I emailed the director of a graduate program I'm planning on applying to, and while the program isn't accepting a new cohort of students until next year, they suggested that I reach out to other faculty members with whom I'd be interested in working with. On the one hand, I wasn't sure if that meant the professor I had initially contacted wasn't interested (No, I didn't write to the dept. chair :P), or if one's supposed to contact multiple professors, but I wanted to ask how best to proceed.

Would it be acceptable to present project ideas that I want to work on and ask them for support, explaining that I plan on applying to the program? If not, what should I say? Also, would it be awkward to reach out to others when there's a specific advisor that I hope to work with. (If they don't want to work with me, I don't want to close myself off to others. But I don't want them to think that I changed my mind about working with them.)

How can one build connections in a potential department?

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    If you have nothing to say, don't waste an email (and the professor's time) with it. Only get in touch if you have a real, concrete reason to talk to the person you specifically emailing. – astronat Aug 13 at 16:55
  • I think I'm going to wait a little while and, when I'm closer to applying, ask the original professor (from the new uni.) if they'd like to set up a video chat with me. (If the pandemic ends, I may even take a trip there, but I'm not counting on it ending anytime soon.) If they're not interested, then I'll start reaching out to others. – Gemini Aug 13 at 19:50

It’s not a bad idea to reach out to potential supervisors even a year in advance, but asking them for support immediately is probably not a great idea, after all, why should they give money to somebody that they know nothing about you?

I’m of the opinion that reaching out with an introductory email (e.g “Hi my name is Gemini, I’m hoping to pursue a program at Institution X and I came across your work that aligns with my research interests and I was wondering if you will be taking on any graduate students in 20xx? If you are, perhaps we could arrange for a brief video call to discuss potential projects, my background, and to see if I could potentially be a good fit for the type of student you would be looking to mentor.” Of course, that’s all subject to discipline, specificity, etc, but it’s a template you can start with and morph with added information.

It’s also important to look at the grad program itself as some do not require you reach out to professors while others do. Lastly, many professors understand the challenges of matching students with supervisors - interests change, funding changes, students change, life happens, etc. Keeping your basket of supervisors open is far better than keeping your basket narrow.

If a professor gets stand off-ish because you’re reaching out to other advisors, you should reconsider working with them. If a student finds a better fit with another advisor then that’s a positive for everyone in the community and if a professor is ticked off by that, well, I’d have to ask if they would really have your best interests in mind to start with.

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  • I agree with everything here; one thing to note is that if a professor has their own website or listing on their department page, they may state whether they're receptive to emails from prospective students. Pay attention to this! – astronat Aug 13 at 16:53

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