How do I approach an unknown professor before a PhD interview? My defense (viva) will be held next March and I will be seeking a postdoctoral fellowship after that.

I want to contact a Professor relevant to my research interests to discuss potential future research topics and get short-listed for an interview.

My field is Mathematics (pure maths).

What are the best ways to approach a professor in this field?

  • 1
    Say a bit more. Why do you want to contact the professor. What do you need?
    – Buffy
    Nov 22 '18 at 0:10
  • okkss @Buffy wait im editing
    – jasmine
    Nov 22 '18 at 0:11
  • 1
    If you are nearby, just make an appointment and go for a visit. If you are farther away you can send an email. Talk about your math interests and ask what you can do to prepare for an interview. It isn't hard. Most professors are used to this sort of thing. However, some professors require that you make formal application to the program first. (Of course, if you are Lionel Messi, you can talk about futbol).
    – Buffy
    Nov 22 '18 at 0:18
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    Where is the professor located (your institute, city or further away)? Will you be able to visit them or would this be done online? Does this professor engage in collaborations or attend the same conferences as your supervisor(s)? Note, you must be careful to contact anyone who might be examining your thesis as your institution may have rules about knowing who they are or influencing the result.
    – Tom Kelly
    Nov 22 '18 at 1:24

Most academics are open to meeting prospective postdoctoral candidates or future collaborators (even if they don’t currently have funds to recruit you). Many plan for the long term. The best thing to do is contact them ahead of time by email to schedule a meeting. It’s best to meet in person if you can but videoconferencing is also okay. They’ll be interested in whether you can communicate well and work with their research group in addition to potential research projects. If you are visiting their institution while travelling for a conference in the future or planning to apply for fellowship funding that you are eligible for.

You can also offer to give a seminar when visiting their department. They can offer support to host you be do not expect this. If you plan to visit, contact them long in advance in case they need time to organise your visit.

Please be patient and respectful, they are very busy and may not get back to you straight away. It’s helpful to mention any common connections you have including working on related projects. If you can, you should mention that you know their collaborators or have met them before at a conference. If their collaborator has recommended to contact them, you should include that when you introduce yourself but you can still contact them directly rather than getting someone to do it on your behalf.


The best way to do so is simply to email them. If your research interests align with theirs and your publication record is sufficiently impressive it'll start a conversation at the very least. Don't forget to attach an updated CV. If you're uncomfortable with this (or your publication record is not sufficiently impressive), some avenues to get their attention could be

  • Have a mutual professional acquaintance facilitate an introduction.
  • Look through their publications, find one that you're interested in and begin a discussion through it: how would you improve it? If you have amazing ideas that'll get their attention.

Be advised that funding is a major issue when taking on a postdoc. Some pure math fields do not attract research funding, so make sure that the professor has funding to take you (e.g. their website says they're looking, or they are advertising in mathematics mailing lists).

Good luck!

  • 1
    Alternatively, if the professor does not have funding when you write to them, make it clear that what you are looking for is their mentorship on an application for a personal fellowship. Nov 22 '18 at 11:28

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