I am a prospective phd student. I wish to know if it is fine to contact the phd students of my target schools?
If answering this question requires more information, please feel free to state that.
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It is absolutely fine to contact current PhD students of programs and departments that you are interested in. On an average, I get about 1 email of this sort everyday and I make my best effort to reply intelligently.
Keep in mind though that many PhD students will simply not reply to your email. Sometimes folks are inundated by too many emails and commitments to respond to any additional emails and sometimes people just have bad emailing tendencies in general.
We had great success when we extensively supported a PhD student who asked for a contact:
While doing my PhD we had a last year undergraduate student, who contacted my supervisor and asked if he can meet some of the PhD students. We decided to organize some shadowing for him, so he spent several days with me in the university.
I told him all I could think of in relation to my PhD experience, answered all his questions, and he did some real work - helped finding research publications in a specific area. At the end we asked him to write a short report about his shadowing experience - was it useful, pros and cons from his point of view, etc.
The experiment was so successful that the department decided to extend it and provide similar opportunities for other prospective PhD students.
So, by all means, do it - contact the supervisor or the PhD student. The worst thing that could happen is that they will say 'no'
I have received tens of such e-mails so far in the first two years of the PhD program. 70% from India, 20% from other parts of Asia, 10% other.
Since I hate when people ignore my emails, or even reply unnecessarily late, I was trying at first to give some customized advice. After the first dozen of e-mails, I realized that I was being asked almost the same type of questions over and over, so I now simply reply with a template e-mails pointing to the main resources.
To answer your question, I would say it is totally fine but:
I never ever got this kind of email during my Ph.D. program, but when we had some prospective students visiting the campus, I was eager to answer any questions they might have. Nobody asked me, though.
We are all in this life together. If you want to know something, just ask. If you are sincere, it is fine to ask.
I am a PhD student in a really small department, and the only student in my particular research group. When we have students interviewing for a PhD in my group, I always spend some time with them answering questions about what it is like in the department and group, and what it is like working with my supervisor (very important!). I always give them my email address so they can ask me any other questions they may not have thought of at the time.
If anyone was to email me directly before applying, I would take time to answer their questions, but only if they genuinely seem interested in the specific PhD topic on offer. If it seemed like a really generic email that had been sent out to loads of people (obvious give away is if it isn't actually addressed to me!), then I wouldn't take time out of my busy schedule to respond.
In my research group, PhDs are offered based on a specific topic that we have got funding for. I know other big departments in the UK interview for PhD students generically and then they get to choose their topic from scratch, pick one from a list, or they are matched with a specific topic after their interview depending on their skills. I don't know how it works in other countries or other fields (I am in the climate/meteorology field).