Contacting Professors before applying to Universities? Here is what you need to know!

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Yocket Editorial Team

Updated on Oct 20, 2021

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Although some students wanting to pursue a masters degree do not contact professors that often, it is quite an interesting thing to do especially if you have a long term goal of doing research or if you are looking to be part of concurrent projects in your domain. Typically, it would be the Thesis students who will be insisted on contacting the Professors. Nevertheless, if you really find a professor to be doing interesting work, you must spend a lot of time in this section and write to a few professors. But let us begin with a word of caution:

NEVER FORWARD A GENERIC TEMPLATE TO HUNDREDS OF PROFESSORS!

Select 6 to 8 Professors from different universities working on an area where you are most interested in. Carefully study the most recent and active projects that the Professors are working on. Check if the Professors have an active grant and are willing to hire new grad students. Without a call for prospective students enlisted in the website, it is recommended not to e-mail a Professor.

Be prepared to not hear from any of them. Sad but true that a lot of e-mails that you send end up in the spam folder or the Professor ignores them as their mailboxes are mostly overflowing. It will be quite unfortunate if none of the Professors choose not to respond to your e-mail. There can be a lot of reasons:

  1. He / She is not looking for any new students – Unless you find the vacant positions and call for post, this is likely the case for not receiving a reply from the Professor.
  2. He / She doesn’t have active grants to fund you – Generally, the Professors are expected to pay you for working in his/her lab. If they do not have active grants, they won’t hire any new students and choose to go with the existing ones.
  3. He / She has already made a choice to go with some other student – This could be the case as well. Try to reach out to him/her well in advance.
  4. He / She didn’t even look at your e-mail – Unfortunately, this accounts for more than 50% of the occasions. The Professors receive hundreds of e-mails every day and are fed up with these kinds of requests. Unless you impress them somehow, there’s no way he is going to spend more than 30 seconds on your e-mail.
  5. He / She isn’t convinced that you can do a research under their supervision - Generally, the Professors tend to prefer someone who has a prior experience in the field (be it research / work experience). Just because you are expressing an interest in his field of work or being intrigued by his/her ongoing research, you aren’t impressing them anyway.

Try to read more about the current projects. Talk to the lab mates who are working currently. Understand more about the active projects. Read one or two most recently published papers on that project. Contact the professor stating your interest, what you have done earlier (research/work experience/publications), what you will be doing if given a chance. This is to be taken very seriously. The Professors tend to get impressed with someone who has spent some extra time reading one of his/her research papers and understanding it.

Reading research papers is an art. You must know what information to look out for and where to find it. Try to find few tutorials online on how to prepare a research summary by listing down the strong and weak/improvement points of a research paper. Sending this will increase your chances and will give some assurance to the Professors that you are interested and willing to commit yourself to take up the stage. If the Professor doesn’t get back to you, wait for a couple of weeks and then send him/her a gentle reminder! A word of caution yet again, “Do not spam their mailbox!”

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