Graduate Admissions: Does your research interests matter?

<p>Hey I'll be applying to grad schools this winter and for my SOP, I had to get some things cleared out. Basically, does one's research interests or choice of labs that he/she wants to work in affect his/her admission?? For example, if you are applying for mechanical engineering, does your chances of getting into an university depend on whether you want to pursue biomechanics, modeling, fluids or heat transfer. </p>

<p>First of all, if like the department's heads looks over the applications, does he really look at the spots available in the labs of that sub-field or does he just admit the student based on his profile. This match of research interests and spots in labs...it's definitely done to figure out if the student get funding..but i didn't know if this was a factor for admissions.</p>

<p>Lastly, let's say your research interests does affect your chances into an elite grad school, or at least funding..how do you increase your chances of getting in. Do you pick what the university is famous/popular/acclaimed for because they might potentially have more spots for that area? But aren't you then competing with a lot of students cuz the less money available for one student? </p>

<p>Ya I know you are not supposed to do change your area of interest for getting in to an university but I have like a few areas that I want to go in and I could pick a certain for a certain school...Thanks for your input</p>

<p>If you're applying for doctoral programs or any research-based program, of course your research interests affect your admissions. If you apply in an area that's not well supported at your chosen university (say you express an interest in biomechanics and there's no one there that does that) you may get rejected because there's no one there to support you in your research endeavors. And particularly in lab-based programs, if you apply in a field that IS there but the professor(s) doing that research do(es)n't choose you and chooses someone else over you, you can get rejected even if there are open slots in other labs. I'm in a lab-based psychology program and if you apply to work in my lab and we don't have any funding for that year, then you're not getting in unless you also specify that you can/would like to work with someone else and they want to support you.</p>

<p>This is more or less departmental-based, of course - at some departments individual slots in labs are more important, and at others, they just accept you based on a more general profile and you find an advisor later. But if your research interests don't really match anyone there, you may not be accepted because no one will be able to advise you.</p>

<p>You increase your chances of getting in by being one of the top applicants in your subfield. Get experience in that subfield by working with someone in it; get a recommendation from someone who does research in that subfield (in addition to just strong general recommendations); and write a compelling statement of purpose that demonstrates that you have a passion for research in that subfield and the competence necessary to do the research within it. Related subfields work too (I don't know the engineering corollary for this, but if you wanted to work in a cognition lab here doing perception work as an undergrad would work for that; or if you wanted to do cognitive neuroscience but you only had experience in cognition and some biology/neuroscience classes that would probably work, too).</p>

<p>Famous universities don't necessarily have more slots for certain subfields; it's on a departmental basis. Like my public health department (I'm in an interdisciplinary program) is big on sexuality research and cancer research, we have lots of "slots" for those - even though that department is a less of a slot-based program than the psych department - but if you apply to do research on let's say obesity, there are far fewer researchers here doing that, so yes, you may have a harder time getting admitted because the fit just isn't there unless you find a way to relate it to something that we are known for (like relating obesity to cancer or to sexual problems or something). But then again, there IS far more competition amongst sexuality research scholars because that's what we're known for.</p>

<p>So this is true for like the universities that are elite for for those programs too?? Wouldn't those universities do research on all the subfields?
But if it's a case of labs not having spots for me, could I mention a few lab names in my SOP? Is that ok? Hopefully it doesn't show too much waywardness.</p>

<p>Yes, it's true even for the top universities. No school has enough resources to research everything.</p>

<p>Also, it's ok to mention professor or lab names in your statement. In fact, it will show that you've spent the time thinking about your future and their research and how you would plan to fit in (which is a good thing). And it's fine to mention more than one: they should understand your future isn't totally planned.</p>