Useful Tips from Alumni

Question 1: How can I know if the professor has funding and I should apply here?

So there are specific techniques, you don’t want to sound too desperate, 2-3 weeks is a good timeframe for a reminder email but you don’t want to bother a professor so much as to write them every week. Most have no time to go through emails.

Funding that waive full tuition and also provide a decent amount of stipend for an F1 student is mainly in the form of fellowship awards or RAship/TAship, In most universities, new PhD intake students are required to start as TAs. For MS in good ranked universities, there is little to no funding at least for the first year and very competitive even for the second year if you are lucky enough to show your potential to get a professor to fund you for an MS thesis.

Now there are various ways to secure funding. During my time back in 2013, I used to write emails too with details of my profile and inquiring positions in their lab but hardly 1 in 10 professors or less replied back. I realized my approach wasn’t working since it is seldom that professors advertise open positions of research in their lab and if they do it is mostly reserved for students who already are there at the university or have at least taken a course with them. There was also the fact that my experience wasn’t that built up and my research profile wasn’t strong enough. That’s why I mentor students to publish within undergrad final years to get a good chance to approach professors if you wish to Continue with Grad studies later. It is pertinent for PhD students but some do get “lucky” (I’m afraid I’ll have to use the word) enough to even eat offers from professors with no publication at all. Everything matters on applying (GRE, GPA, course work, Research background). If you lack in any the chances of getting a funding offer from a professor dwindle starkly.


The second best approach according to experience to email PhD students and postdocs within the professor’s lab in order to inquire about open positions. If the professor has open slots of new grant funding coming up, it is likely that one of his/ her students will reply if they don’t have time themselves. That does work in most of the cases


Third best approach while communicating from Pakistan is to try giving a call to the professor’s office from your local PTCL. It’s pretty cheap. All you have to plan while calling is to be specific in what you have to say to the professor to get his/her attention and make the most of your phone call time to leave an impact. This does work and a lot of professors picked my call. 

Now how do you know when to call? Since mostly it’s a 9-12 hour difference you may wanna call them during your night time. Now in order to narrow down the times you can perhaps try calling during their office hours when you can know for sure that they might pick up your call. Most professors have their office hours advertised for their course  students on their website as well as the general university course catalog. Again you can email the students of the professor to inquire about the professor’s office hour. This approach works equally well

So resorting to just writing emails to inquire about positions that you may not know whether he/she even has or not is the least fruitful approach in getting the attention of professors at least for current years since a lot of applicants apply from all over the world than what used to be a decade or so ago. Nevertheless the right words in the email body are always fruitful and you are bound to get a reply if you leave an impact enough for the professor to reply to you. (Again preference of email replies lies to students who are within the research group/lab of the professor, next the students who take the professor’s course and in the end all emails of secondary and tertiary importance including your email. That’s how the chain of importance works and this can make you realize how busy the life of a professor can be)

From experience my emails were way too generic and the fact I was not getting replies initially was the unimpactful content of my emails. You need to be as concise as possible, need to show your worth and lastly not sound too demeaning in your approach of asking funds. You should have a subtle tone to it instead of literally bluntly asking “Do you have position? Do you have funding?” .. etc

Question 2: How to pick the right Phd Advisor?

Check the Twitter thread here:

Question 3: Do I need to contact a professor to get admission?

If you manage to get a response from a professor, which is hard (read the answer 3 above), chances of getting admission are highly likely. But, sometimes people can get admission without prior agreement with professors in some universities where the funding is distributed by the department itself. Admission decisions are made by a committee of several professors. Once you are admitted, then you can choose your own advisor. 

In general, contact a professor after you have done all your research about the program, read some papers of the professor, and include your comments on his work in your email by aligning it with your research interests. Read answer 2 about how you should do that. 

But, if you don’t hear back, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you cannot get admission in that program. If you think that a grad program matches your profile, apply.