Please feel free to correct the title, I am not sure how to formulate this crisp & clear in a sentence.

I am very interested in a particular graduate program. It's a top notch program, but I happen to want to work with an academic who is quite young still and not yet a professor, and although the program is o.k. for the subfield I am interested in, it is not stellar. (Let's not discuss here whether this would be a clever move please)

Question: Will it affect my chances getting into the program, that is, would a university rather see students interested in the field they are already strong in, or would they like to see someone being interested in something for which the uni is not particularly known for?

Will the prospective advisor maybe have less of a say regarding my admission, than if I were to target a senior professor who would like to work with me?

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    I'm not sure what you mean when you say the academic you want to work with is "not yet a professor." In the US system at least, in order to advise students you (usually) need to be a tenure-track professor of one grade or another. If the faculty member is not on the tenure-track: beware! They may not still be there when you arrive and probably will not be there the whole time you are. With regard to your main question: I honestly think the most helpful answer is "It depends on the situation. The best way to find out is to apply and see what happens." Mar 22, 2016 at 17:36
  • I think there is a significant chance that the department itself will wonder why you'd want to go there to work in a subfield that's not their strength, with a post-doc (?). They might infer that you are misguided, or at least not a good fit, since you'd not appear to be in sync with the realities of their department. Thus, the question of whether it's a clever or even sensible move will be likely addressed by someone ... Mar 22, 2016 at 17:58
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    thanks a lot. so it would seem to affect my chances negatively then. I do think the person is a TT professor of one grade or another, but he has just started then it seems. I am also very much interested in other topics at that university, and it would also not be completely unrelated to my studies, but this particular member is, well, quite young and new and the uni is not particularly known for the subfield Mar 22, 2016 at 18:23
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    @Chris: nothing wrong wanting to work with a young, not yet tenured but tt professor. The senior members of his school in other fields must think highly about them; I don't think given this additional information, the above 2 comments necessarily apply. And wanting to work in a 'not yet stellar' group can be a positive: if they just hired junior faculty in that field, they might be keen to expand into it (happened at my grad school: arguably number 1 in field A; claiming to be interested in field B (in which they sucked) was a positive). Mar 22, 2016 at 18:50

1 Answer 1


There is no way to know. Some departments may rank candidates independent of their desired specialty while other departments may weight who the applicant wants to work with (and who wants to work with the applicant) heavily. For departments who give weight to the sub-field, the department might be trying to strengthen a weakness or only accept students in areas they are strong.

I am not really sure why the departmental politics matters. Trying to deceive (in a mild way) the admissions committee is not likely going to be advantageous. Your strongest application is going to be to talk about the area you are most excited about. Further, if you get accepted based on a falsely expressed interest in A, you may not be able to switch to B later.

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