I am applying for post-docs, and there is a professor I would very much like to work with. I would like to e-mail him and see if he has any open positions in his lab.

I have never met the professor before, though I am friends with several of his former and current graduate students. I feel like this is an important thing to bring up. What is the best way bring this up in a brief e-mail?

  • 4
    I would write about mutual (research) interests instead, unless you have done some research or at least fruitful discussions with some of his former students.
    – user4511
    Sep 6, 2013 at 17:30
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    Another possibility is to frame the email using "X suggested I speak with you." I'm not sure how much difference it makes to the reader, but I certainly find it easier to write emails to people I don't know if I can create a similar context. It is better if the suggester is someone with higher stature than a current graduate student, though. Sep 6, 2013 at 18:17
  • @VahidShirbisheh of course i will discuss mutual research interests, i meant in addition to that. i have worked in the same department as his former students, so while we don't have any research projects together we have discussed science ad nauseam. i believe these students are capable of providing a character reference in addition to vouching for my technical expertise
    – Tom
    Sep 6, 2013 at 20:47
  • that should be "of course (comma) i will discuss..."; re-reading my comment, it sounds unintentionally brash
    – Tom
    Sep 6, 2013 at 21:10
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    Is your interaction with the students purely social or academic ? If the former, then the "X suggested I speak to you" construction is sufficient. If the latter, then you can briefly spell out the connection (one sentence or so)
    – Suresh
    Sep 6, 2013 at 21:17

1 Answer 1


I'll answer with a view from the other side (I.e. as a recruiting professor). Getting mention of a mutual acquaintance in an application email (or cover letter) is not so common. Most often, I find out about those from reading the CV (former student of mine was PhD advisor, for example) or by getting a separate recommendation (or follow-up) by email directly from our mutual friend.

But, I did recently receive such an application mentioning a common acquaintance, and I must admit it was a nice touch. I definitely will bring up the subject with said acquaintance in the net future, checking for his views on the candidate.

The wording was "light": "I heard a lot of good things about your research group by XXX, who is an officemate in my current group".

  • Thanks for this response! I think that your sentence construction is perfect, I much prefer it to "X suggested I speak with you" (suggested in the comments). However, beforehand I will see if my friend could alert the professor to my interest, to help him make the connection (assuming he/she can do this is a fairly casual/natural manner).
    – Tom
    Sep 11, 2013 at 21:50

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