A very nervous potential PhD student here!

Long story short, I have been applying to quite a few bioinformatics PhD programs in the US and been rejected from most of them. I did my masters in the UK, and had unfortunately fallen ill during its course and had to take a break so didn't end up doing great. My undergrad GPA is ok (3.12). I did however do good work during my Undergrad and masters, and have a really supporting recommendation letter to show for it.

I had a very promising interview with a professor from a Flagship State University who has agreed to supervise and fund me (Research assistantship). Suffice to say our research interests match a lot and I also think the professor would be a great supervisor. The professor has also been actively following up on my application within the department.

My question here is, what are my chances of getting admitted?

The department doesn't have a "PhD program" per se (i.e. traditional program where students are admitted and then find a supervisor). Students seem to contact supervisor and find funding through that route and then apply. I am not sure how the application processes work in the US.

  • 6
    If you have a professor with shared interests looking after your application for an ad hoc position, I think your chances sound good. Best of luck!
    – badroit
    Apr 10, 2014 at 14:36
  • that sounds promising ! Thanks for your wishes !
    – Sid5427
    Apr 11, 2014 at 3:23

3 Answers 3


Your odds are better than they might be otherwise, but they're not necessarily 100%, either.

Part of the issue is that some schools may not recognize or honor such "claims" or "gentlemen's agreements" to fund people after they are accepted. More importantly, the issue is that US admissions are typically done at the departmental level, not the faculty member level. That means that a professor telling you that you'll be admitted is not necessarily a guarantee, because the admissions committee has to make that call. (On the other hand, if the advisor in question chairs or is a powerful member of the admissions committee, that changes things substantially!)

  • Good points, but surely the professor who "agreed to supervise and fund" the OP's PhD would already know all of this and would know the situation in their own department. If we assume that any reasonable professor would not agree to offer a PhD position that they could not deliver on, then the question of how confident the OP should be reduces to the question of how trustworthy the professor seems to the OP.
    – badroit
    Apr 10, 2014 at 17:41
  • 1
    When I contacted the admin office, they replied that students are funded via research assistantships from the grants obtained by core faculty members (the professor is one of the core members). So wouldn't the professor have a significant say in the process ? after all it's their money(in a way..)
    – Sid5427
    Apr 11, 2014 at 3:26
  • It depends on when the "match" between advisors and students takes place. If students are assigned advisors before enrollment, then yes, the advisor would get a say, but advisors have less individual power when the assignments are made after arrival.
    – aeismail
    Apr 11, 2014 at 18:50

In addition to @aeismail answer; I would say it depends to the university policy/routine in handling applications.
Most likely there are three entities involved in any application:

  • School/Faculty of Graduate Studies (GS)
  • The department
  • The potential supervisor

Your chances depends on how applications are usually processed between these three entities.

  • Some schools they just need a commitment from a faculty member to accept you; ( that is, GS decision always align with the supervisor decision).

  • Others the final decision is made through GS - after receiving the input from the department.

  • to be fair, there is nothing mentioned specifically on the website, just that need to apply before a certain deadline to be considered for all fellowships.
    – Sid5427
    Apr 11, 2014 at 3:30

This answer is coming from my experience at one major research school in the US.

This is department dependent. In some sciences (e.g. those where many professors have their own "lab"), it's essentially a prerequisite for you to have a professor who is willing to work with you and let you join their lab. So, in this situation, having this commitment from a professor is not a particularly strong "+" for you, but not having such a commitment would probably rule you out entirely.

In other departments (e.g. my PhD department: Statistics), a vast majority (if not all) PhD students did not have an advisory commitment from any faculty member before applying. However, it did appear that those who ultimately failed the qualifying process (exams, etc.) were those who had not had significant research progress with any faculty. I don't know if this was a causal relationship or just the simple fact that those who were working on research were those that were generally better equipped to pass the exams.

  • Well in all other places where I applied, they had a "PhD program" sort of system - get admitted, funded as a TA for first 1-2 years, do classes, do lab rotations and find supervisors in that time. This program is the only place I applied to where you gain the commitment of a supervisor, then only apply.
    – Sid5427
    Apr 11, 2014 at 3:39

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