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Old 04.12.2012, 11:27
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ETH professor(s) not responding

First, (why) isn't there a category for education/university in Switzerland?!

Now, my problem.

A little more than a month ago, I emailed an ETH professor and sent what I thought necessary (after reading his lab's homepage) documents by email, with a cover letter (email itself) that I want to do research (Ph D) under his guidance, etc, etc.

No reply whatsoever came. Last week, I wrote to his assistant (senior research assistant) again with the same request.

Disclosure:
I admit that I sent the email and documents directly to the professor rather than to his assistant, despite knowing that the homepage clearly stated otherwise.

But another reason could be I do not have any research track record (no industry experience and/or IEEE papers). All my adult life, I am working as a systems engineer/programmer, so they noticed mismatch..

Now even though only 4 days have passed, I am impatient for his reply.

Some question in my mind: may be they (the professors) are snobbish because they are one of the best. Even if they deemed me inadmissible, they could (and should) have let me know!

Other questions:
I wish there were more universities in Switzerland where I could do PhD. As far as I know, only ETH and EPFL offer PhD in my field. May be someone can prove me wrong -- which would be nice

I have M Eng from a Japanese public/national university (not top notch university like "Todai" or "Kyodai", but an average technical university) in wireless communications. I did research on ultra wideband (UWB) communications and I want to continue in similar area.

I would like to hear your opinions, comments.

Thanks!
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Old 04.12.2012, 11:30
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Re: ETH professor(s) not responding

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Disclosure:
I admit that I sent the email and documents directly to the professor rather than to his assistant, despite knowing that the homepage clearly stated otherwise.
I would not reply either. If a potential PhD can't follow simple instructions.......
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Old 04.12.2012, 11:45
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Re: ETH professor(s) not responding

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Some question in my mind: may be they (the professors) are snobbish because they are one of the best. Even if they deemed me inadmissible, they could (and should) have let me know!
I don't think so. He probably does not have time to answer emails. He is doing teaching, research, looking for funds; probably guest lecturing, reviewing scientific papers, organizing his department, PhD researchers and their own problems, all the admin work, etc. Then on top of that he is having end-of-the-year issues that he needs to do (submit the plan for the next year, for every projects).

Then his wife and kids - they want Christmas presents; and they want to go to vacation.

Then emails - he may receive up to 100 emails per day. that is 200 minutes just to read them (2 minutes per email), and another 50 minutes to reply (10 emails x 5 minutes each).

Simply - he does not have time to reply to you.

I would contact again his assistant, if I were you. Be persistent, PhD researchers are normally very persistent people...

All the best!
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Old 04.12.2012, 12:40
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Re: ETH professor(s) not responding

I'm a research associate at ETH, though probably not in the department you are applying to. The professor I work for is completely swamped with the work he has currently, and he also gets loads of applications for Ph.D. positions. He doesn't respond to most of them. I believe he doesn't even have time to read most of them, unless something catches his eye very early in the email or if he is currently looking for someone to fill a specific position.

I also get a number of applications sent to me, although there are no instructions to do so. I'm overly busy myself, but I usually try to send a 'sorry, we don't have any openings currently' response if it looks like the applicant addressed the email specifically to me. Generic emails that appear to have been 'shotgunned' to many recipients simultaneously I don't bother to respond to. Same with applications that address me as 'professor'.

In any case, I would not take a failure to respond (or respond quickly) as a deliberate insult. Yes, at least an acknowledgement should be sent, but many people here are simply overworked and that can fall through the cracks. Four days is not an especially long time, but if you hear nothing for a few weeks you can probably take that as a negative response.

Some unsolicited advice: Sending the application to someone other than the specified person is not a good idea in general. If they get a large number of applications, they are probably looking for easy ways to cut down the number that they have to evaluate, and "well, this person doesn't even know how to follow instructions" is a reason to toss an application. Emailing other members of the lab to ask about the lab or the position (and also help raise your profile in their minds) is a different matter.
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Old 04.12.2012, 12:40
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Honestly, you really should send the info to the assistant. The assistant will probably send you a reply that your info was received, and the next steps in the procedure. The instructions direct you to the assistant - maybe because the prof gets a ton of mail and just can't handle it all effectively. Also, you can more easily contact the assistant for a status update.

One of my graduate advisors was an absolute nightmare about returning emails. My husband is a prof, and he's also really, really bad about emails. We're also nearing the end of semester so people might be more busy than usual. You might not hear till after Christmas, in fact.

Sure, some of these guys are snobby. But a lot of them employ assistants to help manage administrative tasks.
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Old 04.12.2012, 13:06
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Re: ETH professor(s) not responding

Also note that professors, assistants and PhD students are constantly bombarded with application requests. A good majority are generic and direct cut-and-paste from the group's website research comments. Treat it like applying for a good job--your resume (application) must stand out from all the rest. If an application is generic, it might be ignored and disregarded along side all the other mediocre requests.
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Old 04.12.2012, 14:23
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Re: ETH professor(s) not responding

If there's something that is extremely interesting to you, then i would suggest calling the person that handles applications and asking them questions that pertain to you. If you think you don't have a chance, going directly to the professor won't help much.
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Old 04.12.2012, 14:28
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Re: ETH professor(s) not responding

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may be they (the professors) are snobbish because they are one of the best.
In my experience, people who are one of the best (in any profession, or indeed in any field) are usually the nicest, kindest, considerate people, and they treat everyone (and I mean everyone) with respect.

On the other hand, people who are mediocre (or worse) are arrogant, snobbish and generally treat people badly.
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Old 04.12.2012, 14:47
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Re: ETH professor(s) not responding

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I admit that I sent the email and documents directly to the professor rather than to his assistant, despite knowing that the homepage clearly stated otherwise.
I suspect that's the problem right there.

But suppose that you send the same unsolicited email to a professor at Todai, what do you expect to receive in return?
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Old 04.12.2012, 15:01
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Re: ETH professor(s) not responding

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I would not reply either. If a potential PhD can't follow simple instructions.......


Send more mails it's so normal not to have time to read all the mails you receive. Please send him a nice written mail message, not the boring usual stuff that you can download the template from google.
Try to be daring, don't forget he probably receives many mails just like yours..."sell" yourself!! I am just a simple assistant and sometimes I receive the most boring mails ever from people that want to do master and phd thesis :S Try to make a diference.

Forget the minor error you made in the beginning of the process, he will only delete the message besides supervisors like to this this type of stuff (ignore, ignore, ignore,ignore) the more he makes you suffer, the more happy he is.. you just started the process earlier than other ph students
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Old 04.12.2012, 18:37
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Re: ETH professor(s) not responding

I would also consider what email address you used to send your application. I use a large isp from Australia for my personal mail, and in europe the emails tend to land in the spam filter. Using a 'hotmail' address is going to heighten your chances of being filtered out, using a local email like @bluewin.ch probably will make it through the filter...if I want to look really 'local' then I use the bluewin.ch or my work email address...
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Old 04.12.2012, 18:39
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Re: ETH professor(s) not responding

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I would not reply either. If a potential PhD can't follow simple instructions.......
Did you ever read the questions posted by PhD students?
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Old 06.12.2012, 15:48
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Re: ETH professor(s) not responding

I have worked briefly at a lab in ETH... I tell you, some of the group leaders in this school, are not pleasant to work with. ETH is the best school of Switzerland, and also the best engineering academy in Europe. Lots of good scientists gather around here, they have constant pressure of trying to publish and publish high. As professors they always push students to work harder. Sometimes its good, but other times the demands are just unreasonable.

I know a guy who started in a lab, his supervisor made him quit after 5 months, due to lack of result for some ill-defined big project in biology. First of all, you just dont get much results within your first year of PhD! In biology the experiments takes long time, also this guy came from a different field. He wanted to learn new things, but obviously the supervisor didnt like the time it had to take for learning.

I guess it also depends on what you look for. If you want to be happy during your PhD, then dont go for ETH, in fact, dont go for any school that is ranked within the top 50 of the world. You just find a decent group in a decent (not the highest) uni and do good work. As long as you get good publications, school matters little. If you go for ETH then you may be able to publish in SCIENCE or NATURE, but you will be miserable and damaged for life. I know some postdocs in chemistry who work for a crazy professor, they are really good their subject, but none of them wants to continue working in academy. One of them even said he wants to move to Danmark where his wife works as an associate professor, while he works as a bartender in some strip club. Its just plainly sad.
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Old 06.12.2012, 15:51
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Re: ETH professor(s) not responding

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In my experience, people who are one of the best (in any profession, or indeed in any field) are usually the nicest, kindest, considerate people, and they treat everyone (and I mean everyone) with respect.

On the other hand, people who are mediocre (or worse) are arrogant, snobbish and generally treat people badly.
Hello there, do you have any good advice or rumor on good professors? Im looking for one in Basel/Zurich region, my major is biology.

Here is my thread: Looking for a good supervisor at Uni
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