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It seems that if I were to just express interest in a single subdiscipline (computer networking for example), and none of the networking professors are taking on students, I would not be considered based on any other merits my application may have. But if I were to express interest in several subdisciplines it may be difficult to create a structured statement of purpose.

marked as duplicate by JeffE, scaaahu, RoboKaren, jakebeal, Nate Eldredge Sep 3 '15 at 5:55

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A PhD is about expertise in a narrow field. Showing too wide spread interests is counterproductive, you should have a rather clear idea what your principal interest is. It is OK to have wider interests, but you need a focus.

Do your homework beforehand, select prospective advisors and contact them for openings.

  • In the U.S., in general, it is not necessary to do this before applying to a department. – aparente001 Sep 1 '15 at 19:33
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    @aparente001 True, it's not necessary, but it's not a bad idea anyway. – JeffE Sep 2 '15 at 21:48
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If you can tie it in well, and show sincere interest, I would say that it could be helpful to include a second area.

In the computer science department I attended, one was expected to choose either two or three areas to specialize in. One was not enough! The department didn't want people graduating with too narrow a focus. Once you had sufficient background knowledge in an area, you took an exam in that area.

Look at the list of areas in the department you're applying to, and pick one that looks interesting. Perhaps Theory of Computing would go well with Computing Networks, for example. You can talk a little bit about the second area in your statement.

Note that you'll likely be busy with coursework and preparing for exams during at least your first year. Check in with the networking people from time to time, to renew your interest. As a professor gets to know you, (s)he may be more motivated to squeeze you in.

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