Just curious about this.

On the one hand, I feel like it's a bit heavy-handed to say "And these interests relate to your research interests because of XYZ." It sounds like you are trying to sell them on something.

On the other hand, it is important that advisors feel your interests align.

Note: These are advisors whose interests do pretty obviously overlap with mine -- it's not a stretch.

What is the consensus on this?

UPDATE: So I had two advisor interviews today (back to back, same dept). The first thing both possible advisors asked me was something like "What are your research interests and why did you apply to X department at Y school to study with my group in particular?" (emphasis mine). So that made it a little easier because they explicitly asked for the link.

  • What's the field of research?
    – Ink blot
    Commented Dec 11, 2020 at 18:03
  • Information science Commented Dec 11, 2020 at 18:16

2 Answers 2


This is different enough from the answer of Bill Barth that it should probably be factored out of comments. An alternate consideration for you in any case.

The question you ask is subtle. Maybe the approach should also be subtle. Start out assuming it will be obvious and see where that goes. You can always make it more explicit.

If it is immediately clear that the prof "groks it" then you don't need to do anything else. If they are confused, make it clearer. Because if they are confused then it needs to be made clearer.

  • I suppose the issue is if they don't think our interests align they won't necessarily be "confused", and I am worried they would just move on and think "Okay, well, his interests don't align". Is it reasonable that a prof would actually ask "And how did you become interested in my work?" I should add: This is for a 'short list' of candidates (according to the prof) so presumably they think there's a modicum of alignment already. Commented Dec 11, 2020 at 16:51
  • And note too, that "close alignment" isn't a necessary precondition for acceptance if you show initiative in your work. Helpful, of course, but some folks will take on a student for various other reasons. Some of us have very wide interests that may not be apparent.
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 11, 2020 at 16:53
  • 1
    +1 PhD supervisors are generally smart people, they can take a hint.
    – ObscureOwl
    Commented Dec 11, 2020 at 18:07

You are trying to sell them on something: YOU! You want this position, right? You still have to make the "obvious" apparent. If you don't tell them about your interests when asked so that they can see the obvious, they won't know, so, yes, tell them, but maybe you don't have to beat them over the head with all the ways you and they are aligned.

  • 1
    I'm not sure I agree with this. There is "selling" and there is "overselling". The latter can seem phony.
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 11, 2020 at 16:35
  • I did say that you had to make the alignment apparent, but without beating anyone over the head with it, @Buffy. Yeah, I agree, don't overdo it.
    – Bill Barth
    Commented Dec 11, 2020 at 16:38
  • So my question is: Do I present my interests in a way that makes the alignment obvious AND follow on with "Of course, these interests align with your work on XYZ"? Or do I just present my interests in a way that makes the alignment obvious? Commented Dec 11, 2020 at 16:42

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