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I am a foreign Biology student applying to USA phd programs.

I have contacted several PIs asking if they had an available position (because they work within my interests). I've got a lot of no responses, some "No funding/no position" and I've got some positive feedback. I have one particular university in which 3 PIs sent me back an "encourage to apply" mail.

Examples of these are:

You seem like a good fit (...)

I'll keep an eye out for your application

I might have some influence on comitee X

If you get accepted (I have no influence) ask to chat with me

Or just "I encourage you to apply".

From my point of view, the universities take into account that the PIs are willing to accept the candidate (they say the measure is "fit" not only grades). Then it would be more than wise to state clearly in my statement of purpose that I've spoken with Professor X about working there and received positive feedback. However, it might seem pedantic to state that "Professor X...". Just to make things clear, I'm not an outstanding, perfect grades, so I believe this could be a very important feature of my statement. Finally, it is also stated clearly on many programs that PIs have no influence on comitee decisions. I believe that there's some "legal hole" in which they don't want to give control to PIs but they find themselves needing PI's approval or something.

My question is: Should I include this information? How to do it politely?

  • I do not think you can include your information in your application. I "Encourage you to apply" means totally nothing but a polite way to say "I cannot guarantee anything, nor do I want to but make an application anyway" – Alexandros Oct 15 '15 at 9:04
  • @Alexandros So the difference between a guy that says "I'll keep an eye for your application" and the guy who does not even answer is just that the former take the time to write a polite answer? It's hard to believe anyone who's not even interested would do that. Also, why mentioning their influence on comitees or something. It doesn't make sense to me – Matias Andina Oct 15 '15 at 9:45
  • @MatiasAndina It sounds perfectly plausible to me that the difference between a guy who writes something noncommittal such as "you look good" or "I encourage you to apply" and the guy who doesn't answer at all is just that the former is more polite. Writing a short non-commital message takes no time at all, and a person that would write such an email likely has written about 300 of those before (hence has a template). – xLeitix Oct 15 '15 at 13:00
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    @MatiasAndina That being said, "I might have some influence" and "If you get accepted ask to chat with me" sounds like they are genuinely interested. In these cases, I would definitely mention this in my application. – xLeitix Oct 15 '15 at 13:01
  • @xLeitix I believe I should definetly do it. The question was tailored about how to – Matias Andina Oct 16 '15 at 13:05
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Let's just clear the situation within the scope of two cases:

  • The Pl-based universities: In this case, acquisition of a positive response from a Pl would pave your way, considerably. Within this scenario, you are supposed to mention your propensity toward the target Pl within SoP. Then, your SoP will be analyzed and sent to that fellow, has which been named within that SoP. Here is the very step, within which the Pl could admit you.

    You better to pay close attention to two important points: interpretation of the Pl's tone within the response is, merely, up to yourself... For example, he/she might say that: "You look a qualified applicant, I will encourage you to apply"..., but the other one's reply might be: "Your CV sounds considerably overlapping with my current projects. Would you please take some explanation into account regarding your programming skills, as most the current projects are highly-simulated-based ones...". One could claim that the second answer might be more promising than the first one, but the others may take both energizing and apply into both... So, you need to apply for the replies, are which stemmed from serious propensity of the corresponding Pls. Hence, you must cite the desired Pl's name within the application.

  • The admission-committee-based universities: In this case, the Pl's reply just could be effective to find your turning point. Actually, their positive opinion could be compiled as your gratifying situation in comparison with the typical admitted students to the program. In contrast, the deferring answers should warn you about the high risk of the taking application into account. Therefore, mentioning the Pl's names in this scenario is not useful, noticeably.

  • I guess your answer is aligned to my question, a natural follow up question would be: how to know which university kind I'm applying (i e, though it's normally encouraged that prospective students contact PIs it is also stated that the decisions are made by admissions comitee). Does it make sense to also asks PIs about this (given the fact it might be university dependent)? – Matias Andina Oct 15 '15 at 12:56
  • The universities, within which the positive reply from any Pl is mandatory will indicate that, explicitly... For example, check the "Finding as academic supervisor" from here:uwaterloo.ca/electrical-computer-engineering/… – Roboticist Oct 15 '15 at 13:03
  • "you must cite the PI's name within the application" Would it be something like "University X seems promising for me because of the opportunity to work with Profesor X or Y" ? Just the names? My question was tailored about how to include this in my statement 1) without assuming I'm already in (because I'm not!) 2) without sounding pedantic/narrowing too much my scope – Matias Andina Oct 16 '15 at 13:08
  • You should often have talked to the Pl before mentioning his/her name into the application to be effective... You need to expand your claim about the potential coherence between your background and interests with the cited Pl's interests in the SoP. So the second approach would be more promising... – Roboticist Oct 16 '15 at 14:20
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If the response has a mentoring-type ring to it, you could at least notify the person once you have submitted your application.

If the response is non-committal, you should not pursue further correspondence with the person during the admissions process.

You should submit as strong an application as you can, but do not mention or hint at any personal connections with any faculty members. (This paragraph is specific to the United States, and it is important. If, on the other hand, a faculty member wishes to reveal some personal connection with an applicant, that's different, and it's okay.)

If the person came across quite mentor-like, you may submit a draft application and ask if there's anything that jumps out at him or her that needs more work. (If in doubt, don't do this, though. And if you are thinking of doing this, check with the person first.)

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