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You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

July 25, 2007

Inside Information on Professors

Many applicants will discuss faculty in their statement of purpose (goals essay). This is less true for MBA and some other kinds of professional degree programs, but for more research based degree programs, faculty selection is a critical component of your reasons for applying. Even some MBA applicants will state that they wish to study with a specific professor.

But how to learn about professors?

First, a story about me. When I applied to graduate school in 1990, I had the good fortune of having excellent admission advice from a very good friend who was doing (and did) his PhD at the University of Chicago. While he did all the standard things you would expect, such as giving me feedback on my statement of purpose and writing sample, the most important advice he gave me was to research faculty at the schools I was targeting in order to identify and then contact faculty. I did as he instructed. I read articles and books and narrowed my selection of schools based on the faculty I thought that I wanted to work with. I sent letters (email? Not back in the stone age) and then made phone calls to the professors I wanted to study with. I was accepted into the two schools where I had the best conversations with the professors. For those pursuing degrees in the arts and sciences, this is still a great way to figure out where to apply to.

But now there is an additional way, www.ratemyprofessors.com. Now it is possible to read what the students think about each and every faculty member at most major universities. Of course, when looking at this material, please keep a few things in mind:
1. Caveat Emptor (Buyer beware), which should be obvious. Hell hath no fury like a student mad about his or her grades.
2. Some faculty are actively manipulating the content. Sometimes for their amusement, sometimes for well, other reasons (like getting tenure).

For applicants, I think this site is quite useful because you can determine, at least in some general way, what students think of the faculty member you want to study with. If you are in a program where laboratory work, a thesis, and/or dissertation will be required, you may find it necessary to spend huge amounts of time studying under the direction of your adviser. Select this person carefully. Use ratemyprofessors.com as one such tool. I have heard too many horror stories about bad advisors, so why not do some research first?

I checked the best and worst professors I had in graduate school at Wisconsin-Madison. The best, Patrick Riley, received really high marks and comments that I could say, based on having been his student, research assistant, and grader, were mostly accurate. The worst, still received remarks that reinforced my own view.

Finally, NEVER quote from ratemyprofessors.com in your essays, interview, or any other aspect of the application process. Instead use it to help you select who you are interested in studying with and then do some further research on them. Read their websites, blogs, scholarly work, and syllabi sufficiently to make any admissions committee think you know what you are talking/writing about. This is especially important if you plan to communicate or meet professors before you apply.

Any questions about this post? Leave comments or email me at adammarkus@gmail.com.

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