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I have already submitted all my PhD applications (to US universities) and I did not write to professors before applying. Turns out this was not a good idea as in case of a couple of schools, I found out later that one of the professors I mentioned in my SoP have left the school. (I understand this makes me look careless and out of touch but their webpages were still up on the older schools' website and updated to list very recent publications)

Firstly, I was thinking of writing to the other professors in the schools who's work I am interested in but didn't mention in the statement in order to avoid crowding it with names. Will this help mitigate the damage caused?

Secondly, I was also thinking of writing to professors at other universities I applied to to ask whether they are accepting any students? I did not do this previously because some schools discourage writing to professors directly and the professors, who are very busy don't always reply (understandably)

Thirdly, since I'm thinking of doing this in mid-january, the professors will possibly be even busier with admissions work in addition to their research and teaching duties. Would writing this late be annoying? I don't want this to have any negative effect on my application.

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It's usually better to contact a potential PI than to not contact them... but you're timing is a little awkward. The thing about contacting them is that you want to be pointed in what you're communicating. Although asking if they are accepting students is relevant, it seems a little late for that because you've already applied.

In other words, you can't just send the typical email because it doesn't seem as relevant, even so here a couple of ways of reworking the typical approach:

  • Briefly discuss your interests and why you're a good fit for the lab. Then simply state that you want to alert them to your application. ...If they are interested, they will look up your application.
  • The other thing that comes to mind is for if you are offered an interview, which should be happening around now. You can email the professors you are interested in at that point in time and briefly discuss your interests and why you're a good fit for the lab, then say that you're excited about interviews and you hope you have a chance to meet with them at that time.

Yes, professors are busy, and you may not get a response, but I don't think writing an email could lead someone to throw out your application which they otherwise would have considered. In other words, if your email is polite and nothing weird, then I don't see how it could have a negative impact.

Hope this helps and best of luck.

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  • Good answer. You touch upon something that has always irked me about academia (and I spent my career on the professor's side of the table, so it's not sour grapes or anything). "If I flag down a bus at a bus stop, will the driver be annoyed?" Answer: "Maybe, but it is their job to stop and deal with you." Only in academia do we worry about the fragile and irascible ego of the prof. Why? Because: just imagine that somehow the bus drivers's mood could determine whether you are allowed to get onto your connecting train. – Deipatrous Mar 5 at 10:43

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