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My friend recently moved to Canada and she holds a BSc from an overseas university. Her school wasn't world-famous but wasn't bad either. For the past year she'd been studying English and preparing for the GRE to get ready for admission into a North American university.

Apparently there is this professor in the US who'd found her on LinkedIn and is interested in having her as one of his grad students. He has been very encouraging, even keeping in touch via Skype while my friend was on vacation. He's told her that if she gets a good score on the GRE he will be able to admit her. He has also made promises of grants.

My friend is married but she is young and quite attractive. While she had a decent GPA her university wasn't all that amazing. Also her command of English isn't very good. All of this is making me suspicious about the intentions of this professor.

I have worked with some very nice professors but none of them took time on a regular basis to voluntarily stay in touch with a prospective student. I could understand why one might look for bright and amazing students on LinkedIn, but the fact of the matter is my friend did not have her full academic records published on her profile (just a few examples of her projects and volunteer work, but no grades or GPA).

Do you find this scenario normal? I am having a hard time giving this professor the benefit of the doubt.

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    I'm seeing a lot of red-flags. How on earth can he guarantee her admission or grants? Looks like luring to me. Yikes. – trikeprof Nov 15 '16 at 1:46
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    Just with the facts you're declaring in your question. This is not at all normal. Either of the following could make sense of this: (1) particularly interesting type of volunteer experience vis-a-vis the professor's research, (2) special language skills, e.g. a rare dialect necessary or useful for research, or less so but imaginable (3) say a minority women engineer from a refugee background. But without those or something in the vicinity, this strikes me as being really weird behavior. – virmaior Nov 15 '16 at 2:21
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    Faculty do not usually recruit graduate students from LinkedIn. I think this is because they do not know how to or do not have time, not because it is improper. Offering funding is a common way to recruit graduate students. – Anonymous Physicist Nov 15 '16 at 2:37
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    @trikeprof "grants" is probably a misstatement of "stipend funded by a grant" which is very common. It is common for US admissions committees to admit a student on the basis that their application is endorsed by a faculty member who has grant funding to pay the student's stipend. – Anonymous Physicist Nov 15 '16 at 2:39
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    Have to agree with my colleagues above. Several flags here. Doesn't feel right – HEITZ Nov 15 '16 at 4:10
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The Linkedin channel is unusual, but not suspicious per se. Does your friend have common connections with that professor? If that is the case, she might have popped up in the "people you may know" list that he gets. Or he did a keyword search. The one relevant thing with Linkedin is that he saw a — presumably flattering — picture of her.

He's told her that if she gets a good score on the GRE he will be able to admit her.

On that point again, I'd give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it's a wording issue and what was really meant was that with a good GRE score, admission in the local program is likely.

He has also made promises of grants.

This is rather standard for grad students to have their tuition and stipend covered by a grant.

keeping in touch via Skype

This, this. I have a hard time finding sound reasons for a professor to invest time and effort into communicating with a potential grad student, who did not even apply, by videoconferencing. This being said, Skype offers free international calls so it might be just for this reason.

So, there are sketchy aspects to that story, but nothing decisive. If the position is really of interest to her then maybe she should try investigating further. For example contacting the local graduate program admin and ask about the admission process, ask the alleged funding body for grant criteria, etc. in order to have multiple channels of communications. If she sees mismatches in the prof's story and theirs, that could give an additional warning.

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    I know some people/labs which use Skype just as an instant-messaging tool. If this is the case here, it might not be that suspicious. Still I would suggest to act with caution. – Bitwise Nov 15 '16 at 10:33
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    @Bitwise you are right, plus the call being international cost could be a motivation too. I have amended my answer. – Cape Code Nov 15 '16 at 12:36
  • Still, it doesn't explain why a professor would hit on a random potential student in LinkedIn with not even the relevant information attached in the profile. Of course Skype is used as an instant messaging tool but with people that you already know. I have been interviewed through skype, and I chat with colleagues and friends on skype. The only reason to start chatting out of nowhere with a person someone meets in LinkedIn through Skype is if he's hitting on her. Ask her to change her profile photo to that of a guy and see how he continues... ;) – BioGeo Nov 15 '16 at 16:44
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I agree with a lot of the commenters, that this situation as you've described it raises red flags.

However, I do wonder if your friend will appreciate your involvement. Have you discussed this with her? There may be more going on here than you're able to describe to us, because you're not involved in the situation. If you've talked with her about your concerns and she seems receptive, then great. Otherwise I would tread very cautiously, particularly if you were thinking of using a SE post to make your point after she's disagreed with your assessment.

Regardless, I applaud you for your friendly concern.

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    This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review – Ric Nov 15 '16 at 17:42
  • @Ric What clarification do you think my post is asking for? My answer is that it raises flags, but there's more they should be considering. – Jeff Nov 15 '16 at 17:44
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    @JeffL. I actually pretended as though it was a true opportunity and didn't mention anything negative, but advised her to start contacting the respective department and researching this university before getting too hopeful. I used SE to validate my hypothesis of this professor. Thanks for your answer. – Mossi Nov 15 '16 at 23:31
  • You're asking clarification about whether OP discussed the matter with his/her friend. I agree that this is a comment and not an answer to the original question. – Cape Code Nov 16 '16 at 8:29

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