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Three months ago, I had a one hour interview with a professor in a scholarship. After the interview, she advised me to go to these places: the biology department of Harvard, MIT Media Lab, and Sante Fe. Since then, I have researched about my interest more carefully, and decided that my interest is slightly different. As a result, those places are not my desired destinations (except Santa Fe, but maybe for my postdoc).

I don't intend to follow the fellowship. It has a lot of restrictions. I applied for it just to have the advice after the interview.

But still, being advised to apply to those prestigious schools is an advantage for me. It indicates that I have the ability to study there, with an assurance from a professor. I think that I should show this in my SOP, even when it's just a minor detail. All I want is to optimize all of my available resources I have.

I don't think it's a compliment since after suggesting the schools, the interviewers showed me the weak points of mine. And the words from them should be honest, since it needs to help the fellows to have a good applying strategy. This is stated in the announcement of the fellowship. I think that this professor can be my unofficial recommender. All of my official ones are from my country, so if I have someone from the US, it would help me a lot. I have emailed her to ask her about this, and a reminder, but she doesn't answer.

Should I put it in my SOP? And if yes, how to do this effectively?

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    "I don't intend to follow the fellowship. It has a lot of restriction. I applied for it just to have the advices after the interview". Do not EVER do that. Do not waste other people's time to get free advice. "It indicates that I have the ability to study there". No, it does not. Only the committee of those schools can evaluate that and not some random outsider. "I have emailed her, and a reminder, but she doesn't answer." Reply to what? That she said something nice verbally to encourage a student and now she has to vouch for a guy she only saw once in her life?
    – Alexandros
    Nov 12, 2015 at 9:13
  • @Alexandros For your first point: why shouldn't I do that? For your second and third points: see my edit. Also, I agree that she doesn't have the responsibility to reply to me.
    – Ooker
    Nov 12, 2015 at 9:50
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    why shouldn't I do that? — Because you don't want to violate Wheaton's Law.
    – JeffE
    Nov 12, 2015 at 21:23

3 Answers 3

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There's no way to use this at all. If a professor who met you for an hour can say anything that your recommenders can't, then something is probably wrong. Especially when it sounds like this was more of an off-hand compliment than a carefully considered statement. If you actually get and use the scholarship then that can be very beneficial, but it sounds like you aren't interested in that option.

On a side note, I agree with @Alexandros that applying for anything that you have no intention of accepting is extremely rude and borderline unethical. I highly suggest getting rid of that habit before entering academia proper. You are deliberately wasting a lot of people's time and money, and stuff like this can damage your reputation if it becomes known that you regularly do it.

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  • I don't think it's a compliment since after suggesting the schools, the interviewers showed me the weak points of mine. And as I said in the question, it should not be a endorsement. Let assume that it's not, then do you still hold your opinion? Isn't this professor an unofficial recommender? All of my official ones are from my country, so if I have someone from the US, it would help me a lot.
    – Ooker
    Nov 12, 2015 at 15:43
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    @Ooker No, the professor is not a recommender unless they agree to be one, and there's no such thing as an "unofficial recommender." You could always try asking the professor for a recommendation letter, but hopefully it is obvious why that would be a bad idea.
    – Roger Fan
    Nov 12, 2015 at 17:23
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Given your context, without knowing the exact situation, it seems it was not necessarily advising you 'to go', but instead 'to apply' to those places, as the professor had thought they would be top programs for what you were interested in. However, if you are not interested in those places, it seems like the advice and the meeting you had was not very fruitful. If someone can not recommend a lab that is similar to your research and interests after an interview, I doubt you can take their advice to apply somewhere as any endorsement.

Stating something like this would come off as naive and overreaching. The only time I would take this advice into account is if the professor was actually from one of the labs, and asking you to apply to their lab themselves. In that case, it would be possible to mention in your SOP that you have interests inline with the professor.

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  • Must it be a lab, not even a department, to use the advice? If I can word around carefully, would it still come off as naive and overreaching? "Professor X, who had willing to spend one hour to interview me, has kindly suggested me to apply to A, B and C"
    – Ooker
    Nov 12, 2015 at 16:41
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    @Ooker Yes, it sound the same. I have recommended many people to look at applying to a specific person in media lab. It is in no way a recommendation letter from me, and in no way am I saying they can be accepted. Further, you are not interested in the recommended places, which just means they understood your work very little, and is more reason not to care what they said. Nov 12, 2015 at 23:06
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Don't ever use anything shared with you in a conversation without that person's consent. End of story.

That's not to say that I wonder how you would. Do you expect a statement to the sort of "Professor X, who I met once and talked to for 5 minutes, mentioned I should go to Harvard. Here I am, people!" to be even remotely helpful?

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    this is exaggerated. I know your purpose, but I think that my version is definitely different to this. "Professor X, who had willing to spend one hour to interview me, has kindly suggested me to apply to A, B and C"
    – Ooker
    Nov 12, 2015 at 16:35
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    @Ooker: I meant to be clear on the first point. From your questions here, you come across as a talented, likable student who might deserve to study at a good place, but who's hell-bound to bomb his application by treating it unprofessionally. It's not the first question where you consider mentioning someone else in your SOP w/o having that person's sign-off. That's bad, and you need to understand this. Nov 12, 2015 at 16:42
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    Something shared with you was intended for you, absent any proof to the contrary not for other ears or eyes. That alone should be enough. If a friend tells you something in private, and you broadcast it w/o asking her if she's ok with that - how is she going to like that? Additionally, what was said might stem from politeness only (in the same way that you might call an ugly dress your mom wears pretty), or it might have been a hedged statement (using 'might's, 'could's, 'would's, ...), or a statement that means different things in another culture, whose meaning you read wrongly. @Ooker Nov 12, 2015 at 17:08
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    @Ooker: That's not the point I'm trying to make. Your friend might be angry at you if you share what you were told in private because you did it, not because others ask her "Did you really say this?" It's a question of inter-personal etiquette that seems self-evident. You trust people who will keep what you told them to yourself; it is a personal conversation, not a public endorsement. Those reading your SOP with such a reference might frown simply upon seeing it; at least I would. Nov 12, 2015 at 18:00
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