I am admitted in PhD program in UCONN starting from fall 2015. I have to submit top 3 advisors name under whom I want to do my PhD, before starting of fall semester. I emailed some PIs but they are either not accepting students or are not replying at all. What do I do in this case?

--J007

Dear J007,

First of all, congratulations on getting accepted into a PhD program! That’s great news!

Programs can differ quite a bit in terms of the process for how students are assigned advisors; some programs admit students and already know who they will be working with, and others accept students first and then have them choose (or be assigned to) an advisor during their first year. It sounds like your program falls into the latter camp and that they are asking you for your preferences at this stage to facilitate things later.

Although it is certainly a good idea to contact professors and express your interest in working with them and to find out if they will be taking new students, you may or may not need to have this all set in stone in order to submit your preferences to your department. You may want to consult with some current students in the program about the process because they have already been through it. Current students may also be more aware of some dynamics that could affect professors’ responses (or lack thereof). If you don’t have the contact information for any current students, you can probably find it on the department website. Another option is to ask your contact person, department administrative assistant, or whoever is in charge of communications with incoming students, if there are any current students who would be willing to answer a few questions from an incoming student.

For professors who replied to you but said that they are not taking any new students at this time, I would suggest that you write back to them, thank them for getting back to you, express interest in their work again, and ask if for suggestions of other faculty in the department who might be doing similar work while taking on students. You might still have opportunities to work together on similar projects because sometimes, several faculty members collaborate, and they might suggest that you try to work with one of their colleagues. In your response, it helps to express interest in their work again because if their situation changes and they are accepting students at a later time, they may view you favorably.

For those professors who have not yet responded to your emails, I recommend e-mailing them again after a reasonable amount of time has passed (about two weeks) to express interest in working with them and ask if they are accepting new students. Faculty do get a lot of emails, so it’s possible that they missed yours or meant to respond later and forgot. A friendly follow-up email—in which you express that you understand that they are busy and may have lost your previous email—doesn’t hurt.

If all else fails and you still haven’t heard back from anyone who will be accepting new students, I would, again, suggest that you consult with current students in the program to see if they have any recommendations. After you have tried all of this, get in touch with your contact person in the department and let them know that you have been having difficulty finding faculty who are accepting new students, and ask for their advice. Ultimately, if they accepted you into the program, they must have faculty who will be accepting students with the interests you’ve stated, so it may be helpful to hear more about how the process works there. They may tell you to just state your preferences even if you haven’t heard back from faculty, or they may tell you that a lot of the faculty are currently out of town but will likely get back to you next week. As long as you have tried to get in touch in plenty of ways, it’s fine to let them know you’ve been having difficulty and to ask for recommendations for how else to handle this.

Good luck with this process and, again, congratulations on getting accepted into your program! Best of luck in the fall!

--Dana Nelson, PhD

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