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I know there are already many similar questions posted on this website, but I need someone to comment on my email to potential advisors. I should mention that I've been sending emails to potential supervisors for over one month now, and very few of them have replied, which makes me think there's something wrong with my email. Also, I personalize these emails for each professor and investigate their research before sending the email.

Here is an example:

Dear Professor X, I am a graduate student of X from X University, highly interested in X and have recently published a paper in X. I have achieved a great deal of training and experiences in the field of targeted drug delivery. I’ve enjoyed reading your papers and ideas such as "assessing the impact of anti-PEG IgM on the biological performance of nanoparticles and using chelating zinc ions" and "optimisation of pH during nanoprecipitation to increase insulin loading into PLGA-PEG nanoparticles". Your research is best compatible with my research interest because I am looking for positions that I can both exploit my skills in drug delivery and further explore the field of X. I am very eager to know your opinion regarding my case in joining your research team as a PhD candidate for fall 2020. For more information, I have attached my resume as a PDF file. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely, XX

I would appreciate your comments about the email.

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    I get several versions of this email every week. Many of them appear to come from automailers - the 'paper of mine' that they claim to have enjoyed is often in a completely different field. The truth is there's little concrete here to make you stand out: everything you've said is very general, and completely unsubstantiated. – avid Oct 30 '19 at 10:17
  • Thank you for the feedback:) – panipiridin Oct 30 '19 at 15:34
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Like user avid, I used to get several of these and they were easy to ignore. Even retired for several years, I get a few. Some ask me to join my lab (which I never had). Others are from wildly different fields. Straight to trash, or even junk.

You seem to have avoided some of the pitfalls, provided that your field really is relevant to what the professor does.

But you ask too much. You've flooded the professor and implicitly asked for some analysis of all that is there. The CV as a pdf is overkill, for example. It is too early for that. Many recipients will stop reading after your first or second sentence. You will be immediately dumped with the others that are even more off base.

Dear Professor Buffy

I am inquiring whether you are accepting students at this time. If so, I'd like to discuss with you my qualifications and interest. I can provide whatever background information you need to evaluate my candidacy.

If you will have a position open in the near future I'd like to apply.

Sincerely panipiridin

You will be more likely to get some reply. Even if it is just "sorry", letting you know to move on. But if the reply is as simple as "say more" then you know you have an audience.

But it requires very little on the part of the busy professor, so is more likely to succeed. Don't ask for a lot in a contact email.

But, of course, do your homework first, so that you don't wind up wasting anyone's time, including your own. Make sure you have an idea of what that prof is really interested in. Prowl their web pages. Read a paper or two. Be ready to answer simple questions about that area of research.


I assume in the above that you are in a place/field in which early acceptance by a professor is required for admission to a program. That isn't universally the case, so understand the overall system too. For example, in the US in mathematics or CS it is normally the case that you first get accepted by the university. Then you start some coursework. Then you find an advisor. But here you get to have the conversation in their office and don't need (and shouldn't use) email.

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  • As someone who occasionally receives such requests, I would much prefer an initial request with an attached CV to one without. If I have to turn down the student after I requested his CV, that has a much higher social cost (awkwardness) than turning him down by not responding in the first place. – lighthouse keeper Oct 30 '19 at 12:15
  • I don't necessarily disagree, but the student asking should already be open to rejection, especially if there is a poor fit. But a separate (short) CV in a PDF is preferable, I think, to including the information in the mail itself. It can be ignored if there is no point in looking at it. – Buffy Oct 30 '19 at 12:22
  • I agree with this, but let me add that I always want to hear why the student wants to work with ME. What about my research attracts them? If I am just one of 100 people who are being emailed, I am not interested. – GrotesqueSI Oct 30 '19 at 13:24
  • Thank you professor buffy!what an interesting and fresh perspective! – panipiridin Oct 30 '19 at 15:37
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Like other respondents here, I recieve several emails that look similar to yours every week. I try to reply to as many as I can, but given that until yesterday I have worked 14 hour days for several weeks, some things have to go out the window.

Things that make me give an application a second look:

  • If you are a home student, all my funded PhD positions are advertised. If i'm not advertising a position, I don't have one.
  • If you are an overseas student then the biggest thing that is going to make a difference is whether you propose a source of funding or not. I do not, never have, and never will have money to use to pay for PhD students. The department gives me nothing and grant funders forbid the use of grants to pay for students. Everyone in my lab is on a studentship (those that I obtain will be advertised). I'm pretty sure this will apply to everyone in the UK, at least in life sciences. So unless you have £10k tuition fees, £10k bench-fee + £15k living expenses per year for at least 3 years, or an already researched suggestion for where to win it, the answer will always be no.
  • Okay, so you are funded. Great! Next I want to see that you actually are interested in me, and haven't just sent the email out to everyone who matches a few keywords. Mentioning my papers or even just something I mention is one way, but you have to say why you like something, or why it make me relevant to your interests. Its no good saying "I saw your paper "Gene regulation in the developing fly embryo" which I found very interested. I am passionate about finding a cure for anti-microbial resistance, so we are a perfect fit.". Or reference a paper that I was 4th author out of 8 10 years ago.
  • Many people who write to me miss that I am a computational biologist, and although people who work with me often do some experimental work, my research is mostly statistical and data analytic. Plus its entirely eukaryotic. So don't write with a long list of all the experimental techniques you are proficient in. Its not just that this means you havn't done your research, but it probably means you do not have a suitable background and do not realise it. I'm more than happy to support bright, capable, students how have an aptitude for numbers/computers, but whose experience up to now is experimental, as long as they are aware of this and are make a conscious and thought-through decision to change fields.

On top of all this brevity is key as I often don't have much time to read things.

Here is an example:

Dear Professor X,

I am a graduate student of X from X University, highly interested in X and have recently published a paper in X. I wonder if you are accepting PhD students at this time? If so would you consider my application, which I propose to fund via a Commonwealth Fund PhD scholarship?

As part of my master's research I read your paper X. I very much enjoyed the way your did Y. My past experience is mostly experimental, but am specifically looking for a position that would allow me to learn more computational approaches to these problems.

Yours

As I said before, I do try to reply to these emails. Where they look like serious efforts that are just a bad fit, I also forward them to the department postgrudate recruitment officer who can see if they would be a better fit for someone else in the department.

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  • With your first two points, you want to say "do research on the professor's homepage, if any", right? – Thomas Oct 30 '19 at 14:34
  • My first two points are about funding. If I advertise PhDs, they'll be on findaphd.com and on the departmental website at the least. I'll probably also be promoting them on twitter, facebook, various discipline specific forums etc. As for finding your own funding ... I have no idea what scholarships are around for countries other than my own. You are in a better place to research that than me. For the last two points - yes, research a professor's homepage (if any) and google scholar record. – Ian Sudbery Oct 30 '19 at 14:41
  • Yes, so those first two points (only) apply when one applies to you. When applying to a more general professor, one should replace them by "research the professor's homepage, facebook etc.". – Thomas Oct 30 '19 at 14:53
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    They would generally apply when apply to any potential supervisor in the UK (life sciences at least). – Ian Sudbery Oct 30 '19 at 15:21
  • Ok, so for the UK. My point is that many professors do not advertise positions online or have no website -- so one has to replace the first two points by "do dliligent research", unless one applies in the UK. – Thomas Oct 30 '19 at 15:42

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