I applied to a graduate school in CS and got in. However, between application submission and acceptance a professor reached out to me and requested a phone conversation. It went well, as far as I could tell, and then a week after that I got an acceptance.

The problem is that I listed more theoretical people on my application and not him at all. While he does interesting work, it's decidedly applied work. There's nothing wrong with that, I'm still interested in the applied person, but I'm not sure if my acceptance offer (which comes with partial funding) is contingent on me working with this person.

How does this generally work? Am I stuck with this person because I didn't reach out to the other people? To what degree can I still 'pick' my advisor? Thanks!

  • 2
    This depends entirely on your program and the contents of the offer given to you. There are some general trends by field+country, but not enough to give you an answer for your specific situation. In my experience most programs have a lot of additional information on their websites (for example a "handbook" for students), which is a place you can start before contacting them to clarify. – Bryan Krause Feb 1 '20 at 18:15
  • @BryanKrause Well, it's CS and in the US. Also, this person's name isn't mentioned anywhere in the offer. Does that help? I'll look for a handbook in the meanwhile. – Zach466920 Feb 1 '20 at 18:20
  • Did he give some indication that he was considering you for a spot in his group? I'm wondering if this could have just been an (informal) interview. – cag51 Feb 1 '20 at 22:08

If you are accepted, then you are accepted. The prof is trying to "capture" you early, which is fine, but you don't have to agree to it. In the US you can generally choose a research advisor fairly late, especially if you come in with only a BA/BS degree.

There should be no problem at all if you don't want to work with them. But, it would be worth projecting a friendly and flexible face until you see more of the new program and get to meet a few people and (probably) take a few classes.

Your first goal will be to take enough advanced classes that you are successful in passing comprehensive exams. Then, you get more serious about research topics, and, for many, even research areas.

Note that in some other places, professors (PIs) actually hired their own graduate students. This is less common in the US and hardly ever in CS here. In the US, it is a department, not an individual, that accepts you, generally with the advice of a committee of faculty.

But if anything were contingent on anything else, then it would be explicitly spelled out. The prof is "reaching out" because you seem "interesting." Nothing more than that.

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