The graduate program to which I am applying has a centralized admission procedure, so individual professors cannot accept students. However, they recommend taking a look at the faculty, so that our research proposals are aligned with the work being done there. (Un)fortunately, the field I'd like to work in is quite unexplored, which might help me — but also makes it hard to find professors with a similar interest.

While browsing the faculty Web site, I found the professor whose research aligns most with my intended research proposal and whose page explicitly encouraged potential students to get in touch, so I emailed her to ask if (1) she thought our interests would be compatible and/or (2) she thought that someone else in the department could be interested in following me. It was a thoughtful email, a brief introduction and references to her previous work. It's been a week and she hasn't replied yet — and with professors I've learned that if they don't reply within a day, they probably missed your email, or they saw it but forgot it immediately after.

I really would like to follow up on my email, because the holiday break is approaching. I'd really like some feedback on my proposal before I submit it in early January. I also think that showing that I got in touch with the faculty would help my application. However, I also don't want to seem too insistent, because it might hurt my chances. Should I email her again? How long should I wait before I do so? Or maybe she did not reply in the first place because my email was inappropriate?

Also, there are a few other professors who might be compatible with my research proposal. Would it be good etiquette to email them too?

  • 1
    Is this in the US or somewhere else?
    – Buffy
    Dec 15, 2018 at 1:09
  • 1
    It's in the UK. Dec 15, 2018 at 1:20

2 Answers 2


When to email somebody a follow-up email depends on how time-sensitive the topic is and other factors you may be aware of. For people in close contact (e.g. a student taking a professor's class, or colleagues), a day or two is typically an acceptable wait time. For somebody that you initiate email contact with, a week is more typical. Other considerations are how much thinking the response might require: if you asked lots of questions, they may need more time to think about it before formulating a reply. Do you have reason to believe the person may be busier than usual (e.g. exam season or a conference)? If so, it would be polite to give them more time to catch up with their email.

In this case, a week or two is probably a sufficient amount of time. Less than a week would be too soon, as you haven't met them before emailing them. More than two weeks is getting close to winter break, at which point most academics check their email less frequently, and you need enough time to contact other professors if she suggests any. It's also possible other people are asking her similar questions. It's a busy time of year, so one follow-up couldn't hurt. (If she doesn't respond after a second email, I wouldn't send a third email.)

Here are a few resources you could check out about how to write your follow-up email:

You'll find other resources linked from these questions and by searching online, too. Most formal reminder emails follow a similar format. Remember to be brief.

It's certainly worth contacting other professors! I do not see any reason why not to.

  • 1
    The time of year is also important. At this time of year, which is exam season at many institutions, a socially busy time, people take early holidays, and may work to deadlines for other things, responses are likely to be longer than the ideal. It's hard to know exactly when staff will be in the office. But a follow-up can't hurt, it's just important to realise responsees may not be immediate.
    – Stuart F
    Dec 18, 2018 at 14:01
  • @StuartF That’s what I was getting at with “exam season or conference”, but you’re right that there are other busy seasons as well!
    – jvriesem
    Dec 18, 2018 at 14:25

I agree with jvriesem.

You can contact other professors, especially given that you did not receive any answer from the first professor. There are plenty of reasons why the first professor ultimately will be not be able to be your advisor (e.g., too busy, not interested in this topic, sabbatical break). So, I think it is fine that at this initial stage you check possible options. In your Email, after all, you are asking whether your theme can be potentially interested for you. You do not promise to start doing Phd (or Master) with them. You are just checking. Neither do they promise.

As to the reminding: a week is obviously more than enough to answer, especially given that you did not receive any out of office reply. Write your email as a reply (forward) to your initial one, so that the original email will be at the bottom. Probably change the subject of the email, in case the first one went into spam. Just write that you are very sorry, but I will really appreciate if you can answer me because my application deadline is soon.

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