I would like to pursue a PhD in CS (in Europe). I have ended my master's degree like two years ago (also in Europe) and I have 4 publications in the area. Actually I am working in the industry so I have left the academic world. The question that I have is how to address a potential supervisor (which in most cases I have not known in person):

  • Should I sent him/her my CV straightforward and ask for possible open research topics in which he/she needs PhD students?

  • Should I ask him/her some assignment or task to prove that I have the enough background to fit into his research group?

I am actually very worried about how to manage this situation, it is not so easy in this time to get PhD positions in some countries.

Any advice?


2 Answers 2


While answer to your question needs more detail, but in general the answer looks like this:

Starting PhD is different at different universities. At many universities, faculty members receive applications from the PhD applicants and evaluate individually. However, at other universities mostly in the US, the application is evaluated by a committee.

In the first case, certainly, the best way to start is to initiate a communication with potential PhD supervisors by sending an email -as you said- along with your CV, academic history, SoP, and research proposal (proposal is not needed in US, but should not be a problem if you send). However, I think it may not really work if you ask them for assignment (maybe it works in some universities that I don't know).

One thing I noticed when I was searching for my PhD is that many supervisors write some notes on their pages and provide instructions for potential students to follow. If you simply don't follow them you won't be able to get position from them. Try to read their pages as carefully as you can.

I admit that there is tension in getting a PhD position. But it is all right and should be okay. Some guidelines may help you figure it our.

In general, to successfully secure a PhD position, you need certain qualifications and certificates listed as following:

  • Bachelor degree in relevant course with high GPA/CGPA (this is must)
  • Master degree in relevant course with high GPA/CPGA (This is not really a MUST-have requirement, since many universities offer PhD without having Master).
  • English Proficiency certificate (for English speaking countries) if you English is not your native language.
  • 2/3 reference letters in your favor (no wonder).
  • GRE for US-based universities.
  • Money to pay tuition fee (supervisors consider this as well. If you need financial assistance you should be really good compare to others).

That's all REQUIREMENTS. But, they are not sufficient to convince a potential academician to offer you a position, especially paid positions which are very competitive. If you want to enhance your chance, I think in CS you need the following qualifications:

  • Good quality publication(s) in good publishing venues (top ranked conference and journals)
  • Research experience (It may be true that Master by research graduates have better chance here).
  • Working experience in relevant areas
  • Teaching experience
  • Professional certificates from well-known organizations like Microsoft, and Oracle.
  • Volunteer jobs in the society (I heard a lot about it)
  • Academic or professional Awards like best student, best thesis, and best paper award.
  • GRE and SAT certificates
  • Intellectual properties (patents)

But, I think the most important thing is the first impression that you make using your first email, CV, SoP, statement of research and so on. If they look professional and neat, it attracts potential supervisor's attention and will evaluate your application optimistically.

Don't give up. You have to find the RIGHT supervisor, at the RIGHT university, at the RIGHT time, using the RIGHT channel. Keep trying and you will succeed.

  • 1
    great and detailed answer!
    – user7130
    Commented Dec 26, 2013 at 9:50
  • 1
    thanks. Remind me if anything important missing I can edit the answer to accommodate.
    – Espanta
    Commented Dec 26, 2013 at 10:14
  • 4
    this response is not quite true for Europe PhD.
    – SSimon
    Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 6:18
  • 3
    European phd programs typically DO require a master degree. (The question was about getting into a European phd program). Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 8:03
  • 1
    As an example for what @SSimon said, for applying for a German PhD position, do not include a research proposal but only state what are you want to work in and how you demonstrate that you already have good knowledge about this area (normally with a thesis and/or publications). Most positions are either in third-party funded projects, or the holder is supposed to support applications for such projects which needs expertise in areas that the PhD advisor is pushing forward. The chance to hit this with a research proposal is pretty much 0. Hence, they are not actually wanted. ...
    – DCTLib
    Commented Jan 14, 2022 at 12:25

Look for a supervisor!

If you already have published papers, you may have an idea of the specific problems you want to work on. So you may know which are the big names out there in the field, and who authored publications that you liked.

Jot down a list of names, read about their work, then ask them for a meeting to present yours and to ask for opportunities. They will be able to indicate the way forward better than anyone else. Also, you will know if you have found someone you want to work with for the next 3/4 years, or if you would rather continue what you are doing.

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