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Researching Programs: Profiling Faculty

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Understanding the Importance of Faculty

An important part of profiling a program is looking at the faculty that make up that program. As a graduate student, you will certainly have access to a number of qualified and engaging professors, but you will also be expected to forge a mentor/mentee relationship with a specific faculty member quite early on. This person will be central to determining what kind of research you will do, what kind of funding you may receive, and even to a degree, what your working habits will be; all factors which can drastically influence your chances of successfully completing your degree.

Since the relationship between graduate students and faculty members is so integral to a graduate education, your research of specific faculty members may not only help you to choose a program; it may also significantly influence a graduate program's decision of whether or not to accept you. Including an argument for why you should work with specific faculty members in your personal statement will not only impress an admissions committee, it will help them to see how you might fit into their program. For more information on writing personal statements for graduate school applications, see Writing Personal Statements for Graduate School Applications on the Purdue OWL.

Researching Faculty

Researching faculty is not easy. You can't simply go to a website like Rate My Professor and see if they give easy A's—in many graduate programs, you will be expected to get A's in every class. Much of what you need to learn about a faculty member has to be pieced together from what little data is available. Consider the following resources to help you learn more about the faculty in the programs to which you might apply:

Professor's Curriculum Vita

The Curriculum Vita (CV) is an academic resume and should be the first step in researching a faculty member. The CV provides a list of the professor's publications, appointments, and professional service. Most professors post their CV on the department faculty page or on a personal website.

Google Scholar

This specialized search engine has a feature that tells you how often each source is cited in other sources. This can help to gauge just how influential a given scholar is within a field. Keep in mind, though, that some people are cited as much for their infamy as for their contributions. It doesn't hurt to look at some of the sources that cite your scholar and see what it is they're saying.


Sending an email to a professor to ask them about their research can be an intimidating task, and not without reason. However, it is unlikely that a professor will resent an honest inquiry. Keep in mind that professors know graduate students are still learning; they don't expect potential graduate students to know everything. As long as your email was worded professionally and warmly, your name will be remembered as that of an engaged junior scholar.

Other Considerations

Here are some things to consider that may tell you more about a particular faculty member and what working with them may be like:

  • Research this person’s position within the department
  • Are they an associate professor, an endowed chair or a department head? Endowed chairs tend to be the ones who are engaged in innovative research. Departmental heads and chairs of programs may be rather busy. You may come across other titles. Adjunct professors and visiting professors may be on limited appointments and may, therefore, leave before you finish your degree. Also, consider that assistant professors are usually not yet tenured. Untenured faculty may be young and exciting, but there may be department regulations that prevent them from working extensively with graduate students. They will also be working to earn tenure and may not be able to give you as much of their attention as someone with tenure.
  • Does this person have a lab, journal, conference or project that you might want to be a part of? Professors do more than teach classes. Whether it be professional service or research, there is usually plenty of work to share with an eager graduate student. You should look for faculty who will connect you to the right opportunities and if you find a good fit, it probably wouldn't hurt to mention your interest in your cover letter.
  • How much of their time is spent researching, teaching, in administrative service, etc.? Different programs emphasize teaching and research differently. This is also true of individual professors. A quick glance at a CV can show where each professor places their emphasis. You should consider whether this matches your professional goals, but also whether this is someone who will be able to provide you with the support you need.
  • Using the CV, identify at least one recent article or publication this person has contributed to the field. Read it. It is important that you know what this person is working on currently.
  • Familiarize yourself with each of the research interests listed on the CV and any other keywords that come up in the titles of publications listed.

In choosing a faculty member, consider the following factors:

  • Why do you want to work with this faculty member?
  • What does this faculty member research and which of those interests correspond with your own?
  • What have been this faculty member's most important contributions to the field?
  • What can this faculty member offer you in terms of professional development, funding, mentoring, and intellectual growth?
  • What current connections do you have to this faculty member and how do you plan on developing those connections?
  • Why is this program a better fit for you than another comparable program?