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I would like to apply for graduate programs in Japan, and I have sent email to several professors in Japan (e.g., Todai, Tohoku) using this format (I only change the name of the professor and university, since the research topic is always the same):

Dear Prof Name,

I would like to introduce myself, I am Ahmad Zahi Ulul Azmi, Graduate of Engineering Physics from Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) with specialization in robotics, medical instrumentation, and control. My Undergraduate thesis is about assistive exoskeleton robot for upper-limb stroke recovery therapy. Moreover, i have developed several robot such as unmanned ground vehicle controlled by smartphone, autonomous underwater robot (Champion of autonomous underwater robot category in Singapore Robotic Games 2016), remote operated underwater robot, quadcopter, and wall-climbing robot.

I would like to pursue Graduate Program in Toyohashi Univeresity of Technology for Fall Semester next year with MEXT university recommendation scheme scholarship. I am looking for possibilities for conducting research in your laboratory. I will be glad and feel honored if i can be accepted as graduate student in this university and have you as my supervisor. For the fundamental asset, i am familiar with CAD especially SolidWorks, i have done several projects with it. Also, i have a good basic knowledge about mechanics, calculus, control system, signal processing, computer vision, and programming in Python, C, and C++. I think it will be really useful for my research at Toyohashi Univeresity of Technology . Apart of it, i am ready to learn something new and develop more advanced robot.

If my study field is not well suited with your laboratory, i would be truly grateful if i could get a recommendation of another laboratory or professor.

With this email i attach my CV, please contact me if you require any further details or documents. I hope to hear from you in the near future.

Thank you

But I don't get any responses. Is there anything wrong with my email? How can I enhance it?

  • 1
    Your English could use a bit of work. In particular, the personal pronoun "I" should always be capitalised. However, I doubt that's a reason for getting no responses. – astronat Nov 9 '18 at 8:29
  • You need ti customize each letter to the professor and his or her lab. Find their papers or papers of lab members and tie your experience or skills what the professor and lab group are working on. – mkennedy Nov 9 '18 at 18:45
  • What kind of response do you expect to your e-mail? You're not asking any question. – fkraiem Nov 9 '18 at 21:41
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It needs to be much snappier. Consider something like this:

Dear Professor Name,

Do you have any positions available for graduate students in the Fall? I have a lot of experience with CAD, control systems, and signal processing (i.e., my autonomous underwater robot won the 2018 Singapore competition), and have published a few well-received papers [1,2]. This seems well aligned with your past work on similar topics [3,4], so I would be pleased to discuss opportunities working for you (or your colleagues) as a PhD student. Please let me know.

Name

[1] https://arxiv.org:blah.pdf

[2] etc.

where [1] and [2] are references to papers, links, codebases -- anything they can dive into to understand you more, and [3] and [4] are references to their work, so they see that you took the time to research them.

For me personally, I almost never respond to generic e-mails.

Note, I know nothing about the Japanese system; I'm only commenting on how your e-mail could be generally improved. (In particular, I'm wondering if this mail should be written in Japanese -- I know a lot of science is done in English, but if you speak Japanese, and the language of the university is Japanese, it might be better to write in Japanese or at least provide a translation).

  • hello, thank you for your reply, I really appreciate it. I used this subject "Asking the possibility to enroll as TUT graduate student in your laboratory", is it appropriate? TUT is the name of the university – Zahi Azmi Nov 10 '18 at 10:30
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    No. The grammar is wrong, but worse, it is wordy and sycophantic. How about a subject like "PhD candidate - dynamic control" or even "grad school position" – cag51 Nov 10 '18 at 21:50
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I've worked for Japanese universities that are considered prestigious, both national and private. I am going to base this answer on my experiences with professors and administrative staff. I should note that while I did do a little bit of teaching, a good chunk of my duties at both universities was administrative support, especially communications between faculty and students both Japanese and international.

Bottom line is that there is a chance your email is not going to get looked at, but there are things you should take in to account, and things you can do, to increase your chances of actually finding a grad position while still staying sane.

  1. You are going in with a disadvantage in that your email is in English. It depends on how comfortable the individual professor is with English, but I know plenty of professors who either just trash English emails from people they don't know or have students/staff (i.e. Myself) look at it, and then just blow it off when they hear it's a foreigner looking for a grad position. Keep this in mind so that you don't feel too disappointed when a professor doesn't get back to you.

  2. The email is too long and difficult to read. Again, keep in mind that it's more likely than not that the person who ends up reading your email is not proficient in English, at least not to your level. Keep it concise and to the point. I would also recommend making the title something short and clear, for example, "Supervisor for G30 Ph.D".

  3. You're probably not going to get a normal graduate position meant for domestic applicants, unless you are proficient in Japanese enough for academic purposes. Programs for non-Japanese speakers do actually exist, but randomly emailing professors won't get you a response. You need to actually look for those programs and apply accordingly. If you want information on such opportunities, you are better off emailing the university's admissions office, or at least the department office. Emailing professors asking about grad position openings will only result in them deleting your email, or if you are lucky they may forward it to the admissions office but I doubt it.

  4. You need to check that the professor is actually accepting students, especially international students. If they are not taking students that year, they will simply discard your email and forget about it. This information is usually available on the department's website as part of the admissions page, or at least it will be included in the admissions information packet.

Right now, MEXT is putting incredible pressure on universities to increase the number of international students and to promote diversity, so many universities are creating internal quotas for non-Japanese students. I have talked to admissions officers from other universities over drinks and heard them complain about having to accept international students who do not meet the standards normally applied to domestic applicants because they need to fulfill the quotas, especially programs that are funded by the government and need to have the numbers to continue being funded. If you can find the right programs, they will be hungry for international students, especially those who have already proven themselves as talented.

Here's one well-known example: G30 Program

  • In this respect, (Japanese) researchers in CS are much better: they actually read and reply to my English language emails... – xuq01 Dec 6 '18 at 10:15
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Remember that professors receive hundreds of such an email every day and they don't have time to read all of them -if not any one of them-. To increase the chances that your email get noticed by at least one professor, you will need to send a lot of these emails. However, be careful and do not send standard emails to several professors because it is easy to be recognised and it gives a very bad idea about you and your working attitudes. Actually, this way is not really prefered by most of the professors -I would say- because your email would be considered annoying if the professor is busy and he/she does not aim to supervise new students, regardless of their qualities.

The other option is to check their websites and whether they announce offers (scholarship or job). In this case, you can contact the professor on this basis and of course very high chance to be contacted if your cv and skills fulfil the requirements.

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I've worked with researchers at both Tohoku and Tokyo University, among others. Their English is typically excellent and have better writing skills than spoken English. This is not your problem. Contacting by email is the norm.

These are among the top schools in the country (especially in your field) with many applicants each year. It is common in Japan to ignore emails they're not interested in and not to respond to unsuccessful applicants. Sorry, no news is usually bad news.

There are a few things to bear in mind to support your case. Sorry, these are not really related to your specific field of interest but are more general concerns. You need to show that you have independence and ambition to be successful in Japan. Both living abroad and the research environment are very demanding. If you can suggest a specific research interest or reason for seeking a career specifically in Japan that will help to show you are serious about it. Having a common connection such as a recommendation from their collaborators will also help them to trust you. Be proactive and offer apply for funds yourself, ask only their support and feedback. If you are able to, offer to visit their laboratory or Skype them and their lab members. Anyone serious about applying should also be looking for if it's the right research environment for them as well. Whether an international student can handle the language and cultural barriers is a real concern in Japan and they will prefer candidates that have realistic expectations, ideally those that have visited Japan before and have some language skills.

English is still very challenging for them (it's vastly different to their native language). Be clear and concise. They're busy and you need to get to your point quickly. Leave the details for your resume, it can be assumed that a candidate proposing research in a particular field would only do so if they had the technical skills to carry it out. State clearly if there is a technique that their laboratory is good at that you are interested to learn with them. It is much more convenient for them to take domestic students so while international students can bring new skills into the lab, they are more of an administrative headache and more of a burden to mentor entirely in English.

Depending on the lab, they may not be willing to consider this. They should only respond to you if they are prepared to guide you. This a big commitment for them, it will demand their time to train you and their research funds to provide equipment for you. They have the right not to do so. It's better for you if you end up in a lab that is able to give you the support that you need. They also may have funds to support you or fund a visit to their institute (do not ask for this but bear in mind that they could offer it to you).

Please be polite and respectful, especially for senior academics in Japan. Once you meet them, they may understand that foreign cultures are not so hierarchical but until then, you cannot know whether they will be offended. Addressing them by "Surname sensei" is typical for a professor. Be polite to their students and administrators as well, they will pay attention to how well you treat them. Overall, the entire tone needs to be more polite and formal for someone you've never met before (even if they aren't from such as respectful culture as Japan).

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