Emailing Potential Advisors

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
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Scathrules
Posts: 40
Joined: Fri Dec 14, 2018 11:11 pm

Emailing Potential Advisors

Post by Scathrules » Tue Dec 27, 2022 4:24 pm

Is it considered standard practice to email potential advisors? I know that in other sciences it's absolutely important but I'm wondering if math programs expect this or not

Happenstance
Posts: 4
Joined: Fri Feb 11, 2022 3:35 am

Re: Emailing Potential Advisors

Post by Happenstance » Tue Dec 27, 2022 5:41 pm

Take this with a grain of salt, but I've asked a few professors about this and they have unanimously agreed that there is very rarely value in contacting potential advisors while applying to graduate school.

The niche case where it's useful to do so is when they are the only person at the university you're applying to that works in your field and you want to know if they are accepting students (for example, if you write your application about how much you want to do combinatorics and the university only has one professor working in combinatorics, it would be valuable to know if they are going to be on sabbatical or retiring, etc.).

In my case, the professors I talked to at my university already knew the status of the professors I wanted to work with, so there was no reason to send any emails.

On the other hand, from what I understand, emailing a potential advisor after you have been accepted to their department is very helpful.

Scathrules
Posts: 40
Joined: Fri Dec 14, 2018 11:11 pm

Re: Emailing Potential Advisors

Post by Scathrules » Tue Dec 27, 2022 6:05 pm

Happenstance wrote:
Tue Dec 27, 2022 5:41 pm
Take this with a grain of salt, but I've asked a few professors about this and they have unanimously agreed that there is very rarely value in contacting potential advisors while applying to graduate school.

The niche case where it's useful to do so is when they are the only person at the university you're applying to that works in your field and you want to know if they are accepting students (for example, if you write your application about how much you want to do combinatorics and the university only has one professor working in combinatorics, it would be valuable to know if they are going to be on sabbatical or retiring, etc.).

In my case, the professors I talked to at my university already knew the status of the professors I wanted to work with, so there was no reason to send any emails.

On the other hand, from what I understand, emailing a potential advisor after you have been accepted to their department is very helpful.
Based on your advice, would you say that it's ok to not really have a super-defined research interest like in the other sciences? So instead of giving a very detailed research plan, I just write something like "I want to work in algebraic geometry in connection to number theory" in my SOP? Generally, emailing profs in other fields requires that we actually have some sort of plan but if in math we don't really do that then I'm assuming it's ok to be a little vague in our SOPs?

SchursLemma
Posts: 7
Joined: Sat Feb 06, 2021 9:16 am

Re: Emailing Potential Advisors

Post by SchursLemma » Tue Dec 27, 2022 11:57 pm

Scathrules wrote:
Tue Dec 27, 2022 6:05 pm
Based on your advice, would you say that it's ok to not really have a super-defined research interest like in the other sciences? So instead of giving a very detailed research plan, I just write something like "I want to work in algebraic geometry in connection to number theory" in my SOP? Generally, emailing profs in other fields requires that we actually have some sort of plan but if in math we don't really do that then I'm assuming it's ok to be a little vague in our SOPs?
You can give a broad idea of what you've worked on and what you would like to work on, in general terms, but do not be too vague about it.

gzero
Posts: 23
Joined: Sun Jul 31, 2022 1:10 pm

Re: Emailing Potential Advisors

Post by gzero » Sat Dec 31, 2022 8:05 am

I disagree that it's a niche case, I emailed every prof that I put as a potential advisor on my statement of purpose and the majority of them replied. 3 or 4 of them (out of about 20something) told me to tell them when I applied so that they could look at my file. (though they are not the ones making the decision, having a prof that's excited about your application can't hurt) Those who were unavailable with no-one else in the department in the same area typically gave me other schools that I could apply to or names of profs to get in touch with. One professor sent me a quite detailed opinion of the future of his field.

It's probably far from essential but for me it's been very useful, especially as there's no-one who could advise well on my specific area at my current university.

crepant
Posts: 8
Joined: Mon Dec 26, 2022 9:20 am

Re: Emailing Potential Advisors

Post by crepant » Sat Dec 31, 2022 11:21 am

gzero wrote:
Sat Dec 31, 2022 8:05 am
I disagree that it's a niche case, I emailed every prof that I put as a potential advisor on my statement of purpose and the majority of them replied. 3 or 4 of them (out of about 20something) told me to tell them when I applied so that they could look at my file. (though they are not the ones making the decision, having a prof that's excited about your application can't hurt) Those who were unavailable with no-one else in the department in the same area typically gave me other schools that I could apply to or names of profs to get in touch with. One professor sent me a quite detailed opinion of the future of his field.

It's probably far from essential but for me it's been very useful, especially as there's no-one who could advise well on my specific area at my current university.
I also emailed to a lot of professors, and most of them replied positively. 2 professors (out of 15?) invited me to have a meeting via zoom, and we talked about the programs and their research topics. I enjoyed the meeting and they are all nice, I think the experience is valuable even if it does not help your application.

gzero
Posts: 23
Joined: Sun Jul 31, 2022 1:10 pm

Re: Emailing Potential Advisors

Post by gzero » Sat Dec 31, 2022 11:33 am

crepant wrote:
Sat Dec 31, 2022 11:21 am
gzero wrote:
Sat Dec 31, 2022 8:05 am
I disagree that it's a niche case, I emailed every prof that I put as a potential advisor on my statement of purpose and the majority of them replied. 3 or 4 of them (out of about 20something) told me to tell them when I applied so that they could look at my file. (though they are not the ones making the decision, having a prof that's excited about your application can't hurt) Those who were unavailable with no-one else in the department in the same area typically gave me other schools that I could apply to or names of profs to get in touch with. One professor sent me a quite detailed opinion of the future of his field.

It's probably far from essential but for me it's been very useful, especially as there's no-one who could advise well on my specific area at my current university.
I also emailed to a lot of professors, and most of them replied positively. 2 professors (out of 15?) invited me to have a meeting via zoom, and we talked about the programs and their research topics. I enjoyed the meeting and they are all nice, I think the experience is valuable even if it does not help your application.
My first drafts asked profs if they'd be able to have a chat on Zoom, but I worried that I'd be expected to guide the conversation and I doubted that I had enough to ask + know enough about their research to do that. Only did it for my UK options in the end since you go straight into a research project over here. Would defo recommend to anyone if they don't have those doubts, if they're reasonably sure what area they want to go into and can speak confidently on the subject. (probably quite few people, but still)

Dragan
Posts: 40
Joined: Wed Dec 25, 2019 11:13 pm

Re: Emailing Potential Advisors

Post by Dragan » Sun Jan 01, 2023 3:00 pm

gzero wrote:
Sat Dec 31, 2022 8:05 am
I disagree that it's a niche case, I emailed every prof that I put as a potential advisor on my statement of purpose and the majority of them replied. 3 or 4 of them (out of about 20something) told me to tell them when I applied so that they could look at my file. (though they are not the ones making the decision, having a prof that's excited about your application can't hurt) Those who were unavailable with no-one else in the department in the same area typically gave me other schools that I could apply to or names of profs to get in touch with. One professor sent me a quite detailed opinion of the future of his field.

It's probably far from essential but for me it's been very useful, especially as there's no-one who could advise well on my specific area at my current university.
It actually depends on the program mostly. In most math programs, the selection is done by a committee so it hardly is helpful to email a professor. That of course is not always the case. Some programs have professors picking people in which case you would typically get a response. Also I doubt that if you email a professor at Harvard or Berkeley that you would get a response (maybe if the person is really thoughtful and nice) rather than say, UCSB in which case maybe the number of applications is fewer.

crepant
Posts: 8
Joined: Mon Dec 26, 2022 9:20 am

Re: Emailing Potential Advisors

Post by crepant » Sun Jan 01, 2023 6:04 pm

Dragan wrote:
Sun Jan 01, 2023 3:00 pm
gzero wrote:
Sat Dec 31, 2022 8:05 am
I disagree that it's a niche case, I emailed every prof that I put as a potential advisor on my statement of purpose and the majority of them replied. 3 or 4 of them (out of about 20something) told me to tell them when I applied so that they could look at my file. (though they are not the ones making the decision, having a prof that's excited about your application can't hurt) Those who were unavailable with no-one else in the department in the same area typically gave me other schools that I could apply to or names of profs to get in touch with. One professor sent me a quite detailed opinion of the future of his field.

It's probably far from essential but for me it's been very useful, especially as there's no-one who could advise well on my specific area at my current university.
It actually depends on the program mostly. In most math programs, the selection is done by a committee so it hardly is helpful to email a professor. That of course is not always the case. Some programs have professors picking people in which case you would typically get a response. Also I doubt that if you email a professor at Harvard or Berkeley that you would get a response (maybe if the person is really thoughtful and nice) rather than say, UCSB in which case maybe the number of applications is fewer.
I emailed to professors in Harvard and Princeton, and they all replied. I think it depends more on the personality of the professors. Still you are right that for top programs, this does not really benefit the applications. (I emailed them in summer, maybe they had more time then.)

gzero
Posts: 23
Joined: Sun Jul 31, 2022 1:10 pm

Re: Emailing Potential Advisors

Post by gzero » Mon Jan 02, 2023 8:40 am

Dragan wrote:
Sun Jan 01, 2023 3:00 pm
gzero wrote:
Sat Dec 31, 2022 8:05 am
I disagree that it's a niche case, I emailed every prof that I put as a potential advisor on my statement of purpose and the majority of them replied. 3 or 4 of them (out of about 20something) told me to tell them when I applied so that they could look at my file. (though they are not the ones making the decision, having a prof that's excited about your application can't hurt) Those who were unavailable with no-one else in the department in the same area typically gave me other schools that I could apply to or names of profs to get in touch with. One professor sent me a quite detailed opinion of the future of his field.

It's probably far from essential but for me it's been very useful, especially as there's no-one who could advise well on my specific area at my current university.
It actually depends on the program mostly. In most math programs, the selection is done by a committee so it hardly is helpful to email a professor. That of course is not always the case. Some programs have professors picking people in which case you would typically get a response. Also I doubt that if you email a professor at Harvard or Berkeley that you would get a response (maybe if the person is really thoughtful and nice) rather than say, UCSB in which case maybe the number of applications is fewer.
My view is that it takes like 30 seconds to send off an email (you can just use a template), they can tell you if they're not taking on students or retiring (or in one case already retired but the website hadn't updated yet) and might give some interesting/useful info, and doesn't really have any negatives apart from time cost. Nowhere near essential, but for me it's been useful and for people who know a lot about their desired research area, they can probably get some good dialogue going. Surprisingly I had fairly well-known profs at Princeton/Berkeley get back to me pretty quickly while I didn't receive a reply from some profs at A&M or GA Tech. Just depends on the timing of your email I guess.

Dragan
Posts: 40
Joined: Wed Dec 25, 2019 11:13 pm

Re: Emailing Potential Advisors

Post by Dragan » Mon Jan 02, 2023 12:25 pm

gzero wrote:
Mon Jan 02, 2023 8:40 am
Dragan wrote:
Sun Jan 01, 2023 3:00 pm
gzero wrote:
Sat Dec 31, 2022 8:05 am
I disagree that it's a niche case, I emailed every prof that I put as a potential advisor on my statement of purpose and the majority of them replied. 3 or 4 of them (out of about 20something) told me to tell them when I applied so that they could look at my file. (though they are not the ones making the decision, having a prof that's excited about your application can't hurt) Those who were unavailable with no-one else in the department in the same area typically gave me other schools that I could apply to or names of profs to get in touch with. One professor sent me a quite detailed opinion of the future of his field.

It's probably far from essential but for me it's been very useful, especially as there's no-one who could advise well on my specific area at my current university.
It actually depends on the program mostly. In most math programs, the selection is done by a committee so it hardly is helpful to email a professor. That of course is not always the case. Some programs have professors picking people in which case you would typically get a response. Also I doubt that if you email a professor at Harvard or Berkeley that you would get a response (maybe if the person is really thoughtful and nice) rather than say, UCSB in which case maybe the number of applications is fewer.
My view is that it takes like 30 seconds to send off an email (you can just use a template), they can tell you if they're not taking on students or retiring (or in one case already retired but the website hadn't updated yet) and might give some interesting/useful info, and doesn't really have any negatives apart from time cost. Nowhere near essential, but for me it's been useful and for people who know a lot about their desired research area, they can probably get some good dialogue going. Surprisingly I had fairly well-known profs at Princeton/Berkeley get back to me pretty quickly while I didn't receive a reply from some profs at A&M or GA Tech. Just depends on the timing of your email I guess.
"doesn't really have any negatives apart from time cost" I don't think this is the case. For one, I would definitely feel bad if I get ignored (yea i am sensitive he he), also based on conversations with several math professors and also reading some professors' thoughts, some really hate getting such emails no matter what. They say if you have a good application and specific interest why not just write it in your SOP and just apply!!

mathappfrombrazil
Posts: 5
Joined: Tue Dec 06, 2022 7:08 pm

Re: Emailing Potential Advisors

Post by mathappfrombrazil » Mon Jan 02, 2023 11:07 pm

I don't know if it is standard practice, but for almost every single program I applied or considered applying to, I emailed a potential advisor, telling them briefly who I am, what my interests are, asking them if they believe the department can accommodate students in this area of research, etc. Some have ignored me, which is completely understandable, some have given me kind but neutral responses ("happy to know you're considering our program, I warmly encourage you to apply, best of luck" type of deal) but for a few I have recieved very encouraging responses.

These last ones are likely linked to the fact that these potential advisors personally know the professors with which I have done undergraduate research, as I mentioned them and their indication in the email. One told me in explicit terms that they would want me as a graduate student in the department and to let him know once I submitted the application. Even if the professor isn't in the admission committee, it is reasonable to expect that the committee would want to discuss some of the applications with them, so this gave me some hope on increasing my chances of acceptance.

Keep in mind that this is before I have any confirmation at all that this actually does pay off, but it has eased some of my anxiety and gave me more confidence. For some of my personal friends who applied in 2021, it also seemed to pay off for them, but I am applying to more reach-y universities than he was.

GLPHDAPP
Posts: 18
Joined: Fri Nov 11, 2022 7:07 pm

Re: Emailing Potential Advisors

Post by GLPHDAPP » Tue Jan 03, 2023 1:34 pm

As someone who applied to last and this admission cycle, talked about it with my professors and many other applicants/friends, my view is this:

A good portion of professors state their view on this on their personal website, so definitely check out their websites before you email them. Some professors state they want to hear from interested students (I had one professor of interest stated he has research grants and interested PhD students pls reach out, I reached out and got a good response, hopefully I can get in there), and some professors strictly say that don't email them (I remember one said the admission committee decides everything, you need to pass that test before reaching out to me).

If you only have one/two interested professors to work with at one school, I strongly suggest you reach out and see if they are still open to mentor a PhD student. I ruled out a few schools this way and saved some application money.

Each school's admission procedure is different, but for most math PhD programs, the department's admission committee will decide who get admitted rather than individual professors/labs, this is unlike some other fields (physical and biological sciences, etc).

It shouldn't hurt your applications if you reach out to one professor of interest at every schools you apply to, but it takes a lot of energy to do so. Based on my discussions with the applicants/friends from the last admission cycle and the acceptance results, I feel that it doesn't make that much of a difference, positively speaking.

quinquenion
Posts: 64
Joined: Fri Nov 04, 2011 12:34 pm

Re: Emailing Potential Advisors

Post by quinquenion » Fri Jan 20, 2023 2:55 pm

Speaking as a junior professor at a reasonably highly ranked university, the majority of emails I get from prospective students before they've been admitted are not helpful. If I have the bandwidth in that moment, I'll often reply with a neutral response basically saying that at my university, it's all up to the adcom.

However, I do occasionally receive more directed emails where it's clear the student has a particular reason for contacting me. Those emails are great! I treat them as emails from interested potential future colleagues, and respond to them as such. It doesn't directly help with chance of admission, but I will take the time to respond with some mix of encouragement and general advice, much like I would if a colleague contacted me with something nontrivial related to my research.

Also, I'll second the advice that if you have only one/two interested professors at a school, you should send an email to ask if they are taking students.

In summary, there's no harm to sending emails. It (except in rare cases) won't help your chances of admission, but if you have a particular reason beyond just saying that you're applying, then it can be a useful and pleasant correspondence.

kkk23
Posts: 9
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2023 4:10 pm

Re: Emailing Potential Advisors

Post by kkk23 » Sat Jan 21, 2023 8:10 am

Many people told me it's important to email potential advisors before applications; basically they said it's a chance to introduce yourself and impress them a little bit... But in the present application round, I emailed several people and no one replies, so I think maybe it's no as useful as that I have imagined.



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