Researching faculty

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hex6f737521
Posts: 4
Joined: Wed Jan 22, 2020 2:53 pm

Researching faculty

Post by hex6f737521 » Wed Jan 22, 2020 3:23 pm

I wanted to get an idea how one should go about researching a given university for matching faculty, and if/how one should go about getting in touch with them and including them in the SOP.

I get the impression that your chance of admission depends heavily on your compatibility with, and availability of, faculty. However, for someone about to begin the application process, this looks like a massive time investment. A single physics department can have 20+ faculty members in just one field of physics. Did you really end up researching each and every one of them for each university you applied to?

On top of that, I've noticed a lot of people contacting potential faculty members throughout the process. To those people: did you end up restricting yourself only to those whose research overlaps well with yours? I don't see how I could ever hold an interesting exchange with a professor on their topic of expertise if this wasn't the case. Also, how many did you end up emailing? The last thing you want is to spam mass emails.

Mizar
Posts: 11
Joined: Wed Dec 18, 2019 8:54 pm

Re: Researching faculty

Post by Mizar » Wed Jan 22, 2020 6:56 pm

My general approach was to pick projects (usually collaborations) that I'm interested in joining and look at what institutions are part of that project. My major area of interest is direct dark matter detection, and in my case there was usually just one or two faculty at an institution working in that area, and I emailed these people directly. I very briefly introduced myself, expressed my interest in joining their team working on such-and-such collaboration, and asked whether they would be looking for new graduate students in the next year or two. All in all, I ended up contacting around 15 people and had about a 70% response rate with this approach, with responses ranging from brief but informative emails to Skype and phone conversations and even a few in-person meetings. So far I have been admitted into one program, and the PI I had emailed beforehand and whose name I mentioned in my SOP had remembered my email, so I have no doubt this approach is effective.

If your research interests are not as specific as mine, you might consider trying to narrow your focus so you can more specifically identify faculty of interest. Remember, you aren't bound to that research area if you end up deciding you'd rather go in a different direction. It's a place to start, which is helpful if you're like I was and overwhelmed with all the research possibilities.

cat_mama
Posts: 11
Joined: Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:07 pm

Re: Researching faculty

Post by cat_mama » Thu Jan 30, 2020 7:22 pm

hex6f737521 wrote:
Wed Jan 22, 2020 3:23 pm
Did you really end up researching each and every one of them for each university you applied to?
Yes. It's incredibly time consuming, but worthwhile in my opinion. I went through the following steps:
1. Put together a large list of schools (basically top 30~40 schools)
2. Went through research websites of every single faculty in my target field and made a list of professors I like for each school, with notes about a project I like and my general impression of the lab.
3. Crossed off schools without enough professors of interest.
4. Crossed off more schools without enough professors of interest.
5. Put together h-index/i10-index of each professors, the year they finished PhD+postdoc (since academic age strongly correlates with citations), and average out the h-index/i10-index of all their graduated students. Lots of the professors I like are very young and haven't graduated students or only graduated 1 or 2, so for them, I looked at their current graduate students publication records.
6. Crossed off professors with low indices (either/or of their own and their graduate/graduated students)
7. Cross off schools without enough professors of interest
8. Ran the list through a postdoc in my senior thesis lab (since obviously a postdoc knows more about the field than I do) and made notes on research + advising reputations of each professors
9. Crossed off professors with low reputations in research/advising, and then again crossed off schools without enough professors of interest
10. Ran the list through my undergraduate advisor, who gave opinions on various professors
11. Taking my advisor's input into account, finalize the list of professors + schools
12. [Something I should have done, but didn't occur to at the time] Contact the professors to see if they are looking to take in graduate students in the near future. I say this because I learned too late that one of the profs I named in my SoP is downsizing his lab, and that's one less potential advisor who will read my application.
hex6f737521 wrote:
Wed Jan 22, 2020 3:23 pm
On top of that, I've noticed a lot of people contacting potential faculty members throughout the process. To those people: did you end up restricting yourself only to those whose research overlaps well with yours? I don't see how I could ever hold an interesting exchange with a professor on their topic of expertise if this wasn't the case. Also, how many did you end up emailing? The last thing you want is to spam mass emails.
Admittedly, I had an advantage here. I'm targeting the same field as my senior thesis research, and I have an amazing advisor who is both very supportive of me and well-connected via academic pedigree/collaborations. My advisor let some of his colleagues know that I'm applying, and I actually had potential PIs reach out to me to talk about projects I could join in their labs before I even got formal admission letters. I actually learned about the prof downsizing his lab mentioned above through my advisor. Basically, the lesson I learned is that having an amazing advisor goes a long way.



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