I am going to apply to the US universities for the fall, 2022 for PhD. I have decided to include the names and research interests of three professors in my SOP with whom I would like to work, if I get admitted to their university. I have tried to contact them but haven't got any response. Therefore, I don't know whether they have any funding to take new graduate students in their labs in the fall, 2022 or not.

So, my question is, if I mention their names in my SOP as a prospective student, will it harm my chance of getting admitted or will it be a wise decision to include their names and research interests in my SOP?

Thanks in advance.

  • Three professors feels like a lot. Aug 13 at 7:28
  • 3
    @RamPadmanabhan sorry, I disagree. I think it hits the sweet spot between casting too wide a net that it comes across as indecisive (name-dropping 5-6 profs) and narrowing down too much, which could kill your chances, especially when, as OP's situation here suggests, one does not know if the one or two profs are not interested or not taking students that year.
    – justauser
    Aug 13 at 13:05
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    The answer to this may be field specific. Mentioning possible advisers in math would be completely natural in this context. But you mention "labs" which suggest you are in another field. It may be best to actually ask someone in your undergrad department (possibly someone writing a rec letter) what the norm is in your field.
    – JoshuaZ
    Aug 13 at 14:22
  • @JoshuaZ actually I am from biological sciences and I will pursue my PhD in either biochemistry or physiology. In my field, what I have heard so far, that the students who apply to the US, are not necessarily required to manage professors. But mentioning the names and their research in the SOP will give some evidence that one has done some homework before applying. Normally, in the US, a professor owns his own lab and research team.
    – B.S.
    Aug 13 at 15:12

It depends on the regulation, some Univ. must have confirmation by the advisor, since they offer you the position to work. Others are just a make sure checklist that proved you did doing some visiting and conversation with faculty. You might need to contact the office of your department. If this is just a checklist procedure, then it would be fine you can mention whoever's name on the list.

  • Thank you, but I think you haven't understood my question. I am going to apply to a university for PhD, lets say Emory University, now the program where I am going to apply has 5-6 professors with whom I would like to work during my PhD. I have tried to contact them but none of them answered, so I do not know whether they have any funding to take new students. So, can I mention their names in my SOP as a prospective student even if they do not respond?
    – B.S.
    Aug 13 at 6:51
  • Yes, this is just a checklist procedure and the intended university does not require managing professors before application. I just want to put their names in SOP to showcase that I have made some research on their university. Thank you very much btw for your suggestion.
    – B.S.
    Aug 13 at 11:16
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    I think the most important thing is you find the best candidates matching your research interest, and rank them after you interviewed them. In my case, I studied electronic engineering Ph.D. , if my ideal profs didn't accept me(all of them), then I would give up and search for another univ. One of my friends studied bio. Ph.D. , his advisor is just not the candidate on the checklist for the procedure. Last year he finish his degree and continues to stay there as a Postdoc. Aug 13 at 16:58

Unless you are in a field where the PI hires doctoral students directly into their lab, you aren't likely to get a response from anyone prior to admission. This is especially true if you are applying with only a bachelors.

But, in any case, most universities have a requirement that you pass a set of preliminary/qualifying/comprehensive exams before you get very serious about doctoral research. This is to assure that you have a broad knowledge of your general field and may require some advanced coursework to pass them.

Since you haven't gotten a reply, then I'll assume that this is the situation at this university.

I don't think that mentioning three professors is necessarily bad, but it isn't really necessary either. If all of them are in a fairly narrow subfield that interests you, it might be enough just to name that subfield.

However, don't overly focus your SoP on these people, or spend too many words on this particular thing. You want to convey your future goals and plans both for your studies and thereafter. Some specificity is needed for this so that you don't appear to be unfocused.

The advantage of the US system, with admissions handled by committee and advisors chosen rather late, is that you get to meet potential advisors before you make a choice. There is more to consider in choosing an advisor to assure that you find someone who is both compatible and who will also provide the appropriate level of support. You might even be able to take a class with a potential advisor and establish some rapport. If you have to choose only based on their field, it is possible to make a serious mistake.

So, naming three is a bit of overkill, but not bad, as long as you use the available space in the SoP to say all that needs to be said.

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