how can I kindly reject PhD students?
June 30, 2014 2:11 PM Subscribe
I have just begun as an assistant professor in the humanities at a prestigious university, and I am getting more emails from prospective PhD candidates than I can handle, gracefully or otherwise. I am presently a total n00b (read: incompetent at my job) and can't realistically take more than one a year. But I have no idea how to deal with these emails. Any suggestions on how to handle them, from anyone in similar but wiser positions? Agonized details below.
posted by starcrust to Work & Money (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
On a semi-weekly basis I am beginning to get emails from students from all over the world asking, pleading, demanding, that I look at their PhD research proposals and consider working with them. I do look at the proposals, and I really don't like being mean. I'm young enough that I remember grad school neurosis, and I don't want to contribute more to it than I can help. My university has a very good, neutral admissions system which every candidate, regardless of all these direct email approaches, must go through. But I still feel obliged to give these emails a response of some kind. There've been for me two separate problems of response, and I'd really love advice on either/both.
Response type #1 - Maybe: I have fewer problems with proposals I think are good and promising, but there the problem is how to encourage them to apply without appearing to promise that I will work with them, since I technically can't promise that. How can I do this?
Response type #2 - No Way in Hell: For proposals that I don't think are good, how do I craft a kind response that essentially says "Hmm, interesting (even if not really), but no"? Mostly I don't think many of them are up to snuff (some are outright terrible) or else are not really in my area of expertise (which is Small and Puny, and I would feel wrong attempting to supervise them). What should this response be? Ignore them? (Not an option for me, I think that's mean) Write a curt rejection without explanation? (also seems awful). Try to explain to them why I don't want to work with them? (also awful and time-consuming, and in my brief experience with taking this route, demoralizing for them and agonizing for me) Palm them off on someone else in the department knowing that said colleague also wouldn't take them? (kind of mean, and it's been done to me by other colleagues, and it has sometimes happened that I'm at the end of this chain) Palm them off on someone else in the field, at another university? (what if I think the proposal is so awful that it would be embarrassing to "recommend" them to a colleague I respect? also this doesn't work if the candidate has specified that they want to be at my university). Secret options X Y and Z that I don't know about??
I would really appreciate specific sentence-phrasing suggestions. Also, should I be devising email response templates? I'm just getting so many of these that the thought of writing personalized emails for each and every one of them fills me with timesuck dread...
Basically, I'm encountering a situation where I've just newly crossed over from the supplicant side of the fence to the gatekeeper side of it, and I don't know how to assume this new role gracefully. I would appreciate all and any advice! Many thanks in advance!