I sent an email to a potential supervisor for PhD in Computer Science with a concise introduction, research I am exploring and a brief about how one of his publication is relevant to my research. Put in some good question around it as well. Then I asked if he is willing to take PhD candidates in his lab.

I received a response within half an hour of sending the mail. Though the content is a bit ambiguous. It says, "Thanks. There is just one position available in a particular stream. So please go ahead and apply."

How do I interpret it? Does this mean he is ready to supervise? He didn't put in any response to my question though. How do I reply to him further as I'll have to mention in the application if the supervisor is ready to take me in.

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    "Dear Professor Blank: Thanks very much for your response. The application asks if you are ready to take me in. How should I answer this?" – Nate Eldredge Mar 22 '18 at 5:58
  • @NateEldredge That is very helpful, thanks. Should I also reiterate my questions about his publication and if he is willing to discuss my potential research before the application? – Sumit Srivastava Mar 22 '18 at 6:03
  • I'm confused. Are you an undergrad trying to line up an advisor (presumably to talk about in your SoP, or to list on the application)? Or in the university already trying to find an advisor? What is the "application" for? – cag51 Mar 22 '18 at 7:00
  • @cag51 I am CS post graduate and having an industry experience of 6 years. Looking for PhD in CS. I am looking to line up an advisor to mention on the application – Sumit Srivastava Mar 22 '18 at 7:57

Here is how I would interpret it:

The professor has no knowledge of the details of the application process. He may also have little power to directly influence whether he has a student or not, because there is little funding available and it is shared between several topics/groups/subjects/faculties. He would probably take you on if you make it through the various barriers (how happy he would be about it is unclear; some academics have more control than others over whether they take students), but he's not going to invest much time in you before then.

  • Precisely, this is what happened later when I dropped another message as per Nate's advice along with a query if he would like to discuss my research idea in detail. He said he doesn't have time right now and mentioned that I should go ahead with answering a Yes for the question in the application asking whether the professor has already corresponded with me. – Sumit Srivastava Mar 23 '18 at 11:46

I think the suggestion in the comments is reasonable, but for the sake of providing an answer in the answer section, I will present an alternative.

Yes, list him on the application. What's the worst that can happen?

  • If he will supervise you, then there is no issue.
  • If he does not want to supervise you, he cannot raise a stink without looking like an idiot, since he wrote "please go ahead and apply."

I think the most pertinent take-away from his message is that there is only one opening in the stream. My guess is that he is planning to supervise whoever gets that spot (it sounds like that spot will be pretty competitive, so whoever gets it is likely to be pretty good).

  • The question asks how do I get back to the professor with the questions mentioned and not how to bypass him! This is not about what worse could happen, this is about how to ensure things get done in a phased and proper manner to increase my chances. I have been rejected ones before, so I need to ensure the 'worse' doesn't happen again. – Sumit Srivastava Mar 23 '18 at 5:49
  • Based on your follow-up to the accepted answer, I would argue that I was exactly correct -- he didn't appreciate the follow-up, but was fine with you listing him on the application. :-) – cag51 Mar 23 '18 at 16:28

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