I've sorted out a list of professors from few Canadian Universities and I've sent customized emails after reading their papers and detailing in short on why I am particularly interested in their research and how it relates with my goals. This took a lot of time for just one email. Most have replied by saying they don't have suitable projects in their labs or are not accepting Masters students. I am bit worried now that I am nearly towards the end of my list of potential supervisors. Should I find more professors and broaden my research area of interest, as suggested by some senior friends? I am an international student and don't have any publications although I do have research experience. Could my lack of publication be a factor for all the rejections? My average GPA is 3.6/4.3 and my field is Biology.

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    Why only a few universities, and only in Canada? Diversity not just with respect to professors, but also with respect to university and location. – ff524 Jun 20 '16 at 20:44
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    Have you run your customized emails past your current research supervisor before sending? – Nate Eldredge Jun 20 '16 at 20:45
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    Aren't Canadian PhD students admitted by departments, rather than by individual professors? – JeffE Jun 20 '16 at 22:33
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    For a Master's, especially, you should probably be applying to departments rather than specific professors. Professors rarely have much control over admissions, and are likely to intervene only for extraordinary candidates who they really want in their lab. Masters' students are unlikely to meet that bar. Also, for a Masters, the specific professor is less important than for a PhD, since you can change advisors for the PhD. Different fields may vary, but it seems likely that you're wasting your time pestering professors. – iayork Jun 21 '16 at 12:37

Professors are quite limited with funds and resources (or already have a full team). The likelihood that someone who emails out of the blue to be a suitable choice is slim. Some places probably need a commitee to hire, as a safeguard against discrimination and errors.

You are far better off looking for universities with open positions, I think, or strengthen the connections with professors who already know you (and might write a recommendation letter for you).

Also, publications are way better than grades, research experience is very valuable (at least in maths, I suspect other fields are similar).


No, do not keep emailing the professors.

Often professors get too many emails, and they may not have the time to reply. It might have been helpful to see a sample email. What information were you asking them? What were you expecting out of emailing them?

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    This is bad advice. Sending high quality emails to potential supervisors is a good idea. – Anonymous Physicist Feb 27 at 1:14
  • Agreed, discouraging students from sending emails also biases against students who have a smaller professional network. – Spark Feb 27 at 1:51

It sounds like you’re sending the right kind of emails: personalized, research centered and to people you want to work with. I don’t know what the market’s like in your field but it could be that the professors you emailed are representative of a more general trend: times are tough and it’s hard to get funding for students.

I’m sure this is not an encouraging answer, but at the very least you should know that you’re absolutely not doing the wrong thing. Stay optimistic, and keep trying!


Some options:

  • Check to see if the institutions you are interested in studying at have a Graduate School. Sometimes they will run an Expression of Interest (EoI) process on behalf of academics at their institution. Sometimes this is all done online. These work especially well where the grad school manages the workflow for these inquiries, saving academics from doing a lot of the correspondence themselves;
  • Check to see if some other part of each university manages inquiries of this kind. It could be that the college/school/faculty/department has a system for divvying up research supervision. This is increasingly common practice;
  • If you are set on particular academics and they are in high demand, consider signing up for whatever seminars or conferences they are likely to speak at. Asking a sensible question at the end of their session will get you on their radar, and this also gives you an opportunity to get a bit more of a sense of what they would be like to work with. Could you see yourself working with them for the next three-four+ years? That's an important question!
  • Don't forget to look abroad, if you are able to relocate for study. Pandemics permitting...

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