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I am an undergraduate who is line for a first author publication in a field I absolutely love, and want to continue my research in the same department. At my school there is a program, I have heard of, that would allow me to get my masters as an undergraduate, and the paperwork requires a signature from the department head. I don't want to appear as sycophantic a-hole, I come from a very economically disadvantaged background. I am paying for my school, want to continue my research, and eventually obtain a PhD. Basically, I need to know any good suggestions of how to establish a relationship with the department head. I know email is an option to contact the department head, but she doesn't know me. I have emailed another professor, I said hello to and know his childhood friend, who has been in the same department for 15 years to see if we could get coffee and talk with him about this matter to see if he could introduce me to the department head. Any suggestions of knowing how to connect/establish a relationship with the department head? Best

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    I don't understand your question, you don't need a relationship with the department head, you just need to politely email the department head and ask for a signature on this form. – Noah Snyder Aug 21 '17 at 20:12
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    Or set up an appointment to discuss the program with whom ever is in charge of it. Why do you think getting a signature resembles being a syncophant? – Jon Custer Aug 21 '17 at 21:03
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    You sound like a very good student, and a publication as an undergraduate is in most fields a rare achievement. A department head would likely love to endorse you in this. For one thing, most academics like to help good students. For another thing, a student like you makes their department look good. If you have an advisor in the department, you could perhaps enlist their aid as an intermediary (which might help in a larger department), though that probably isn't necessary. – John Coleman Aug 22 '17 at 2:55
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It's possible that you are misunderstanding what the signature of a department head implies or requires. In general, signatures are used to ensure that policies and procedures have been appropriately followed. Save for unfortunate cases where resources are solely allocated due to rather extreme corruption (beyond anything I've personally encountered), you don't have to have some sort of deep personal history or relationship just to take part in an existing publicly advertised academic program.

The most common way this comes up is a form that requires two signatures - one from your advisor (or other faculty member relevant to the request), and one from the head of the department. The advisor/faculty member is usually the one responsible for making sure you meet all the program requirements, and believes you should have the request indicated by the form authorized. Then the signature from the head of the department is generally just a bureaucratic formality, and the department head's job (often delegated to an assistant) is to ensure you qualify, etc (making sure the faculty member did their job correctly), maybe ask a few questions or require supporting paper work if applicable (if it's routine they won't even do that), and then sign. And off you go!

To see what is truly required to get into your school's program, you'll need to look up further information about it on the website - if one exists (it may not have useful info), and talk with whoever administers the program. You might also just go to your department office and ask the assistant for more information about the program. You can just say, "I read about the program where you can work towards a masters while you are an undergrad - how can I find out more about this program?"

You can then find out if the program is a competitive application process, are there certain qualifications you need before applying to the program (such as completing a certain number of courses, having a certain GPA, meeting with a graduate advisor, etc), and all the other details you might want to know about to decide if the program is right for you and how you can join. It could be as simple as ask to join, give your transcript to the assistant and they will have the chair sign, and you are in (so long as you pay the bills, which might increase to be a part of that program). But you won't know until you talk directly to the appropriate staff members - no need for scheming just yet!

  • And even if OP wants to play the 'relationship' game, why start from scratch? Making friends with an adviser who is more likely to guide you through your studies is going to be far more impactful long term than making friends with the department chair who is probably way too busy to befriend an undergraduate on any meaningful level. Then leverage the adviser's relationship with the chair when necessary. – corsiKa Aug 22 '17 at 16:36
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I am an undergraduate who is line for a first author publication in a field I absolutely love, and want to continue my research in the same department. At my school there is a program, I have heard of, that would allow me to get my masters as an undergraduate, and the paperwork requires a signature from the department head. I don't want to appear as sycophantic a-hole, I come from a very economically disadvantaged background. I am paying for my school, want to continue my research, and eventually obtain a PhD.

Make some minor adjustments to this paragraph and email it to the department head! Of course, neglect the "psychopathic a-hole" part, but just tell the department head what you want to do. As @BrianHall pointed out, you may only need their signature for the program, but I don't see how having a professional relationship with the department head could be bad. In fact, s/he may have some important suggestions for you on how to meet your goals. If a student came to me with what you just said, I'd do anything I could to help them succeed.

Before applying for PhD programs, I emailed the department head at many universities to see if there was anyone in their department interested in my research proposal. One of these was the department head of Geography at University of Tennessee. I ended up interviewing for a different program at UT-Knoxville but decided to visit the Geography department head because I had some free time and really appreciated his response to my email. We talked for a while, and he was a genuinely nice guy. Now he's the president of our flagship professional organization, and I'm really glad I had the chance to meet him in person! Networking with professors can be beneficial in more ways than what are immediately apparent, so take a chance and go meet with him.

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    Definitely this. If you're excited about your field, and eager to build relationships to help you further your studies in it, you don't have to pretend that something else is going on. Academics love hearing "I want you to help me become an academic". – Sneftel Aug 22 '17 at 7:40
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the paperwork requires a signature from the department head. I ... I need to know ... how to establish a relationship with the department head.

No you don't. Don't try to establish a relationship with her; trying to do so will likely hurt your chances of being accepted to anything.

However, if there's some program or award you think you might be considered for, and the department head has some discretion about awarding it, you could write her a letter (not an email - a letter; and not a short note - a letter) describing your background, your achievements so far, your interests and your plans, and requesting whatever you're asking for - even if you're not nominally eligible.


As a side note,

At my school there is a program, I have heard of, that would allow me to get my masters as an undergraduate

I might not be in academia in the same country as you, but - this might not be a good idea. I can't be certain with more information but my default assumption would be that either this is a scam, or it doesn't mean what it supposedly means.

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    "This might not be a good idea." Such programs (usually referred to as BS/MS programs or something similar) are quite common in the US. – Mark Meckes Aug 22 '17 at 12:53
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    @MarkMeckes: Pay-day loans are also quite common in the US, and they're also not usually a good idea. – einpoklum Aug 22 '17 at 13:40
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    Let me clarify. BS/MS programs are quite common at reputable, accredited universities in the US. If the OP's institution is in the US, then there's no reason whatsoever to suspect that this is a scam, or means something substantially different from what it appears to. – Mark Meckes Aug 22 '17 at 17:36
  • Sadly, US higher education does include some practices that might fairly be compared to pay-day loans. But there's no reason to assume this is such a situation. – Mark Meckes Aug 22 '17 at 17:37

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