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Recently, a professor answered my email for a graduate position. He asked me to tell him to what extent I am aware of his research. I have a background research experience in his research area, I can understand his papers generally but I can't talk about them in detail. Since he asked me to answer this question in detail, please help me to how can I talk about his research area?

Moreover, he asked me to tell him about a specific direction that interests me for my future studies and the way I can make a contribution to his research. Answering this question is hard for me because I don't know how to define a specific direction that doesn't make me limited and lose the opportunity of working with him.

Please help me if you have any ideas. Thanks in advance.

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Answering this question is hard for me because I don't know how to define a specific direction that doesn't make me limited and lose the opportunity of working with him.

This is a thoughtful response on his part. He is not asking for you to send him a dissertation proposal, but maybe something four or five times as broad. Maybe something like "I'm interested in interventions to support learning in recent immigrants to [your country]," rather than "The effect of X intervention on mathematical learning on late teenage refugees to [your country] who did not receive formal education in their home country."

It's not a quiz to see if you come up with a good enough one and "lose" the opportunity to work with him (unless he's a nasty person). More of a determination whether you two are a good scientific fit.

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Depending on where you are, he could be asking for more than is reasonable. But, do the best you can. Mention the papers you have read. But don't overstate your understanding of them. If you have questions about those papers, then some of those questions might represent lack of understanding but others might indicate unformed ideas about future possible research.

The second question about a specific direction is also difficult. It might be enough to indicate one (or two) of the recent papers that you find especially interesting, and why.

I see two possibilities. The worst is that he is trying to find someone who will be easy to advise and won't take any particular effort. The best is that he is just trying to weed out those who say they are interested but haven't done any prior work to understand what his research trajectory and would take too much time and effort to bring along. I suspect that it is more the latter case, but can't know.

But if it is the former case then you probably should look to someone else to advise you.

With that in mind, it might be good not to be too definite about your answers and not too confident in expressing your understanding. If he thinks you are unready, then, on his terms, you probably are. But only for this one professor. You otherwise seem to be well prepared.

Close with "hoping for the opportunity to discuss this further with you" or similar.


Note that such questions of a student would seem more extreme in the US than in, say, Germany, where students normally have a more concentrated program at that point.

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