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I have asked a professor if they'd be willing to take me as a PhD student of them. They replied they have no position, but they can forward my CV to other groups that are hiring.

I would like to reach out to those groups myself for two reasons:

  • I want to make sure their interests align to mine, to then, in case, contact them myself
  • and I have already contacted a colleague of his in the meantime, receiving no respose as of now

Would you advice to decline his offer of forwarding my CV?

If so, how would you set up the reply? I was thinking of including only the first reason, and ask more information on which groups they'd be forwarding the CV, so that I can do it myself later on.

4
  • mind you: until the past decades probably they were freely forwarding CVs to other groups/connections. In the era of the (fake) privacy concerns, your activity is being tracked 99% of the time, but to forward a CV they need to have explicit consent from yourself.
    – EarlGrey
    Sep 13, 2023 at 12:51
  • 1
    @EarlGrey -- I have no idea if that's true in Europe or other countries, but I'm pretty confident that this is not the case in the US. It might apply to any university application material submitted through official channels, but not to a emailed CV. Sep 13, 2023 at 13:36
  • @ScottSeidman CV contents is definitely PI and professors & research groups certainly fall under "professional" scope, not personal/domestic so they are bound by GDPR and therefore they would legally require consent or one of the other valid reasons to share PI.
    – Bakuriu
    Sep 13, 2023 at 17:50
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    You could ask them to CC you on any email forwards, then you know who you've been referred to and have their contact info to cut out the referrer in any future communications, it acts as an introduction
    – Wolfie
    Sep 14, 2023 at 16:50

3 Answers 3

101

Actually, I think that it is a good sign that they are willing to pass your application on. If they have looked at it at all then they think you are worth pursuing. They have no interest in wasting their colleagues' time. In general, I think intermediaries are a good thing.

You will also avoid wasting time asking people who also aren't hiring. There is no obligation on your part to join a program that doesn't interest you. Think of it as an opening that might be worth pursuing but can easily pass on.

There are no guarantees, of course, but it is hard to see this as a bad thing.

I don't necessarily recommend it, but you could ask them for the names of those they will pass your request to. That gives you the opportunity to investigate their specialties early on. I also wouldn't necessarily move to contact them, but you can think about that too. Don't press this too hard though, as people are busy.

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    If I ask him for the names of the colleagues he would be contacting, wouldn't I obtain the same effect? With the desirable corollaries that I don't have to say that I had already contacted a colleague of his, and that I would not find myself dealing with other people to potentially say no to. I know the various groups quite well and these two professors were well selected...
    – Lilla
    Sep 11, 2023 at 21:42
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    You don't have to say you contacted someone else. And it shouldn't be an issue anyway. He can always learn that in other ways. Suppose you got more than one offer. Is that a bad thing? He made you an offer, I'd accept it, rather than ask him for something different.
    – Buffy
    Sep 11, 2023 at 21:44
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    No, it's not the same effect. Having a professor go to bat for you says a lot more than you reaching out yourself. Faculty take their peers very seriously. If a professor says they would love to have you in their group but just don't have a spot for you, it will help convince others. This helped me get a spot in a research group in grad school. Academia isn't quite a meritocracy. A lot of academia is based on luck and connections. Buffy has great insight as always. Sep 11, 2023 at 21:45
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    Okay to both. Then, as a final thing, would you suggest that I mention my other contact to a colleague? It happened before contacting this other one who is offering to pass my CV around... It would certainly be more transparent
    – Lilla
    Sep 11, 2023 at 21:47
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    I'd emphasise Cameron's point in addition to the two in this answer: a (reputed) professor suggesting you to a certain group is much more powerful than your own email could ever be.
    – Neinstein
    Sep 12, 2023 at 16:39
62

Accept the professor's offer.

Professors receive a LOT of e-mail per day, including many requests to join their groups. Your odds of being seriously considered are MUCH higher if this initial contact comes from another professor rather than from you. So, this professor is offering you a huge advantage, you should definitely not decline.

The other issues you mention are unimportant. Professors are well aware that students usually reach out to multiple professors and that some students will not be interested in some topics. They know this already, you don't have to tell them. And in general, keeping this as simple and straightforward as possible is what you want to do; if you make this too complicated, your correspondent is likely to stop responding.

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    Just to strengthen this, I receive over a hundred contacts a year from perspective PhD students. I receive at most two recommendations from other professors I know. Those recommendations get past my "initial filter", as they come from someone I trust. Sep 12, 2023 at 9:22
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Personally, I think you should politely refuse.

I say this because:

  1. You should be making your own applications and representations, not someone else - and certainly not someone who has never even worked with you. The more you are touted by other people, the less worthy you are likely to be in the eyes of those who are hiring.

  2. Academia has a lot of guile in it, a lot of strongly recommending someone to somewhere - anywhere - else in order to keep the applicant out of their own department.

Take charge of the application process yourself. That way you can tailor resumés and letters of application to suit the targeted graduate school. I'd be afraid that this professor would take a resumé and LoA targeted at his group and sent it around like a crop duster - thereby spoiling your chances at other groups whose research emphasis may be quite different.

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    What OP has been offered is the 1% chance that the professor is genuinely thinking OP is a good candidate and may fit in another group close-by. The other group will put OP's CV in their shortlist. If OP refuses this offer, OP is giving up on that 1%, with no additional gain. Regarding your point 1, OP has prepared CV and cover letter, the professor is implicitly vouching for them when forwarding these things, so the ownership is still by OP. Regarding point 2, there is not much that OP can do, OP is already out of the department because the professor is not taking them in.
    – EarlGrey
    Sep 13, 2023 at 12:49
  • If professor is recommending OP to another group in the same field in his own department (??), maybe okay - though I'd expect that OP would already know about the other group. If professor is recommending to equivalent groups in other universities, no way. The professor may only be salving his own guilt at not hiring a worthy candidate due to pressure to hire his department's own graduates. I don't think the possible benefit is wrth the more significant risk to OP's reputation and chances in this.
    – Trunk
    Sep 13, 2023 at 14:10
  • Haven't you yet met the HR manager who says you don't fit the present job you applied for - and then proceeds to offer you an implied special consideration for some other job coming up some time in the near future ? Or met the secondhand camera shop who don't have the camera you want (or at the price you can afford) yet somehow knows that a camera that might well suit you will be coming into the shop in about a week ? These are just ways of cushioning the impact of a refusal for the job/item at hand by people who regard socio-commercial equilibria as an essential means to a good week's trade.
    – Trunk
    Sep 13, 2023 at 23:07
  • So you are giving up on the 1% chance of the offer being a genuine one, just because it may be a nice way for people bound to social conventions to say no? I hope you do not have a degree in logic ;)
    – EarlGrey
    Sep 14, 2023 at 7:18
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    When I was in the academia, I trusted my peer. If an anonymous peer of mine rejected my paper, I generally found their comment useful. If a known peer suggest me the profile of a candidate, I generally trusted them. Of course, if a known peer is known to be an idiot, their reccomendations have less value, but I still judged the recommendation on the merit of the CV of the applicant, not because "the peer is my friend". If the CV was deemed a good fit to out group, we did not feel like "we own one to the peer". If you see social interactions as transactions you are bound to suffer. A lot
    – EarlGrey
    Sep 14, 2023 at 9:38

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