I am applying for computer science PhD in the US. From answers of @Nathan S. in Is it unwise to contact the professor directly before getting admitted to a program in US? and @aeismail in How to contact professors for PhD vacancies?, I learn about two ways of how admission systems work:

  1. Admissions are granted by the small group to which I am applying, where each professor is a member of the committee. Based on my understanding, contacting professors beforehand with good research questions and a personal background introduction is very helpful in this case.

  2. Admissions are determined by a departmental committee. After admissions, there will be team matches between students and professors. Contacting professors then becomes not so critical in this case.

I fully understand the first case, but I am curious about how the second one works in practice. Many professors, especially those from the top universities, do warn prospective students on their home page to not contact them because decisions are made by the committee. I wonder what differentiates these two because the departmental committee will be made up of professors anyway.

Update: Thanks for the reference from @buffy Do PhD admissions (CS) in the US work on two levels (general decisions and PI decisions)?, the difference largely comes from the funding model.

As the name implies, the committee may consist of some professors but not all. So my questions are: does it mean there will be a group of professors to evaluate the research potential for each prospective student solely based on their academic background? If it is the case, is the best thing I can do is to submit materials and pray?

A follow-up question is: Are there any public sources where I can learn the style of admission systems of the computer science department of each university?

Thanks a lot!

  • This is probably a duplicate of academia.stackexchange.com/q/170755/75368. I won't vote to close at this point, since it would be final and I'll give others a chance to consider it.
    – Buffy
    Aug 15, 2021 at 15:26
  • Thanks @Buffy. I will check on that thread!
    – Kato
    Aug 15, 2021 at 15:27
  • Note that a committee is some, not all, professors, though they probably represent a variety of subfields. No, there is almost certainly no general resource that collects such information.
    – Buffy
    Aug 15, 2021 at 15:28
  • I disagree this is a dup of that question. This appears to asking (at least in part) about whether it's proper to contact faculty in a department where you're applying to their PhD program. Aug 15, 2021 at 15:30
  • 1
    Note that letters of recommendation are relatively important in the US (compared to some other countries). But, yes, people need to make a fairly safe prediction about your likelihood of success.
    – Buffy
    Aug 15, 2021 at 15:51

1 Answer 1


In some departments (e.g., the Umich department where I taught where all PhD candidates were fully funded) candidates could be admitted to the program either because the admissions committee decided to accept them or because a faculty member with funds simply plucked them out of the pool. In that case, them knowing you could be an advantage (or not, depending on what they know, I suppose.)

I think it makes sense, when you're thinking about where you'll apply, to realize that you'll end up with an advisor with their own interests. So, it's worthwhile to pick places where you've read or scanned a few recent publications from faculty working in areas you're interested in. This is what you'll probably work on if you go there, so it's worth checking out whether this is really what you want to do.

In that context, I think it's proper, if you find a paper you really like, to reach out to the author and say that, describe what you liked about it or ask (good only!) questions. If you get a good response to that, then maybe that would be the time to mention you're applying to their program. But I would avoid being fawning or pretending to understand or like their work unless you really do. No one wants to feel like they're being used.

  • Thanks, it is really helpful. I'd better focus on the research itself instead of purposely ingratiating and only advertise myself after a warm response. It makes a lot of sense.
    – Kato
    Aug 15, 2021 at 15:59
  • But I could imagine that the chance of a warm response could be quite low. I actually try similar things on ICLR2021. I read papers and discuss with authors on posters; then I send about 6 follow-up emails with new ideas to the first author (usually student) and the professor. Lots of time spent, but I only got 2 responses (good btw) from the first authors.
    – Kato
    Aug 15, 2021 at 16:05
  • 1
    Authors tend to like to admire and think about their own work. Perhaps you might attach a PDF of their article with your underlining and margin comments to your email. Aug 15, 2021 at 16:13
  • Let me note that "blind contacts" are often ignored, especially if long and detailed. One way to effectively contact a professor is to do it indirectly through another professor who knows you and can vouch for you. If they make "first contact" then your follow up is more likely to be read and considered. But most blind emails go straight to trash.
    – Buffy
    Aug 15, 2021 at 16:14
  • 1
    Your email could be as simple as, "From all the underlining and my margin comments to my copy of your article (attached), I think you can tell I really liked it. Regards, Kato" (If it were me, I'd read it.) Aug 15, 2021 at 17:37

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .