Diary of an applicant
I will go into some detail about contacting professors because I have done it a lot. Istarted contacting professors even before I short listed universities. I sent a mail,including a brief intro and resume, to those profess. In the mechanical engineering who were working in my field of interest (cad/cam/ cae). Having appropriate work experience and kind-of-ok credentials, most of the mails fetched replies. The tone of the replies was anything between admiration, interest to utter disinterest. I had contacted profess from univs ranging from Stanford and UC-Berkeley to Vanderbilt and Wyoming state univ, 75
in all. More than 400 mails, just for the statistics.
I waited for 2 weeks before sending them a second mail, incase they did not reply for the
One thing to keep in mind is that do mention your specific interests and contact only
profess. Working in that field. Otherwise there is a lot of criticism.
Depending on the replies I was getting, I started short-listing my univs.
This was the 2nd round of short listing.
The first being the 75 of 250+ univs for mailing. I had come down to 18-20 univs for my
final applications. From these I selected 7-9 for applying.
Then came the phase when I was judging the possibilities of getting admits and aid.
I knew that though a profess. From Stanford was going to recommend me for fellowship
and was truly impressed by my profile, I had little standing there. Be sure to apply to a
couple of high ranked univs from where you have got positive replies and also to 2/3 low
ranked univs where the profess are impressed by your profile.
When I had finalized my univs, I had mailed all the profess whom I had contacted. For
the univs I was not going to apply, I had sent an apology e-mail and most of them
Some strategies to follow with replies:
Show GENUINE interest in the profess. Research field and try to have a closer look at
his profile. Do not let him have the feeling that you are just a “window shopper” but an
If a professor replies that he is interested in your profile, ask him whether he has any
position available in his research group.
DO NOT mention about funds explicitly in your mails at the first. Only when he has
developed a rapport with you, bring up the question in a subtle way.
If a professor replies that he is impressed by your profile but has no positions for the
semester you are applying, ask him to forward your mail to someone else in the
department who might have an opening (in most of the cases, I did not have to tell them
explicitly, since they had done it already). Also ask him to keep you considered for the
next semester. Contact the profess he asks you to contact and do not forget to give the
first one’s reference.
If a professor sends a one liner “I have no funds for any extra graduate student”, try to
convince him that you are not in for funds!!!! You are really very keen on working in the
field he is in and would be happy just to be in his group.
If a professor replies that you lack certain requirements or do not have knowledge of
certain subject, be sure to assure him that you will be prepared before you begin research
in his group. Ask him for books / articles / theses to read or any software to learn before
you can start your graduate study.
If a profess. Does not reply even after a couple of mails, better forget him? Do not try to
dig too deep.
After these initial stages of mailings, try not to loose contact with them. Contact them at
every stage in your application process. On completing your online application, on
sending documents, on hearing that application is being reviewed, on getting admitted,
The strategy has to be different when you have been offered an admit in that university.
You have a vanguard at this stage. Now you can delve into money matters. Update your
profess with your latest achievements or exam results.
At his stage, the profess starts looking at you as a prospective group member (joining his
group). You can be freer in talk at this stage. In my case, the guy asked for my
undergraduate course syllabus and also suggested that I should start learning Matlab.
Keep in mind not to contact profess not working in your area of interest. If you mail
everyone in your dept, with an individual mail, such that you match your research
interests with his, it is harmful. If you contact profess. X saying you are dead interested in
working in some ABCD field and contact profess. Y stating your interest in EFGH field
and they happen to occupy neighboring offices or are buddies, and then you may land up
in trouble. If you were able to create an impression on one or both of them, he will
remember your name if the other one tells him casually about you. Avoid this temptation.