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Guide: How to contact faculty at the Graduate School of your choice

Alejandro Escalante-Flores senior McNair Scholar, offers a guide to contacting faculty…read on

 When contacting faculty at the graduate school of your choice, the most important thing is to not get discouraged when someone doesn’t email you back. One thing I’ve learned in my many times of emailing professors is that most of the time only about 30% of the professors will email you back. When sending emails to professors make sure you have a good subject line. In talks with my past mentors, all of them have told me that they never read most of their emails. When I asked them why, they said  the subject line of the message didn’t catch their eye. Most professors are too busy to read emails. Try to think of a title that engages their current research.

Second, make sure to introduce yourself. Within the first couple of sentences describe your research interest and share your academic achievements.

Here is a sample of a letter I wrote last year, I just added the McNair part to show how to amplify your achievements.

(Dear Dr. (Fill in),

 Hello, my name is Alejandro Escalante Flores and I am writing to you in the hopes that you would be interested in giving me the opportunity to work in your lab this summer. I’m a Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program Scholar, a N.S.F. Louis Stokes A.M.P. Scholar and a three-time N.S.F. Louis Stokes A.M.P. Scholarship recipient. After researching graduate school programs, I believe that the Cell and Molecular Biology Joint Doctoral Program at San Diego State University is the best fit for me. While looking at the faculty members in the department and after reading about your research, I became very interested in your research of planarians for the investigation of the mechanisms that underline the stem cell based regeneration and remodeling of the CNS)….

Using this same letter and changing a few things around, I received responses from professors at U of Washington, SDSU, USC, Duke, Vanderbilt and Stanford.

In the letter make sure  to mention your short-term and long-term goals. For example, a short-term goal is to get more experience under them as a researcher. A long-term goal is to earn your PhD from their school. Also, be sure to mention what areas of their research you are interested in and why.

Working in a research lab with a professor who is not your top choice might open your eyes to other areas of research. Accepting a second choice lab experience is a great way to get into a department and network.  My old boss who was the admissions director for the genetics graduate program at Stanford explained,  networking with people will cause them to remember you and say “isn’t this that intern you had during the summer that worked their butts off? We want students like that here!”

Lab experience in general will look great on your curriculum vita (CV).   Research experience can open many doors for you.

Got more questions?  Just shot me an email.


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Mark Selzer Describes the McNair Program to Curious Students…

 First and foremost, the Program gives McNair Scholars actual research experience. Scholars are required to complete a research project with the help of a faculty mentor, which foreshadows the dissertation required to obtain a PhD. A dissertation is usually a book-length work that a graduate student must complete under the guidance of a faculty adviser. The McNair program gives McNair scholars the chance to do research as undergrads, so that the dissertation will not be such a dreadful beast when they find themselves in graduate school. This is especially important considering that a large percentage of students do not complete the graduate programs they were admitted to. Being accepted into a graduate program is one thing, completing it is another.

Secondly, the McNair program gives the a to z on the graduate school admission process. If someone is serious about getting into graduate school, the McNair program is the best resource out there. Plus, having the title “McNair Scholar” in a graduate application carries a lot of weight.

The McNair program will teach you how to get into graduate school and what to do when you are there. At what price though? Time and effort. You will need to attend all the McNair workshops, meetings, and colloquiums, which totals to at least 15 hours a quarter. In addition, you will need to spend at least a few hours on your research every week. On top of that, you will probably spend at least an hour every week with your mentor. Participating in the McNair program is no small commitment. However, if you can make the commitment, then the pay-off is huge.

Out of all the graduation school admissions information programs I have been to, the McNair Scholars Program has helped me understand the process more than all the others combined. The program explained to us in great detail how to choose a graduate program, how to write personal statements and statements of purpose, how to prepare for the GRE, how to explain GRE scores in applications, how to contact faculty, and so forth. You name it, and the McNair Scholar Program will explain it. The acceptance record for scholars in the program is a testament to the quality and quantity of the information the McNair program provides regarding graduate school admissions.

Simply applying to graduate programs has been my greatest accomplishment in the McNair Program. Originally, I felt too pressured by work and my coursework to apply this year. I resigned myself to postpone applying until next year. However, I found the strength to apply this year thanks to the inspiration and motivation the McNair program lent me.

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