Applying to a PhD program should be a rigorous affair. The choice of where to apply and how effectively you apply should be a result of the effort and process you put into the school research and selection process. If you are applying to a program because the school appears on some ranking list somewhere, you have failed to do due diligence and proper research. Part of thorough due diligence is contacting faculty, students, and alumni of the program. This post is a guide on how to contact students currently in the PhD program you are considering that will help you be more effective and establish relationships that potentially could influence your candidacy. Inside the Adcom members will also see actual email samples with analysis of pros and cons of each.
Current PhD students are often featured on the department or program’s website with their own page. Obviously you can look there to read their basic bios and possibly get their contact information. The next step is to search for these students on LinkedIn and make contact with them after reviewing their backgrounds. Not every student will be seen on LinkedIn, but many will appear. This additional step allows you to create more intelligent questions and already understand some of their background before you get the answer.
Remember that you don’t have to ask all of your questions outright in one email message. Ideally you ask the minimum number here and ask remaining questions as some kind of relationship develops.
- Introduce yourself as “Name, from City (and maybe country)”. This unique combination will make you memorable.
- Identify yourself as a potential applicant for the PhD program with questions that current students would be best at answering.
- Explain that you don’t want to bother them with these questions, and their answers would be of great benefit to you in your application process.
This section is the easiest for emails to current PhD students because they are more likely to respond to your queries than professors. Generally, students are willing to share much more than you asked for. This paragraph needs to be no more than three questions, but two is an ideal number. Current students can be asked information about things they know:
- About the program, from the student perspective.
- About interaction with other students, faculty, departments.
- Their research or teaching assistant duties.
- How well the financial support matches the local cost of living.
- Local living arrangements and recommendations (especially after you are admitted).
- Show gratitude for their opinions.
- Tell them how their input is important for your decisions and research process.
- Say how you hope to hear from them and not how you expect to hear from them.
What not to ask PhD students
They cannot tell you about your chances of admission. They cannot tell you about the average class profile in any specific way. They cannot tell you how to improve your application. You can find essential curriculum information online. Don’t ask these questions.
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