step at a time.

It may seem daunting but take it one step at a time.

With a short list of universities I went on to start contacting the schools directly. I have heard arguments online touting the benefits and the pitfalls of contacting schools and professors directly. I figured that an e-mail will either be responded to or ignored, the professor would not be likely to really care about it any other way.

So why contact departments in the first place?

Asking questions is really the only way to learn more about a department in depth with the two sources of information being the departmental graduate advisor and the professors. The risk is that if you do not research what they are researching or ask non-specific bland questions it will just appear that you are contacting them to help your application. While you may be doing it to help your prospects it is more important to find a suitable department to join.

E-mailing the department’s general advisor is great way to find answers that are either not apparent on their website or are not there. Usually I initially asked a question about the application itself (like page length of personal statements) followed by who would be best to contact to learn more about research in a specific field of the department. I usually gave a few days to wait for a reply before I started to contact professors directly if they did not respond. Of course the earlier in the application season you ask the faster the response (asking a week before the due date will likely have a delay).

Sometimes the advisor will forward your e-mail to particular professor, if not you have to start the conversation. Admittedly it is hard at first to e-mail someone out of the blue but by the end it was actually quite easy. I tend to start with why I am contacting them followed by a few questions about their research. It really helps to actually look at their web sites to see what they are doing before contacting them.

I asked about their current research, what future projects they are planning, what their graduate students do and if there is anyone else that I should contact in the department. As an example here is a general template I used to get started:

Hello Professor [Last name spelt correctly],

I am considering applying to [school name] and I am interested in your research on [Science!]. Could you tell me more about what research and projects you are currently working on?

[Specific questions]

Best regards (or Thank you for the help/information),

[You Name]

[You most academic/professional e-mail address]

I found out that for some of the schools on my list there was no research I was interested in, I could tell because I found no questions to ask them aside from “Watcha doing?”. I then moved these schools to a secondary list to look at later, it could just be an apathetic or particular dispassionate day.

You may feel discouraged by the task at times but if you start early you can always set down the process for a few days and step back a bit.

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