Contacting faculty can be one of the most daunting parts of the application process. One of the reasons is that you, the applicant, want something from the professor—assistance, a request to be your advisor, a research position, and so on.
Before you proceed with sending the email, consider asking yourself these questions:
1. Is the professor open to receiving such emails (as per their webpage)? (If yes, proceed)
2. Are you required to contact faculty at any point in the application process? (Yes – OK, proceed to point 4; No – consider point 3)
3. What is your objective in contacting the professor? (The more specific you are, the better. Avoid sending a vague email)
4. Have you researched their work thoroughly, and identified areas of overlap between their past or ongoing work and your past or future interests? (You must do this!)
How I received responses from over 90% of the professors I contacted
**Disclaimer: There are many factors that are considered when providing admission to graduate school applicants. These guidelines do not guarantee the receipt of a response by the faculty or admission by the program, department or university. Please do your research before taking any action!**
Once you know everything that you should, you can go ahead with contacting them, and here is the structure I used:
- The subject should be clear and direct, such as ‘Prospective PhD candidate, interested in working with you/your group/lab’.
- Begin with Dear Professor/Dr [First name] [Last name]
- Begin with a short (1-2 sentence) introduction about yourself and your current role. Mention how you found out about them (through a paper/conference/another faculty, etc.) and specify that you are reaching out to discuss the potential of joining their lab and the department as a PhD student. Include when you plan on joining (fall 2023/spring 2023), or at least give them an idea of your timeline.
- If you are contacting them regarding a specific position or project that was advertised, mention the exact words of the ad and/or project. You can include such info in the subject.
- Mention your research interests and questions you would like to answer through your work, and link it with some of their recent work. Be hyper-specific, and try not to ramble. It would be great if you could back your interests with some research experience in the subject/specific topic. You can hyperlink your relevant work in the email text. Publications are the best way to demonstrate your research, but if you do not have a publication, demonstrate some research background.
- Ask them whether they have open positions (if it is not mentioned on their website) and if they are interested in you and in taking the conversation further. Offer to talk via a video call, and other alternatives.
- Some would suggest including your CV, and some may suggest not including your CV. I suggest including your CV unless specified otherwise.
- I would keep the entire email under 300 words (basically 2 main paragraphs).
- Depending on the country/program, you may have to search for funding yourself. If that is needed in your case, do the groundwork and list potential funding options that you are interested in. Never ask the faculty blindly about funding options.
- Sometimes faculty have secret code words to include in your email’s subject. Make sure you don’t miss those.
- Be very polite, and run your email through Grammarly. Double-check for errors!
- If you do not receive a response, follow up after a week. Again, be polite. If you do not receive another response, you can get in touch with someone else from their lab/group and inquire whether the professor is away. If not, then take the hint and move on.
- Repeat for the next person. Make sure to modify every detail for the next person.
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An example of the email’s structure