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Guide to Establishing Good Correspondence With International Professors and Institutes November 16, 2007

Posted by mervatabuelkheir in Research.
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In this second installment, I’ll talk about what a researcher should do and in what order to establish a correspondence with an international professor or institute. The process is not greatly different if you’re pursuing a Master or a PhD degree, when there are differences, I’ll try to highlight them.

First of all, this is an extensive process that can give you a smash hit from the start or can go on and on for some time, so the key to complete it successfully and reach the goal is to be patient, dedicated, and appreciative (I’ll get to the appreciative part later). The following steps pretty much summarize what’s to be done:

1. Identify the countries in which your research is strongly established (for example: East Asian countries are strong in hardware-oriented research, robotics, AI, …, while European Countries have a strong base for applicable research, business-oriented research, …)

2. In each country you choose, identify the list of top 100 universities there. Note that there are numerous terminologies used there that are different in meaning. For example: a university is either composed of faculties (just like us) or schools (a school being an analogy for faculty), or departments (a department being an analogy for faculty). Faculties and schools of a university are not necessarily in a single building, rather they’re distributed all over a campus that’s much wider that what we know here. A faculty or a school can be composed of many departments, possibly located in a single building. A university also may have research centers which can be either independent (resembling a faculty) or a part of a certain department or faculty.

3. Now that you identified the list of universities, check in each one whether they have a faculty, school, department, or center that are related to the field of study that you plan to pursue. Keep an orderly journal on your computer for each university so that you won’t get confused, I personally use Microsoft Office OneNote (brilliant!).

4. In each faculty/school/department, you’ll usually find the following information:

(i) General info about the faculty/school/department
(ii) What undergraduate students study
(iii) What postgraduate students study
(iv) Research activities and areas
(v) Scientific degrees given
(vi) People (Faculty –> meaning professors, doctors, lecturers)
(vii) Current events and activities

In the previous list, only (i, iii, iv, v, vi) are of importance to you. You want to know about the faculty/school/department, what degrees they give (so you know if you can go there or not), what are their research areas (so you’d know whether they can support your proposed research or not) and what postgraduate students study, because that’s what you are. You also want to know the names and contacts of faculty members and what their research interests are so you can later choose who you’d want to contact.

5. The next thing to identify is whether the faculty/school/department provides the degree you’re pursuing by research or by courses. Usually, a Master degree is provided by courses, while a PhD degree will differ according to the country of choice. Let’s elaborate further:

  • A Master degree by courses means that the faculty/school/department offers a collection of postgraduate courses that you need to choose from until you complete a certain amount of credit defined by the requirements (will discuss requirements later), these courses usually are taken over a year if you’re a full-time student. After you complete the courses, you need to choose a research subject and write a research proposal to be presented to the faculty/school/department. If they agree to your proposal, they assign a supervisor to you and you start working for the amount of a year-two years max, by the end of which you need to present a dissertation (thesis) and defend your work orally in front of a referees committee. Don’t make the mistake of thinking the preparation of a research proposal is a piece of cake; it has to be detailed yet not long, and you need to device your research methodology carefully. It can be rejected if it does not meet the standards of the faculty/school/department.
  • A PhD degree can be obtained either by research or by courses. In fact, there’s not a great difference between the two. A PhD by research involves working with the supervisor(s) during the research phases proposed by you, with the possibility of taking some courses in the first six months of your stay at the university. A PhD by courses involves taking an extensive set of course for the duration of a year to two years (depending on the number of courses you should take to fulfill the credit required) then proceeding to work on a research dissertation; just like the Master degree. The difference here is in the amount of course credit required, which depends on whatever previous courses you took back home and whether you already hold a Master degree (Yes people, you don’t need to hold a Master degree to take a PhD degree, though you’ll need to take additional courses). Some faculties/schools/departments will acknowledge your Master degree while others will not. Anyway, whether you choose a PhD by research or by courses involves preparing a PhD dissertation (thesis) that you will defend orally in front of a committee. Not all faculties/schools/departments offer both options, in USA and Canada and some universities in Japan and Hong Kong, you can only take a PhD by courses. IN the rest of the world, you have a choice or you work by research. So you need to read carefully what the type of PhD offer is. As to the matter of which is better, it really depends on you:
  1. A PhD by courses has the following advantages: the courses provide a variety in study and practical involvement with teams of other researchers, and some people are more comfortable with course work, whose objectives are clearly defined. Also, courses give you a chance to see how different professors work and think and makes it possible for you to make an informed decision about who’s the professor you want to work with. The courses will often involve seminars and projects that are considered preludes to the actual PhD work, giving you more ideas about the “hot” points in current research. However, course work involves a lot of studying, and you have to maintain high grades in all course for all the duration it takes to finish course work and you have to work on many projects for different courses. So unless you’re fully prepared to meet the stress with equal vigor and hard work, you’ll take forever to finish.
  2. A PhD by research resembles what we’re doing here in Egypt; you make a proposal, then you’re free to conduct your research at your own pace. This has the advantage of being a little less stressful and does not involve the hectic course schedule and project deadlines. However, since you work more independently, you risk the possibility of falling behind your timeline. So you must not give yourself much slack and you need to try and stick to your own schedule. Foreign supervisors are often polite; they will not chase after you with a stick to finish because they realize it’s your own work!

6. (Requirements part!) The next important thing to check is the admission requirements for the degree you’re pursuing. Usually you’ll find that in a section or link for “prospective students ->postgraduate”. Read the basic information provided and do not forget to check the requirements from international students, which usually involve the language scores required and whether recommendation is needed by local professors. DON’T forget to check the accommodations provided (in-campus housing, near campus, or private; the best option is in-campus if available). Also, check for the deadlines for admission, usually deadlines for international students are earlier that the official deadlines (for matters related to limited places and required visas, …)

7. Make a checklist of all the required paperwork and check which is already available to you and which needs to be obtained (TOEFL, GRE, Recommendation letters,…)

8. Begin to make a list of all the professors/doctors/lecturers in the faculty/school/department you’re planning to join and who specialize in the subject area of your interest. Then proceed to write e-mails to them explaining your wish to join the faculty/school/department and your wish to have them as supervisors. That’s only preferable if you’re conducting a degree by research. There are a number of rules for writing these mails:

  • Address the professor as: Dear Professor …….. or Dear Dr. …….. According to his/her title
  • The first thing in the body of the message is to state your name and affiliation: I’m ….., a teaching assistant in ……, university of …..
  • Then proceed to state that you’re planning to apply for the degree you want and that your research interests are so and so, and that you’ll be honored if he/she agrees to supervise your work
  • State any research publications, test scores that you ALREADY have. They’re great assets in you advantage.
  • Say thank you for the time spent reading the mail; he could discard the mail and don’t bother at all, it’s gracious of him/her to read your mail and take the time to reply (that’s the appreciative part!).
  • Write a detailed signature stating your name, affiliations, and contact info.
    If the professor replies with a no, you have to reply with a thank you anyway for your time, otherwise, he/she will usually ask for your plan of work, so be ready with it! Also be ready with any information they need about your place of work or future plans (when do you plan to join the research,…)
  • Make the mail as short as possible with separate paragraphs for separate parts of what you want to say. Be concise, don’t tell a life story!
  • DO NOT write to more than ne professor in a single department or school. Write to as many as you like, but not to two people who work together. Wait a week until the first replies, if he/she doesn’t, then safely proceed to his other colleagues. Notice that they have a weekend on Saturday and Sunday so don’t send Friday expecting a reply the day after. Also notice the time zone differences.
  • Wait, be patient, and watch for admission deadlines and send your papers before them, the earlier you send your papers, the earlier they will process them, and the earlier you’re granted admission and accommodation.

I hope this article sheds some light on this subject that’s usually left to the imagination of the researcher!

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Comments»

1. helghareeb - November 25, 2007

And I thought it is a simple task 🙂

This needs organization more than I had in my entire life, I do not think OneNote will help 🙂

I need a collection of tools, have not figured them yet, but I believe so

Really, Thank You

2. Explaining Scholarships: Part 2 « Ramblings of an Egyptian Teaching Assistant - June 18, 2008

[…] a scholarship of this kind requires extensive work. First of all, I’d like to refer you to this entry I wrote about establishing correspondence with foreign professors and academic departments. The […]

3. Explaining Scholarships: Part 1 « Ramblings of an Egyptian Teaching Assistant - June 18, 2008

[…] This is the third topic of its kind; previously, I wrote two entries about managing a thesis and establishing contact with a foreign academic institution. This time, I’m going to talk about the complex subject that is SCHOLARSHIPS, and how could […]

4. Bongekile - June 19, 2008

Do you have a scholarship that covers food,accomodation,tuition,textbooks,trasport.if u do when can i apply because i need it for 2009.

5. mfahmy78 - July 5, 2008

You have to search for yourself because you need to find a scholarship that best reflects your needs. Most scholarships cover the expenses you mentioned, and even if they don’t you can get a job and still be able to handle life up there.


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