I want to send an e-mail to a very well-known professor in the field of my interest. I have read most of his papers and I am 90% sure that I like to work under his supervision at least for some months. I am an undergraduate student but being realistic, I hope to be considered a good student in my field and recently, I published a paper in JHEP. My question is:

The professor has a research group in a French university. I want to let him know I will pay for my costs and I just want to do a 3-month or even more research under his supervision. Since I guess I have good accomplishments in my CV, how I can ask him politely for a summer internship (or a visit, I am not familiar with these names) and potentially guarantee to receive a reply message from him?


2 Answers 2


I want to let him know I will pay for my costs

This is not how things are supposed to work. It is normal that young researchers visit other institutions, but these visits are normally paid either by their current institution, or by the accepting one. What you're doing is explicitly proposing to do unpaid work, which is a bad practice and you don't want to work with someone who agrees to that.

What you can do instead is find 5-10 places where you'd like to go for an 'internship' or 'placement', etc and send emails with inquiries. It is fine to ask a professor whether they can hire you as an intern, but I don't think you should propose unreasonable arrangements.

  • Research internships at universities at that level (undergrad) are usually not paid, especially if it's part of your studies (which might be the case here). This might, as always, depend on your country of course.
    – user64845
    Feb 28, 2018 at 19:19
  • In France, internships longer than 60 days must be paid, by law. But the stipend is low (was ~480€ per month in 2009 when I interned in labs).
    – Guillaume
    Feb 28, 2018 at 19:44
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    @DSVA As I understood, OP is not doing this as part of their undergrad course, and in this case I don't think it is acceptable to do an internship for free, although I agree that working culture in different countries would be different.
    – Alexey B.
    Feb 28, 2018 at 21:43
  • @Guillaume I imagine, the compensation is small because the internship was mean for a student who lives in France and is thus eligible for benefits from the state? (I know that some students in France have their housing costs covered, but I don't know the details)
    – Alexey B.
    Feb 28, 2018 at 21:46
  • @AlexeyB. I have no idea how this compares for international students, but I suspect the internship stipend is probably constant, no matter where you're from. Now, international students can apply for scholarships from their country or there might be scholarship from French entities to attract international students? That's definitely something to look into.
    – Guillaume
    Mar 1, 2018 at 0:09

You should start by sending a polite email explaining succinctly (researchers are always very busy: a short email will more likely be read) who you are and why you are interested in an internship in this researcher's lab (focus on what you can bring to the lab, and what you want to learn from them). The email shouldn't be longer than a few sentences. Attach your CV and a more detailed motivation letter: if the brief email manages to get the researcher interested, they will have more detailed material available right away.

Try to make sure your email will arrive in the early morning (often, people start their work day by scanning their inbox; emails they receive at other times can get buried quickly); which means take any time difference into account if you're not in the same time zone. A polite follow-up email a week later if you still have no answer at that time is OK.

Do not bring up that you will pay for your costs in the first email; this is completely irrelevant to the application (your application needs to focus on science). In France, interns must be paid if their internship lasts longer than 60 days (at least this was the case 10 years ago; I don't think this has changed), and large research centers often pay interns even for shorter internships. The internship stipend is insufficient to cover an apartment rental in most cities, but you can figure out practical details once your internship is secured. The researcher can point you to relevant resources to find affordable housing, but keep in mind that this is not their job and you should expect to figure this out mostly on your own. Some research centers or campuses might have guest houses. For example, Paris has the Cité Internationale Universitaire which provides affordable housing for visiting students. This is the kind of resources you want to look for, once you know you're going.

  • Cost is extremely relevant here. A lot of professors are happy to take interns if they don't need to cover the very expensive cost of labor. The decision if they can afford the intern is usually made before they even look into the CV and if they don't have the funds they might not even do that.
    – user64845
    Feb 28, 2018 at 19:27
  • Of course. A lab in France must pay interns a minimal stipend (by law). Some places may pay more than the legal minimum (but I wouldn't count on that). And of course, any lab will only hire an intern if they can afford at least the legal minimum stipend for the entire duration of the internship. What I meant by "your costs are irrelevant" is that the lab doesn't care how much it costs to rent an apartment versus how much the stipend is (and the stipend won't be enough to rent an apartment, this I am sure; unless maybe shared rentals with several roommates).
    – Guillaume
    Feb 28, 2018 at 19:40
  • Yes of course, they (usually) don't care about that but you should let them know right away if you expect payment or not, even if it's only to avoid misunderstandings. It's half a sentence, it doesn't hurt to provide that information.
    – user64845
    Feb 28, 2018 at 21:52
  • I get your point. :-) Now, luckily pretty much nobody in France would think about hiring an intern for free anymore, at least in the sciences. Which is why we had this misunderstanding (not working for free, even for an internship, is so deeply rooted in my culture that I didn't correctly understand what you were talking about).
    – Guillaume
    Mar 1, 2018 at 0:12
  • But I'm pretty sure they take students/researcher with their own funding. It's quite common, especially for postdocs, to have their own funding through a fellowship like the marie curie ones and there are others for undergrads and graduate students too. The student will still be paid just by someone else.
    – user64845
    Mar 1, 2018 at 14:03

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