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I'll be applying to Physics grad school in US in the next cycle. Several of my seniors who have entered grad school have suggested me to mail a professor-potential guide before or immediately after applying and maybe even mention this in my application. However, I am not set with my research topic. I confused between 2 closely related fields and want to explore a bit more once I enter grad school before choosing a potential guide. So I don't to get tied with a group right now.

So, if I don't mention a prof or contact them, will it hurt my chances? Even here in Stack I've seen a post saying contacting professors will help my chances. So, I'm worried about how to proceed. Please give me some suggestions.

I am not from US and hence do not know US grad school system very well. So please do let me know if I'm missing something.

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If it's a PhD program, very probably yes.

Most PhDs are earned by working closely with one professor. In experimental physics, you work in their lab space. If there is not a professor you can work with during your PhD, then you will not be successful. Admissions committees want to see that you have identified a small number of faculty who would be suitable for you to work with.

Also, some professors may have funding. If they want to use the funding to pay you, you will probably be admitted.

We cannot tell you who to approach.

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  • Ok, as I mentioned I am just worried that I'll have to stay committed to a professor. Since my fields of interest are pretty close there'll surely be some professors working on both. Is it alright if I mention the professors/field of interest in my SOP and not actually contact anyone personally? Also, top unis such as Harvard say that students are free to pursue whatever they want once they enter grad school. How true is this? If so, what's the point of mentioning a prof/specific field?
    – Indigo1729
    Jul 9, 2020 at 10:26
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    @Indigo1729 you need to show in your statement that you've done your research about the professors working at that uni; it's no use saying you want to attend a place to study eg underwater basket weaving if there is no professor researching underwater basket weaving there. So you're free to research what you want within the bounds of current research at that uni. Jul 9, 2020 at 10:29
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    You should contact, especially for lab based sciences. Jul 9, 2020 at 10:52

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