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I applied to a few PhD programs in the US (engineering, fall 2017), but didn't contact any potential advisers before (huge mistake, I know, but somehow I got accepted into a few of them anyways).

However, I was waitlisted for the program I wanted the most.

So, I would like to know if it would be wise to get in touch with my potential adviser now, and tell him about my research background and ask if he would be willing to advise me. I'm a little afraid that this might be seen as rude or unpleasant..

This may be a bit personal, but I'm sure there are a lot of experienced people in this group who might have been through this same situation before... Any hint would be extremely helpful right now...

Thank you!

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You could but it's likely too late. The order of waitlist rolldowns is usually determined at the admissions meeting, sent to the graduate school, and is now beyond the professor's (and occasionally the department's) control.

Departments and universities do vary in practice. There's nothing to be lost in emailing the professor but don't assume a response. No news would be bad news.

  • I was thinking that maybe the professor would alter the list order after I talked to him... hopefully in my favor... – guguk Apr 3 '17 at 23:59
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    Not usually possible either due to department politics (what is settled in meeting stays that way) or university rules. So I would not get your hopes up. Send the professor an email and also buy a lottery ticket on your way home. – RoboKaren Apr 4 '17 at 0:06
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    I mostly agree with this answer, but I would add for @guguk that the one situation where you might get a positive result is if the professor has direct admit funding available for a student and wants to take you on (this can sidestep the admissions queue sometimes, assuming limited funding is the hold up and not you as a student - waitlist supports this) - that is, if they are very excited about you. But, indeed, it is a bit late for that, and as you already noted it would have been better to do earlier. Lottery tickets indeed. – Bryan Krause Apr 4 '17 at 0:49
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    Yes, but if I was that professor with funding, I would have already brought someone onboard at the admissions stage, and if that had fallen through, wouldn't be twiddling my thumbs waiting for someone to email me. Still, it won't hurt to ask as long as expectations are minimal. – RoboKaren Apr 4 '17 at 15:03

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