Call me maybe
November 6, 2012 11:11 PM   Subscribe

You: a professor. I: student/applicant for your program. How do you feel about phone contact? Details inside.

I have a question about a grad program that the program coordinator could not answer. It's about my portfolio. I want to work with you; your research is great. I want to call you and tell you about my background, including a potential area of mismatch.

I am polite and used to talking with professors. I generally have a good ability to gauge when people are at liberty to talk. I know profs are busy. But I'm wondering whether it's worth my effort to apply and basically am wondering if a conversation would be acceptable.

Would you be ok with this?

Is it a kiss of death?

Is it??? Warn me please!!!
posted by kettleoffish to Human Relations (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Why is email not an option?
posted by halogen at 11:13 PM on November 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

PHONE BAD. You really cannot gauge when people are at liberty to talk when you are calling a different institution with a different prof.
EMAIL GOOD. EMAIL BEST. You will get a much more considered, tempered response, if they're good emailers, which most are these days. If you do get a response, great, and, if you really are dead set on the phone, you can then, (AND ONLY THEN) set up a mutually agreed upon, not cold called, voice to voice interaction.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 11:18 PM on November 6, 2012 [12 favorites]

Any general tips???? (Or email kisses of death, when asking about fit for a program??)

Email- Yes!!! Of course! This hadn't really occurred to me because.... in some ways it might take more time and more might get lost in the writing. But it is less demanding of an immediate response.
posted by kettleoffish at 11:37 PM on November 6, 2012

posted by heyjude at 11:38 PM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you have some reason for wanting to do this by phone, then email first and ask, like, "Hey, can we arrange to have a phone conversation sometime?"

But that might be unnecessary. If you can do what you need to do over email, then yeah, do that.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:02 AM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Email, yes! But, I am worried you are going to write something super long, telling the prof about your background. Profs don't have time to read about backgrounds of prospective students until such time as they are reviewing completed applications a few days before the decision deadline.

To wit: Dear Prof: I am very interesting in applying to your program, but my background seems like it might differ from that of the typical applicant, and I am trying to determine if this program is the right fit. I would be very grateful if you could indicate whether you might consider an application from someone with my particular background, which includes X, Y, and Z, I would be happy to discuss more via phone if necessary. Thank you very much. Sincerely, you.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:10 AM on November 7, 2012 [15 favorites]

Make the email short, and polite.

If you need to give more details or have a lot of questions, ask for a phone conversation sometime with a rough outline in the email.
posted by Ashlyth at 12:13 AM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are really just looking for an answer to your question, I would probably talk to the Assistant to the Director of Graduate Studies or the Director of Graduate Studies. If either one of them could not address the issue, I would ask if it would be possible to get in touch with a graduate student.

If you are thinking that talking with a professor will increase your chances of being admitted to the program, I think not. The professor you speak with might not even be on the application review/admission committee.
posted by rapidadverbssuck at 4:37 AM on November 7, 2012

Perhaps bucking the trend a bit here, I'd say there's nothing wrong with calling. It's good to send an email saying you want to chat about some program stuff and asking if there is a particularly good time to call. But a lot of conversations are better on the phone than in email, and it's an expected part of the overall graduate admissions process.

That said, don't waste their time. Ask real questions, not "please hold my hand about my anxieties about getting in" pseudo questions. Do your research first, so you aren't asking about stuff that's in the information packet. And consider who you should be asking -- the DGS, this professor, a graduate student, or even someone else?
posted by Forktine at 4:52 AM on November 7, 2012

I'd hate to get a phone call and so would everybody in my department (and everybody I know in other departments). No phone calls, ever.

Email, however, is great. Keep it no more than three paragraphs----first paragraph says why you're writing, second paragraph shows you've done your homework about the prof, third paragraph includes your question---and attach a CV.
posted by eisenkr at 6:14 AM on November 7, 2012

Email= questions about papers, curriculum, and school policy. Email gives me a chance to look things up and give you a good, authoritative answer.

Phone= crises, medical, mental and emotional. I am reaching my limit, and I need a sympathetic person to tell me that the world will definitely not end if you take an extension on this paper. Don't ever use the phone if the professor did not give you her number herself, and do not call early in the morning or late at night, even when you have implicit permission to call. If the professor does not pick up, leave ONE message, and wait for a call back.
posted by pickypicky at 6:38 AM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

E-mail is basically the preferred default method of communication for professors, as far as I know. They are checking their e-mail pretty much constantly as long as they are not doing anything that demands their full attention at any given time. My experience has been that most professors, and especially those who also hold administrative positions like graduate coordinator, will generally respond to an e-mail within an hour or two

Failing that, their second-favorite method of communication seems to be face-to-face meetings, and if that's not possible then they'll fall back on pre-arranged Skype conferences. The only time I've ever had a phone call with a professor was when I was late for a meeting and she called to find out where I was. I think most professors just don't like talking on the phone.
posted by Scientist at 6:48 AM on November 7, 2012

Oh, if there is no response after maybe 5 days, send a second follow-up email, for two reasons.

1) I know more than one professor who has a two (or even three) email threshold before they will respond to a prospective student. These people also tend to be pompous egotistical assholes, but they also tend to be brilliant and well funded.

2) Many professors get in the vicinity of 500-800 emails a day, some even more. If they are traveling, in the field, on a grant deadline (or even, gasp, on vacation), you might just get lost in the shuffle, no matter how good they are as a mentor, just because triage happens. Always worth a second try.
posted by rockindata at 7:01 AM on November 7, 2012

Email. Be direct and straightforward, and get to the point in the first email.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:30 AM on November 7, 2012

Yes, yes, yes to email; yes to being brief, well targeted, and to the point; yes to a polite follow-up about five days later if necessary. I use the phone only for emergencies and pre-scheduled chats with collaborators.
posted by redfoxtail at 9:24 AM on November 7, 2012

The subject line in the email is just as important as the body - you want to be concise but also lets the prof know exactly what the email is about and ... best case scenario ... will want to read it.
posted by porpoise at 11:07 AM on November 7, 2012

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