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Posts Tagged ‘professor’

Reflections in Rick Carpenters' art studio.

Reflections in Rick Carpenters' art studio.

It tends to be a dreaded moment when going to purchase books only to find that the textbook for the class is written by the professor. On one occasion I dropped a class because not only was the textbook by the professor but several others were by other faculty members (this was hardly the only reason though). The fact that they have a book is a sign that they know what they are talking about, it is bad because they might just be bad writers and they are assigning it because it is theirs. Furthermore there is then only one perspective for the class: the professor’s.

So when I signed up for Astrobiology the books was written by the professor (Kevin Plaxco) but as it was only twenty dollars used I did not feel so bad. I also skimmed through it and there was fortunately little chemistry diagrams or tables. Since astrobiology is a relatively new field I felt that it would be okay (compared to a professors book in English or Political Science).

The second week of the class the professor did something that I felt was just a good thing to do. He reimbursed everyone of us for the money he made from us buying his book. Turns out he only makes fifty cents a copy sold.

He did this because when he was an undergraduate a professor did it for him and it made a lasting impression, he said that if he ever published a book and taught a class with it he would do the same. Now I am going to say that if I ever publish a book and am lucky enough to teach a class using that book I will also pay back the students the money I make off the book.

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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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