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Should I Contact a Ph.D. Supervisor?

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The DOs and DON’Ts of Contacting a Ph.D Supervisor.

As an applicant, you may ask yourself: should I email professors I am interested in working with? Should I send them my research proposal? Should I attach my credentials? The answer to your questions is: it depends on the university you are applying to and the type of question you want to ask your professor. 

Here are the dos and don’ts of reaching out to a potential Ph.D. supervisor. 

Below are some best practices for contacting Clarkson University faculty prior to application submission. (Additionally, this article directly ties into crafting your Statement of Purpose.)

DO learn about their research, but DON’T contact them (at least not yet!). 

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First, go to the department’s website and review the faculty’s research and teaching areas. Second, pick three faculty members whose research aligns with your interests. The next step is not to contact them; instead, mention them in your statement of purpose (SOP). Explain how and why you are interested in working with those three faculty members, which will illustrate your research interests.

DO investigate their current research interests and activities.

When writing your statement of purpose, pitch a topic that will interest the faculty members and complements the research they are currently conducting.  Remember, your prospective supervisor might have written the book on your research topic. However, they may have moved on to a different topic since publication.

DO give them catchy research ideas in your Statement of Purpose.

Explain your research ideas but don’t use an email to do so. Instead, save the details for your statement of purpose. Then, write a solid, clear, and concise SOP. Discuss how your highlighted faculty members’ research aligns with your future academic goals. Explain to each of them why they should choose you to contribute to the success of their research and why you will be a great asset to their team. 

DO clarify things with them, if needed.

True, we said don’t email a professor. However, you should email them if you need to ask for a specific point while writing your SOP.  

For example: After reviewing their research, you may feel you need some clarification before deciding whether you want to name them as a potential mentor or not. In this case, briefly get to the point and ask your question. Don’t write too much about your background, your future goals, funding…etc. Share just enough to get the information needed for your SOP only. This will heighten the faculty member’s interest to read your full statement. For example:

Hello Professor …

My name is John Smith, and I am currently writing my statement of purpose to apply to Clarkson. As I am reviewing your research “Spoken language interaction with robots: Recommendations for future research” (2020), I wonder whether this is a continuation of your published research, “Survey on frontiers of language and robotics” (2014), or a separate research approach. I am asking because I could not find much literature about the 2020 topic. I need to explain how both topics align with my future research goals in my SOP, so I thought it would be helpful to ask you before submitting my application.

Your response is highly appreciated.

Thank you,
John Smith

DON’T ask them for funding.

There is no separate application to request assistantship consideration; all admitted applicants are evaluated for full funding. So, you do not need to ask for funding by email or in your SOP. Eventually, you will be offered a funded admission if you are a good match for one of the available positions. Besides, you don’t need to distract the admission committee from your excellent description of fruitful research ideas with information about your need for funding,

DON’T wait too much for the response.

Finally, professors might be busy traveling or working on something else. Give any information request a few days or a week, then move on with your SOP even if you don’t receive the answer to your question. Maybe you need to do more research on your own, or find another research topic to propose. But don’t put your application on hold, waiting for a response. Most importantly, don’t mention in your SOP that you emailed a professor and they did not respond to you. You neither want to reprimand them for not responding nor do you want to justify why your research goals are not explained thoroughly. 

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