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I want to apply for PhD admission, but I have no research experience; never published any research paper or had any research assistantship during my Master's (although I did have a course assistantship for a semester and finished it 1 semester earlier). The professor I am intending to ask for supervision and research is involved around coding and I can make a good portfolio of projects about it (i.e. industry experience after Master's, GitHub profile, etc.).

Questions:

  1. What should I mention in my email to professor to convince them that I would be a good fit for their research and fellowship?

  2. Should I contact a professor first and then apply to the program, or should I apply first and then contact professor about it?

The university I am intending is a private university in central US with very high reputation (one in top 30 in Forbes US list).

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    Why do you want a PhD? What suggests you'll get one? How will your PhD help the professor? To convince the professor to supervisor you, you need to be able to mention those answers (and more) to the professor. To get a better idea about what the professor wants from you, start with an email that shows your interest and ask for a meeting (or telephone call) with the professor. Use that meeting to discuss with the professor and establish what they are looking for in you. – user2768 Jan 8 '18 at 14:50
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Remember that professors often get dozens of emails every day, so your chances to get an answer are higher if you keep things short.
Send an email saying that you are interested in a PhD in program XX under his supervision and ask a few short, relevant questions, e.g. if spaces are available at all.
Any longer questions, or even sending a whole portfolio, should not be done in the first email. If things go well, he agrees to talk to you about your application and there are spaces available, you can go on with your other questions.
If possible, a short visit in person might help; you can for example discuss most of your questions with PhD students or postdocs should the professor be too busy.

  • Thank you, Mr @Dirk Liebhold for the answer. I am accepting this answer as it point out what to mention, what type of questions to ask and what not to mention in the initial contact. – Simon.Hermit Jan 11 '18 at 15:25
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One important thing to keep in mind is that a PhD is a (reasonable) long-time commitment and it is (sort of) all about researching and publishing. If you can "convince" yourself it may be possible to convince other people.

So the first item on your list is to understand why do you want to pursue a PhD if you have no research experience. Don't get me wrong, it is possible to have research experience with no publications, or with publications in minor conferences that have little impact. But if you went through a Master Degree you should have some research experience, just not a publication.

Definitely, trying to contact the Professor before applying to the program would be better. If something goes wrong you will have saved yourself a lot of time and resources.

You could also consider trying to find some other professors and institutions that would be alternatives to this first one.

  • Hello @prmottajr sir, Thank you for your answer. I have a question, what do you mean by non-publication research experience? Is it reading research papers and writing reports about assignments? – Simon.Hermit Jan 8 '18 at 17:53
  • @Simon.Hermit during a Master Degree, one has to work on a project, although usually not entirely original, that (should) have the structure of a research project that is carried out in a lab. Sometimes the only publication is the Master's dissertation. In some cases that could be considered a non-pier-reviewed publication. – prmottajr Jan 8 '18 at 17:57
  • oh, @prmottajr, The projects I worked on we only had to give presentation about it to professor and submit a report on it explaining how we approached the solution. Apart from that I did not involve myself in any other peer-reviewed or non-peer-reviewed writings. Will it be counted as some form of non publication research? – Simon.Hermit Jan 8 '18 at 18:26
  • @Simon.Hermit the Master didn't require a final dissertation? If not, maybe the reports could be used as samples for non-peer-reviewed (sorry for the typo on the other comment) research documentation, but it will depend on their content and structure. – prmottajr Jan 8 '18 at 18:29
  • @prmottajr Some Masters are like that. My university offers both MS (has a thesis) and M.Eng (no thesis, project instead). – JAB Jan 9 '18 at 18:17

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