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I have sent emails to a few (about 10) professors in different Computer Science research labs (related to my research interests) to see if they have any postdoc position available. However, I received no response at all. Of course, one assumption is that there wasn't any open position in those labs matching my CV. However, I was wondering if the structure of my emails is good/proper enough to motivate them to look into my CV?

Generally, I use the following structure with proper modifications according to the research theme of the person:

Dear Prof. X
I am XX, a Ph.D. candidate in the XX group of YY University, which is under the supervision of Prof. ZZ.

I am about to finish my Ph.D. study (in the submission phase) which is about using different XX methods (X, Y, Z) for the problem of XX, and currently, I am looking for postdoc opportunities relevant to my skills and interests.

I studied your recent research and projects and I noticed you have a strong research theme in XX and YY. I am really interested in your ongoing topics of ZZ and XYX, and I liked your publications which focus on DD and FF.

Therefore, I am really interested to know if you have any open postdoc position at your lab regarding similar topics in XX and YY. I have attached my CV for your view, but I also welcome any opportunity to discuss the possibilities with you in any formal/informal meeting.

Thank you very much for your time.

I write the third paragraph based on the research themes or topics in the research lab that I find interesting and relevant to my current skills.

I'm not sure if the length is good enough, and should I mention which specific topics from their ongoing/past research I am interested in? or I should let it be open to any possible discussion? Also, I have not met them before, so I introduce myself at the beginning.

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    How long have you waited? Were the professors hiring? – user2768 Mar 26 '19 at 16:25
  • @user2768: Two weeks. – Bob Mar 26 '19 at 16:27
  • As long as you actually don't have a PhD, and you never met the Prof. in person or he/she saw one of your posters/presentations, looks like a waste of time maybe for him. Also, did you check thoroughly on the group website, if there are open PhD/Postdoc positions? It's often explicitly stated there. – user48953094 Mar 26 '19 at 16:28
  • @user2768: For a formal applicaton I expect a few months to hear an answer. But for an informail email I think this should not take this long. Isn't it right? – Bob Mar 26 '19 at 16:28
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    If none of those professors are hiring then you can reasonably expect all of them to ignore, especially if you don't know any of them. – user2768 Mar 26 '19 at 16:37
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Generally such positions are advertised and often must be. Adverts are placed in such places as professional journals/newsletters and in newsgroups related to the field in question. Given this practice, blind letters may not even be answered and you can assume that there are no positions available.

Alternatively, if your relationship to your advisor is good enough s/he can ask around among acquaintances about the possible availability or future availability of such jobs. The advisor probably won't be ignored.

A third possibility is to attend a suitable conference or other meeting and get to know people and explore the possibilities in person, making yourself known, but also trying to build a network of future collaborators.

Your letter is probably fine, but it will probably be trashed. There are too many blind appeals for people to spend any time on them. In the old days of departmental secretaries it was different, but no more.

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  • Once you mentioned you are already retired, otherwise I'd have asked you for any possible positions as well. :D – Bob Mar 26 '19 at 17:05
  • I've noticed cases of postdoc positions in Germany (where I look) which do not have any public advertisements. That's why I tried to email some of the labs. Also, a part of my question is how specific I should be when I ask about possible research topics? – Bob Mar 27 '19 at 10:05
  • sometimes, if a prof is esp. interested in you, they will point out external sources of funding one could apply for. They often have a lot of experience which agencies often grant funding in their field. One could add this as a question to the letter – Noldig Mar 27 '19 at 20:34
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Response to your technique

I would not expect any sort of response to an unsolicited email like yours when there is no formal application or position. I have worked at undergraduate only institutions (i.e., no graduate program and no postdocs) and received a half-dozen or more of these solicitations each year, many of them tailored to match my research interests as you describe. I would imagine that faculty at a research focused school would get many dozen email requests like yours. Much like other forms of spam, there is a similar format and emails like this are often quickly pattern matched and discarded.

You may also be doing yourself a disservice. If there is a postdoc position that you end up applying for, you may have created a negative impression with your initial email because you did not apply through the normal means ("Rules don't apply to me!" and/or "I can't be bothered to look at the website!"). I do appreciate your go-getter attitude, but I suspect that you'll have a very low success rate. Maybe 1 in 100 (or 1000) professors will reply.

Feedback on your email

The format of your email seems fine. I might change "view" to "review" and consider changing the immediately subsequent "but" to an "and".

Suggestion of alternate approaches

As others have stated, many (probably most) of the postdoc positions will be advertised via the web. This is probably your best route. However, if you do prefer emailing inquiries, rather than spamming faculty directly, I would suggest contacting the hiring, graduate admissions, or departmental administrative assistant to inquire about positions. These are people who have a job that is about communicating with people like you. You will likely get a much better response rate.

Edited to add: My comments are from a US perspective. I can't speak to norms and expectations in other countries.

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  • Indeed, I did not mean to send blind spam-style emails. I studied the research and publications of the group to see if they are in my skill area and if I like what they do ... But, based on what you and Buffy said, it may sound the other way around to the faculty! So, I'd better change my strategy! Thank you! – Bob Mar 28 '19 at 10:27
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As with many things related to hiring, it is not what you know but who you know. The form-letter approach is very obvious (as other answers have mentioned) and professors who aren't actively looking are not likely to give your mail a serious look. Therefore, you should focus on working your advisor's network and your personal network. Then, even if there is a requirement by the country or university to have an "open" application, the job posting will be tailored to fit you and your experience.

If you don't have a network or nobody in your advisor's network is hiring (or you and they don't have a great relationship), then it's time to attend a conference or two and give some talks or posters based on your work. Then through coffee breaks or Q&A sessions you can get some personal interaction with some folks you're interested in working with and briefly inquire: "Hey, Prof. X, I really loved your (student's) talk! I'm actually getting my PhD on a related topic, working with Prof. Y in a couple months and I'm thinking about my next steps. Would you happen to have any positions open?"

Failing that, then it's time to hit the job postings, which are for faculty and projects where their internal network didn't have anybody suitable graduating soon and they have to start an actual blind search process. The hit rate here will probably be low, but at the very least you are explicitly applying for open positions and not risking sending an unwanted spam e-mail.

A final point to consider is that in your form-email you phrase something like "I noticed you have a strong research theme in XX." This screams out to me that what you really mean is "I did a cursory Google search and your name came up." If you do write an e-mail like this in the future (possibly as a cover letter or cover e-mail to an official application), you should never use verbs like "noticed" or "happened" or some other word that indicates some element of chance in your discovery. "oh i was just thumbing through Journal X and I noticed your name." The e-mail should seem more purposeful than this, that you are e-mailing them because of their eminence in the field and this is a carefully considered decision that you know will help you reach the next phase in your career path! In other words a little flattery will help you a little, but a little anti-flattery will kill you!

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