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I enquired about a funded PhD position which was advertised on the faculty website. The application involved finding a supervisor and getting them to agree to be a potential supervisor before applying formally to the position.

I contacted the supervisor, who responded straight away, and they said that my idea sounded interesting, but that before we could discuss it further he/she would like to know more about my previous research experience.

I sent this information in an email, but have not heard anything back since (it has been 5 working days). Does this mean that he/she does not want to pursue it further, or could it be that they are simply busy and considering it?

Should I contact them again?

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    1 week is nothing in professor time. Conferences, marking season, a phd defence, anything can get in the way.... Even worse because the professor will probably want to read your documentation thoroughly, that takes a bit on itself.... stop second-guessing :) – Fábio Dias Mar 21 '18 at 14:08
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    @FábioDias Can you please make your comment an answer? – jakebeal Mar 21 '18 at 15:57
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Is your deadline for this opportunity within a month or two? If so, a gentle nudge would be appropriate after a week. You could reply to your own email to bring it back to the top of the professor's inbox, saying something at the top like:

Dear Professor X, I am sure you are very busy, so thank you for your previous response about the PhD position. Please let me know if you would like to further discuss my research experience (details below) or the projects I hope to pursue with you.

If the deadline is extremely close (within the next two weeks?) it might be appropriate to further inquire, "Given that the application deadline is XXX, may I ask whether you are still considering me as a potential student for this PhD position?" (It would be courteous for the professor to tell you if you were out of consideration, but it also might not be necessary to ask for this clarification unless your next action hinges on the response, e.g. asking another faculty member at the institution to sponsor you.)


Edit: Advice on getting replies from busy professors suggests saying that you're "sending a follow-up in case your original message went to spam, or something similar". However, that is less plausible because you previously received a response. (Unless the attachments may have gotten it sent to a spam filter.) I'm not sure whether there is another courteous "little white lie" to deploy here rather than taking the tack of "I am sure you are very busy."

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(Extended version of a comment)

One week is nothing in professor time.

Conferences, marking season, a PhD defence, anything can get in the way.... I would like to believe that I'm fairly quick, but I can't review a PhD dissertation in less than a day, not properly. Professors never have a full day for something (vacations/holidays excepted). Combine any of that with the start (or end) of a semester or just a bunch of meetings and anything can take about three weeks.

Even worse because the professor will probably want to read your documentation thoroughly and that takes a bit of time on itself....

One thing that I did find useful when I was in your shoes was to try to contact someone else that is "around" the professor. "Heavy hitter" professors usually have an administrative assistant, and they can be incredibly quick and well informed, and often nudge the professors to be quicker as well.

Postdocs or PhD students might also work, but only if you already know them beforehand.

Other than that, stop second-guessing :)

Now, one important remark is: How quickly do you need the professor to answer? Do you have any deadlines coming? If you do, you might want to "escalate" the communication. Personally, for non-urgent stuff I'll just send an e-mail. Next step, secretary via e-mail. Then secretary on the phone. Call the professor on his office, and so on...

Once I had to call my MS advisor on his personal mobile, but it was really urgent, "I need your signature now or we are out of funding" urgent.

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As you say, there are two possible outcomes, roughly equally likely:

  • They are interested but busy. It's easy to write a mail saying "please send me more", it's a lot more work to read what you sent, check on the funding situation, think about other commitments, and make a decision about hiring you.
  • They are not interested after reading what you sent. At least in my field, it is EXTREMELY common for professors not to reply rather than sending a rejection.

In both cases, I think it is fine to follow up within 1-2 weeks: in the former case, it's good to show interest and keep it alive; in the latter, you have nothing to lose. I will suggest something even more concise than in the other answers:

Professor, I just wanted to follow up on this [as the deadline is next week]. Do you still think I could be a good fit for your lab? I'd be happy to drop by if you wanted to discuss in person. Cheers, --X

(where you obviously remove the bracketed part if there is no deadline).

If they don't reply to that, I would assume it is a rejection and wouldn't pursue it further (not least of which because it's very unprofessional on the professor's part not to reply after two follow-ups).

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