I am applying to 8 schools in research area X of applied physics. I have some research experience in a very closely related area and one publication in a solid journal.

One of those schools has a professor working on very interesting topics in area Y. I emailed him and his reply was quite positive, saying I have an excellent record, but had the usual "the admissions committee makes the decisions not me, but I will be sure they carefully consider your application". I also know at this school we don't pick advisors till the summer of the first year. I have 3 years of experience in the theoretical side of area Y, 3 journal publications and a few talks/posters.

There are 3 scenarios I can think of:

  1. Mention both X and Y, but I'm worried it would hurt my chances. I could focus mainly on X and mention Y in 1 or 2 sentences in my intro. I would also add 2 sentences to mention this professor's research near the end + 2 more professors from area X.

  2. Mention only X, it makes me look more focused and this university has many more faculty in that area, but I'm worried this will burn bridges with the professor from area Y.

  3. Mention only Y. I wouldn't be very keen on this as I would waste the tens of hours I spent on a mini-literature review of area X before writing my statement.

Edit: To clarify, I'm not asking whether I should mention my work on area Y or not. I certainly did mention all my prior research experience. I am asking whether it's okay to mention future interest in BOTH areas. e.g. "I am interested in topics A, B, C (from area X). Moreover, I am interested in topic D (from area Y)."

  • 1
    I've never sat on one of those admission committees, so I won't venture an Answer. However, option 1 sounds good to me. By the way, the sidebar shows related questions -- take a look. Nov 2, 2016 at 4:36
  • @aparente001 thank you. I've read the sidebar too, but I feel my question is slightly different especially considering 1) I have 3 publications in area Y so I'm not entirely new to the field 2) more importantly, I already emailed that professor from area Y.
    – Ash
    Nov 2, 2016 at 4:37
  • I didn't vote to close, just thought some additional pages could be enriching. Nov 2, 2016 at 4:40
  • @aparente001 thank you for the suggestion, sorry if I came off as rude, I didn't mean to :)
    – Ash
    Nov 2, 2016 at 5:03
  • No worries. I read one of the Qs in the sidebar and found the general philosophy in the one answer there to be helpful for your question: academia.stackexchange.com/a/32638/32436 -- Try applying that to your situation and then think out loud here. That might get you more traction on your Q. Nov 2, 2016 at 11:52

1 Answer 1


Stop calling it an interest when you have publication proving expertise. I'm "interested" in the Real Housewives show. You need to find a better set of verbiage. You are at the edge of the field in two areas but it remains one field. Let the professors fight over who gets to work with you. Let them fight over who gets published with you. You need more than one vote to get in, so get all votes. You are accomplished in two areas of one field. Show that you are young and scrappy and willing to do the work and they will put you to work wherever they see fit. I'm wondering if current students "do their own thing" or basically apprentice on professor pet projects and publish for the professors. See what has been published. They want someone to do the work and keep the school top tier, but they don't need any competition later, right? Focus on what an honor it would be to be mentored by them at such a great place. They have to actually work with you and sit for office hours with you, so be that guy who gets the work done between meetings and isn't needy yet takes all suggestions and is deferential.

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