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I am applying for graduate physics and I was wondering to work with a well-known professor in Caltech. He is a pioneer in the field that I am interested in. I have a kinda outstanding background, however, I am not sure if the professor is looking for exotic genius students who have completed their master at 18 or something! In this sense, I am very ordinary. How should I send an email to the professor and finally understand if I have any chance to do my PhD under his supervision or not?

P.S. I just want to know how one should contact a professor to make themselves sure that whether the professor is willing to accept them as a graduate student. I do not ask please decide on behalf of me.

marked as duplicate by astronat, scaaahu, user9646, jakebeal, Buzz Aug 19 '18 at 4:58

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  • 1
    Also "exotic genius students who have completed their PhD at 18": I'm pretty sure this type of person doesn't exist (and if they did, why would a professor want them as a graduate student?). – astronat Aug 18 '18 at 8:56
  • @astronat I edited the question :) – mathvc_ Aug 18 '18 at 9:00
  • "Exotic" has bad connotations. I would probably change that phrasing. – Azor Ahai Aug 19 '18 at 1:15

Your email may run something like this (names and subject areas can be changed, of course):

Dear Professor Carroll,

Are you accepting PhD students at the moment? I am planning to apply to CalTech this year for a PhD in physics and I am really interested in cosmology and in particular, your work on the arrow of time. I am currently a 3rd year undergraduate at University of Somewhere and have taken courses in differential geometry and astrophysics.

Best wishes,


  • Accepting your answer, I want to add one thing. Professors are in general more inclined to answer when you read their papers and also put a part of their paper in the title of e-mail. In other words, after seeing and reading your e-mail he should be convinced that you at least partly understand whom you are talking to and what kind of research you like to do. Title part is also attention catcher in this aspect. – user91300 Aug 18 '18 at 11:55
  • @GürayHatipoğlu Is it a good idea to put "Possible Prospective Graduate Student"? – mathvc_ Aug 18 '18 at 12:07
  • @mathvc_ if you are to apply, I guess you are already prospective. If you are unsure about it, at least I would not make others know that, as they are likely to consider surer candidates, but it is just my thought. – user91300 Aug 18 '18 at 17:32
  • @GürayHatipoğlu and also put a part of their paper in the title of e-mail — I think you meant “and also say something of technical substance about the paper in the body of the email, so that you look like you actually read it, understood it, and appreciate it, rather that just blindly pasting the title”. – JeffE Aug 18 '18 at 19:58
  • @JeffE Is it really worth adding to your email some note about one of their papers when you're inquiring about whether they have grad student slots open? It just seems like noise. – Azor Ahai Aug 19 '18 at 1:18

The only way to get this done is just to do it. If you don't do it, nothing will happen. While your chances may be small it is probably worth your effort if for no other reason than it will get you to think about yourself and your goals.

The professor will want to know a few things about you before he will consider you. First, what can you offer as a student? Part of this is your enthusiasm for the task, but it also involves some things about your preparation and background.

But you need to convey to the professor why you are an interesting candidate for this. He will have a lot of applications for any position. Many of them will be highly qualified. But there is ordinary highly qualified and there is interesting highly qualified. Have you done something in this field? Have you any ideas for research problems yet unsolved. Have you any ideas about recent work that might be extended?

But, don't assume success in this. It may or may not happen. Have a backup plan in place in case it doesn't.

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