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Ten days ago I contacted a professor who conducts research in a field I am deeply interested in, to ask about PhD positions. He replied very politely that he had no funding available to hire a new person in his research group.

Today, the university announced that there is funding available for PhD positions and they welcome applications. In the application I am supposed to choose from a list of supervisors and try to convince them via a motivation letter and without directly contacting them.

Should I put the name of that professor or is it not a good idea? Wouldn't he know that there is some funding coming up soon, to suggest to me to wait a bit or is it possible he didn't know about it? Was he trying to politely say that he is not interested in me? If so, would it be a better idea to choose another supervisor or be persistent?

  • The "without directly contacting them" makes this tricky. Otherwise, I would suggest contacting the professor again to ask if he would be interested in taking you on if you were able to get funding from the university. That would clarify whether he meant "I want to work with you but don't have funding" or "I don't want to work with you". – Nate Eldredge Jan 17 '15 at 17:52
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Maybe he meant that he didn't have funding to hire you directly. Or perhaps the university funding details are not known to everybody outside of the corresponding committee until they are out. Or even he was just oblivious to the existence of this.

There is no way to know without specifics, and there is little risk in just applying.

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Well, there are two possibilities:

  1. The professor has no funding available to hire a new person in his research group
  2. The professor is trying to politely say that he is not interested in you

It seems like in either of those cases, you should choose another supervisor. It sounds like he doesn't want you, so if you apply to the university intending to work with him, you'll probably get rejected.

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    Why is the first possibility a problem? Professor does not have funding, student finds funding through university scholarship, problem solved. I see this happening quite often and I would send a second mail to inform the professor about the other source of funding and whether it is OK to apply. – o4tlulz Jan 16 '15 at 21:43
  • @o4tlulz: It depends a lot on the school, how easy it is to get funding through teaching assistantships, whether students in your department are guaranteed funding, etc. It can be more of a pain in the butt to work with a professor who doesn't have funding because you might have to TA more. – Ben Bitdiddle Jan 16 '15 at 23:34
  • @BenBitdiddle you cannot know that from his answer without asking more. If the OP is very interested in the area, it is definitely worth trying (or asking further). – Davidmh Jan 17 '15 at 11:47
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You should list that professor on your letter and at least go down with your guns blazing. He at least knows your name and has interacted with you enough that he would choose to look more closely at your application now.

You can only take his earlier statements about lack of funding at face value. Also remember that not all of us are fortunate enough to charm the socks off every person we meet upon first meeting them. This professor may be someone who needs to warm up to people. At the very least, he is likely to respect you for your persistence in reaching out to him again in this way.

What is relevant here is that this professor conducts research in a field you said you are DEEPLY INTERESTED in. List this professor as your desired supervisor.

There may also be the possibility this professor may decline to be your supervisor, for reasons that have little to do with you, and may instead refer your application to another professor, who winds up becoming your supervisor. If he did such a thing, it would probably be based on his expert knowledge of the situation, and that would be a good thing for you.

Faint heart never won fair lady. Forget the overthinking, analytical stuff here and if you are going to go down, going after something you want, make sure it is with both guns blazing. List this professor as your desired supervisor.

Good Luck.

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