In the process of a PhD application, if contacting the faculty members are encouraged, shall I contact more than one faculty members saying that I am interested in his/her research?

Not all professor list their on-going project so a match in interests cannot usually be determinated before talking.

If I am contacting multiple members shall I disclose that I am contacting a lot of them? Is it impolite?

  • 2
    Is this in North America or elsewhere? The answer might depend. – Buffy Dec 23 '19 at 12:33
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    @Buffy North America – dodo Dec 23 '19 at 21:02

If you are interested in the research topics of several members of a department, you can contact all of them. Everyone knows that people apply to several topics and several universities. You should always make sure that each message is "personalized" and explains why you are interested in that particular topic. Generic emails are more likely to be ignored.

If the recipients are likely to talk to each other (as is the case when they are in the same department), I would mention in the emails that you have contacted some other members of the department. They will probably find it out anyway, and it looks more honest if you say it in advance.

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In my field, neuroscience, the more faculty that might want to recruit a potential student, the higher the likelihood that they will be accepted. If only one faculty wants to recruit there is a risk of a personality difference that will result in the student searching for a lab for their thesis.

So, definitely do contact as many faculty that you are interested in.

However, do not depend on faculty's web pages to determine their research interests. Those departmental pages can be very old or as you say, sometimes that information is not even available. It is much more effective to search for the faculty's recently published papers. It is a lot of work though. That is why I always tell my advisees to let me know what they are passionate about and what techniques they are interested in, so that I can recommend labs to them.

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If you really insist on contacting faculty, you should go to the effort of finding their research interests before doing so. If you don't, there's no reason to tell them you're contacting faculty indiscriminantly -- they'll know as soon as they read your message.

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You can contact professors, but don't need to at all in the US and, I think, Canada. An advisor is chosen later, not at the very start of study. The early study is mostly advanced coursework leading to the qualifying exams. One can delay choosing a specific area and an advisor for quite a while.

You might have an "advisor" assigned to help you choose courses and navigate the specific system, but they need not be your research advisor.

Also, some professors, knowing the above, won't respond to emails until you get accepted. Those that do respond are most likely to just encourage you to apply in the normal manner. They will have little impact on the process. You might be just as well off, getting into the program and then going to visit a few professors in person. Especially those teaching your courses. This lets you evaluate whether there is both a personal and a research compatibility.

In particular, I don't recommend flooding them with information about yourself. They aren't part of the admission process most places unless they are on the admissions committee itself. And in that case they need to take a neutral approach since they are responsible for evaluations.

In other places, and in some fields, this won't be the same. In some lab sciences, especially in Europe, the PI actually hires (grant money) people as part of the admissions process. This is rare in the US. Canada seems to be similar as far as I can tell.

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  • Thank you for your comment. In many US program, the committee decides. Also in many US program, the PI decides and often over-rule the committee. Hiring PhD cost money and if the money comes from a single PI, then the PI decides. The programs that I am interested in belong to the latter. – dodo Dec 23 '19 at 21:24
  • Some applications have answer fields for the names of department faculty contacted during the application process, hence why it is encouraged. – Kevin Miller Dec 25 '19 at 2:40


  • Be transparent that you have contacted person X and person Y. They may end up discussing your application, and agreeing if one person is more appropriate for you than the other.
  • They may end up advising and co-advising you. This is what happened to me.
  • In some cases, collaborative approaches to funding may be applicable. Maybe each person partially funds you and you work on a collaborative project with both.
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