How did you find your graduate school major professor?
November 19, 2017 8:39 PM   Subscribe

I am probably going to apply for graduate school in the spring in the sciences. People who have a graduate degree in the sciences, how did you find your advising professor?

I will be applying in food science for a masters. I plan on doing a project for two different professors in my major this year to get my feet wet in research. I do not yet know what my "calling" is and I am not sure if I should be seeking someone in a specialty or if I should be shaping what I want to do based on available grant money. So, here are some questions I have:

1. How did you find your professor and area of research? What sent you down the path towards that person in the first place?

2. Which came first, the desire for a specific project or grant money for research that determined what you researched and who advised you?

3. How specific did you get in your specialty before you applied for grad school?

4. Say I find someone who is taking graduate students in an area I find interesting, how the heck do I let them know I am interested in being a graduate student with them without looking like an ass-kissing fool?

5. I am applying to the school I am currently attending but I am a transfer student applying after a year here. That means I don't know tons of people yet. How can I accelerate getting acquainted without, again, looking like an ass-kissing fool?

6. How do I approach someone not at my school? Is it normal to apply for graduate school without contacting the professor doing the research you are interested in? Are you really applying to a department rather than to a specific project/ area of research?

So many questions. Argh.
posted by Foam Pants to Education (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
1/2. I found my professor because I was slightly interested in his research and he had an opening in his lab, so for me it was entirely driven by funding.

4/5. In my experience, professors LOVE to talk about their research and will do it for as long as you let them. I wouldn't worry too much about looking like an "ass-kissing fool" because they want to find people who are interested in what they are doing. Set up meetings or go by the offices of professors with interesting research, chat with them, and let them know you are applying for the program. If the department has weekly seminars, go to them and chat with everyone!

6. I strongly suggest if you are applying to another school, that you have someone or a few people in mind that you would like to work with and reach out to them before and after applying. Most programs you apply to the department, but an application looks so much better if you can articulate why you want to work with Dr. X or Dr. Y.

I say this gently, I went to grad school for the wrong reasons - it was the thing you do after finishing a science undergrad. If I was in your shoes, I would think very hard about how this degree will help improve your career instead of trying to find your calling while working for very little money and a lot of stress.
posted by source.decay at 9:27 PM on November 19, 2017


Similar to source.decay's 4/5, the advice I got from as an undergraduate was to write to professors I was interested in, and ask them questions or for pre-prints of upcoming articles. Don't just introduce yourself, ask for something. Back then, it was a matter of writing letters. I'd be inclined to do that these days as well, just to make it more personal.

In my case, it worked like a charm, and I ended up having multiple (fascinating) conversations with my potential advisors even before I'd applied, and that helped me stand out from the other candidates.

As to how I chose them, they were the ones doing the research that I was most interested in.
posted by Gorgik at 9:45 PM on November 19, 2017


Not to thread-sit but I totally am thread-sitting. I am going to grad school because

1. I am a post-bacc with at least a very full year left to earn a 2nd bachelors in food science. A masters wouldn't take a forever amount of time in comparison if I skipped that last year.

2. I'm here as an out of state student. I thought I would be in-state for the last year but that looks unlikely for reasons. A few years as a grad student, frankly, would be a huge savings.

3. Compared to a bachelors, my starting salary to cost of earning the degree ratio is so much better with a masters.

4. I find that I enjoy the hard science part of food science, especially the chemistry. Some more time in the lab wouldn't be a horrible experience. It might give me a leg up when trying to get that sort of work.

Not entirely honorable reasons but mostly practical.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:10 PM on November 19, 2017


If you're interested in staying in the same institution and will be working with a couple profs in your field already, I think the most natural thing to do would be to make a good impression on those profs (by working diligently on your project, asking good questions, being generally interested in the work) and then ask them if they have openings in their labs, or if they can point you toward colleagues who do. Be direct in communicating your interest.

This is basically how I "found" my supervisor, except in the end it was actually him that asked me if I wanted to stay in his lab. In my case, my application was to the department, but strictly pro forma - he wanted me to be there, I wanted to be there, the rest was just paperwork. (Somewhere in my emails I actually have a rejection letter from my program, which was sent because apparently my supervisor had gotten so used to having me around he'd forgotten that my application was still in his inbox.) Remember that the street goes both ways - supervisors need good students and it's not always apparent who would or would not be a good fit just by reading emails, so the fact that you are already there interacting with them in person is a great opportunity for both of you.

At this point I would not worry too much about the specific project (as long as it's within your general domain of interest) and instead focus on finding someone who a) you work well with and b) can fund you.
posted by btfreek at 12:14 AM on November 20, 2017


...write to professors I was interested in, and ask them questions or for pre-prints of upcoming articles. Don't just introduce yourself, ask for something.

This is bad advice. Don't ask a professor to do work for you that a competent research student could do for themself. (Instead, learn how to look up journal articles in your field, look up the most recent pubs of the profs you're interested in, and read a few of them.)

What you should do when emailing a prof you're interested in is to tell them you are planning to apply to grad school, are interested in their work, and ask whether they expect to have potential openings for new students, and if so, make an appointment to come talk to them and learn what kind of projects they have available. If you've done your homework first by reading a few of their recent publications, I for one would be impressed.
posted by heatherlogan at 5:08 AM on November 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


Ditto heatherlogan's approach. This is essentially what I did when I went to grad school.

I read journals to find a group that looked like they were doing stuff that was both innovative and interesting to me. I talked to my 4-th year professors about that group to sanity check my opinions. I called the professor I was most interested in and we had a mutual interview (these days, I'd do that approach by email---this was really prior email being a thing). This went well, so I went through the processes to join his group, and eventually graduated.
posted by bonehead at 6:02 AM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


Here's a recent similar question. In one of my answers there, I included a link that shows an example of a bad and a good email to write to faculty to introduce yourself.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:37 AM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


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