Context: I want to do my PhD in Hong Kong. Only one University there (University of Hong Kong) explicitly states you need to contact a supervisor and discuss a research proposal before you apply. The others, at least in my field, do not even require a research proposal for your application.

Regardless, I obviously am trying to get faculty members to agree to supervise me and discuss PhD topics to strengthen my application and ensure that a suitable supervisor is available.

The trouble I am facing is that only a few of those I have emailed have replied, and the ones that did reply said they already had too many PhD students or weren't taking students on at the moment. Looking at current PhD students, >95% of them are Chinese so I suspect part of this might be unwillingness to take on a foreign student (or just preference for Chinese students) despite Hong Kong being a very multicultural city.

I would like to live and work in Hong Kong after my studies, which is why I am set on doing my PhD there.

My question is this: How much does it hurt your chances of admission to not have a supervisor pre-arranged before you apply? I feel that my grades, references, experience are very competitive, but I am worried about this roadblock.

  • 1
    Them not replying is perhaps a clue. I don't reply to students who do not have the background to do my kind of research. To answer your question: It's probably a waste of time. Then again, if it cost you nothing, just apply and see what happens. Sep 10, 2017 at 21:29
  • 1
    To add, I know of a few HK professors who only take top students from their graduate classes. For example, they may run a class on convex optimization, and students are required to apply said tool on a problem as part of an assignment. Top students will generate work that is publishable, and often in top venues. These students will then be recruited given their solid foundation and potential for research. If you haven't gone through this filtering process, it is impossible to gain entry. Sep 10, 2017 at 21:47

2 Answers 2


I know your feeling, I was in your situation once.

Thing with Asians universities (far east and south east) They will not reply to your email unless they know you, or even if they are corresponding authors and you ask them something, they will never reply. That is my experience and in general, I think you should meet them through conference attendance and research work. The University of HK is regarded top tier in the world, I don't know much what is your field, but I assume they get tons of emails. Generally, for China, if you are self-funded student, they will allow you to apply without supervisor consent, but if you need scholarship, Acceptance letter is MUST have, this is same with MC, Taiwan, Japan, Singapour and others

  • I understand what you mean, I imagine I am competing with thousands of top applications from across the PRC especially.
    – Patty
    Jul 15, 2017 at 11:11
  • @Patty yes, also CULTURAL thing.
    – SSimon
    Jul 15, 2017 at 11:13
  • 1
    @Patty There could also be a language thing. Many of them feel more comfortable with Chinese students. You'll have more chance if you try to contact professors who have stayed in English speaking countries for long time. They would be more willing to accept students who don't speak Chinese.
    – Nobody
    Aug 14, 2017 at 11:55
  • @scaaahu there is lack of phd student in china, I dont understand your point
    – SSimon
    Aug 15, 2017 at 16:05

I am Amos Ronald Kalukusu from Uganda and I applied to the University of Melbourne to pursue my PhD. I was experiencing the same problem, hustling to find a supervisor prior to getting accepted into the program. My luck came when I decided to write to an academic from another faculty within the same university and she was willing to co-supervise my work. This became a big stepping stone for my prospective principal supervisor to accept me because they assume that their workload is reduced if there is another person to rely on.

On the one hand, my advice is to look at the research interests of other academics in other departments at the same university and see who could support your proposed research project. You may find a faculty member in another department may be willing to take on students from the faculty or department you are interested in.

On the other hand, you can still submit your application as you search for a potential supervisor. You can also request them to collaborate with you in your research project as co-supervisors if they are not willing to take on the full responsibility as principal advisors. This way, you get closer to admission.

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