I decided to study math after graduating from business department. I entered a 2-year taught program in the same university in Asia and used the time to take all the necessary courses. In the first year, I have studied elementary real analysis, complex analysis, abstract algebra and topology. This is the first term of my second year, I took differential geometry, Fourier analysis, graduate real analysis and functional analysis. My grade is OK and currently I am applying for a research program. My final goal is to go to a top program in US to study my PHD. Since I know it is very competitive, this year I decided to apply a research master only and apply PHD after I gained two-year research experience.

There is a tenured professor in my university whose research interest is nonlinear PDE focusing on fluid dynamics. I am very interested on his research topic and I have made an appointment with him to explore the possibility to do research under his supervision. However, after chatting with one of his student today, I was told the professor usually only accepting student who is willing to continue studying PHD with him. I understand the reason. Since it's a pure math subject, in the first two year, student can only take the basic course, read the basic materials. It's almost impossible for a student to produce any good results after the master. He is very famous in the area so he has a lot of students to select. He don't want to waste the money and time to train a student for others.

On the other hand, I don't think my university is good enough and it's my dream to work and study with the best students in a top program. Since I will meet the professor in a few days, I want to make some preparation so that I can convince his to support me. I will finish all the necessary graduate courses after this year, which means it may safe me some time so that I can focus on research instead of coursework in the research program. But I still think it's impossible for me to produce the same result as a PHD student in 2 years. But since I am really interested in the area, I still want to have a try and talk with him. Currently I am planning to tell him the truth about my plan. Is there anything I can do to improve the chance of being admitted?

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    You say that the professor is a real authority in the area of your interest, but the university is not good enough. In my opinion, it is more important to do research in a good department / with a good adviser than to be at a "good" university. Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 16:02
  • @user3209815 I agree that for graduate study, supervisor is more important than the university or department. But there are several reasons I want to leave. First I say the professor is famous but only in this region, I am not sure whether he is famous in the area if including the people in US. Also the department is not strong in the worldwide (if I only look at those academic ranking, which I think can partially reflect the truth). The last reason is I don't feel quite comfortable living in the city. I think living two more years is OK, but I don't want to live 5 more years.
    – John
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 16:15
  • He has many candidates and limited time. Why would he choose you, that will leave next year, over any other that will remain? You have to ask yourself this question, and have very clear what can you offer in return that most of your peers don't. Maybe you are an expert (for a masters) in some related subfield? Or you have a lot of experience programming?
    – Davidmh
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 16:38
  • @Davidmh Yes, this is the question I am keeping asking myself. I think having taken all the necessary graduate courses (and get a grade) will give me some small advantages over other candidates. And I am not sure from the point of view of a professor, whether a student he supervised goes to a better program will bring him some benefits compared with a student who will stay? BTW, the master is a two-year program.
    – John
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 16:47
  • @JohnZHANG there you have one! You have the full year to work with him, while others would have coursework too. If he sees you with good chances of getting into the international scene, it may be beneficial for him too.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 17:36

1 Answer 1


I would focus most of the meeting on the professor's research, and use that time to show that you would be able to jump into research right away. Probably the best way to do that is to

  1. Read the professor's papers beforehand and display a sincere interest in his work.
  2. Have an elevator pitch prepared for each of your previous projects so you can talk about them intelligently and with enthusiasm.

If the meeting goes well he should start discussing potential projects with you, and you should be actively engaged in this discussion, and ask intelligent questions.

Near the end of the meeting, inform him of your plan to do a PhD elsewhere. It's better to be rejected by this guy upfront than to be accepted under false pretenses. In order to go to a strong university you will need his letter of reference, and he might write you a weak letter if you deceive him. (If he's really a jerk he might write you a weak letter specifically so you have to stay with him.)

But it's important to discuss this issue after he already wants you, and is on the verge of making you an offer. Otherwise he has no reason to even consider you.

(If he specifically asks about your future plans, you should be honest and unapologetic. To many professors, being ambitious is a good thing, and shows you are higher quality than the students who come in wanting to stay.)

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    I see. Thanks for your advice. I will follow it right now.
    – John
    Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 1:55
  • No problem, good luck with everything! Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 4:13

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