Day before yesterday, I emailed a potential supervisor asking whether she is accepting PhD students. The profile of the supervisor is in the faculty directory of University of Southern California. She is said to be a Clinical Associate Professor. Her latest publication is affiliated to that university. I haven't received any response yet.

However, I am also interested in another university i.e., University of Toronto. While looking at the faculty directory there, I found out that she is an Associate Professor at that university. There it mentions that she used to be a faculty member at USC. I am extremely confused with her university affiliation. I want to apply to both of these universities but for University of Toronto, another professor's research interest closely aligns to me. Will it be an issue if I reach out to that other professor as a potential supervisor at University of Toronto? Since, I'm not sure whether she still belongs to USC (though it mentions in their directory), shall I reach out to another potential supervisor at USC? Or shall I ask the graduate admissions officer about her status? All of this feels like a mess. It feels unethical to reach out to more than one potential supervisor at the same university. How should I handle this?

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    I'm not sure what's confusing you. Apply to where you want to work. If there's no one at USC you want to work with anymore, don't apply there. If there's two people you want to work with at UT, apply there. Oct 28, 2021 at 22:32
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    The most likely explanation is that she has recently changed institutions from USC to UoT, so recently that she has no publications under her new affiliation and USC did not update their online directory yet.
    – kaya3
    Oct 28, 2021 at 22:32

1 Answer 1


https://academia.stackexchange.com/a/176909/63475 may be relevant here: PhD admissions in the US are typically by program rather than supervisor (I believe the same is typical in Canada, though I'm less certain of that). Yes, having a potential supervisor is important in choosing where you'll apply, but you do not necessarily need to have a supervisor picked out before you apply.

You'll actually find a lot of questions here where a student is in a position that their favored supervisor turns out to be a monstrous person, or they run out of money before the student can graduate, or they move to another institution, or they die suddenly, and now they're at a university with no one they're interested in working in: they're stuck! It can be valuable to consider programs where more than one person could serve as a supervisor.

It feels unethical to reach out to more than one potential supervisor at the same university

It may feel that way, but it's definitely not. You can certainly reach out to another person. Every professor you reach out to should expect you might be reaching out to many other professors: right now you're on the "swiping left/right" phase of your graduate school relationship journey. If a prospective partner was already jealous before you've even exchanged phone numbers let alone gone on a date, that would be a huge red flag about starting a relationship with that person. Similarly, potential research advisors (or industry employers, or car salespeople...) should be aware that you are considering options and if they value honestly at all your best interests they would be strongly encouraging you to consider other options, too, including other institutions and other advisors.

It sounds like the person you first contacted may have switched institutions; I'd wait a bit for them to respond in case their email is forwarded, but otherwise I also would not hesitate to contact them at their new institution, even if you've already contacted another potential advisor from that school. I'd probably open my email with a note that you had previously contacted them at their previous institution, then later found they had moved. For USC, yes, if you're interested in their program you can certainly check with other potential supervisors as to whether they are admitted students. You can check with as many of them as might possibly interest you - checking in to see if they might take a student isn't committing them to take you and isn't committing you to choose them.

  • Thank you for your answer. The swipe left/right phase was so right. It changed my perspective. Now I do feel that in my SOP, it's better to highlight my interest in the works of a few professors than just one. Oct 29, 2021 at 7:52

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