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I am a person in an Asian country who plans to write to professors in Europe for a PhD position in Math for the session of 2022. I know Europe has a lot of countries and is certainly not a uniform block but I think the way of writing e-mails must be similar.

I want to know if my way of writing e-mails is good, so that professors actually look at them and take an interest in my profile. Since I don't know any of them, I can't afford to write a not so good e-mail, especially because there are only a few people working in my research area.

This is the way I write to them. I always attach my CV to the e-mail (4 pages long):


Respected Professor,

I am a resident of [my Country name] and I completed my masters in mathematics in June 2020 from [My Institute Name].

I am looking for PhD positions in Algebraic Geometry.

Since June 2020, I took a break to self study more mathematics courses but could not apply anywhere in 2021 due to personal reasons.

Upon learning about your work I went through your research satement and found it to be aligning with my interests, hence I would very much like to work with you. Kindly find my CV attached along with this e-mail. Can you please tell me if there is a vacancy for new PhD applicants in your working group for session 2022?

I am available to discuss the possiblilty further and look foreward hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

[My Name]


This is the e-mail I plan to send to all the professors I am interested in working with. Please let me know your thoughts on this.

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  • In general, as long as the email is targeted, it is good. We receive too many such spams or fishing emails. They go straight into the Trash folder! Aug 8 at 7:58
  • @Prof.SantaClaus I think your 1st and 2nd statements are contradictory. can you please elaborate what you mean?
    – res
    Aug 8 at 8:11
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    What @Prof.SantaClaus means is that you should customize your emails to professors, and it shouldn't look as though they were just one among 10 professors you emailed. What do you find interesting about the professor's work? You need to talk about that for THAT professor's email, not just mass mail your CV and a generic statement to them. Aug 8 at 8:14
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    I'm not an expert, but I think your emails need to be more targeted. You say "Upon learning about your ..... with my interests" but you don't specify how they match.
    – justauser
    Aug 8 at 9:02
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    I always feel we are only telling part of the story in these „how to cold email“ support questions. The hard truth is, while there are better and worse ways to cold email, there simply is no way to cold email somebody who does not know you with any real chance of getting a position - a multi-year commitment - out of them.
    – xLeitix
    Aug 8 at 20:20
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+50

As others have said, this would either get either automatically filtered or manually put into the junk folder.

Respected Professor,

While I believe this is the correct address (after translation) in a number of Asian countries this is unusual in western countries. I wouldn't say it is technically wrong (though it does suggest that you may be sucking up to this person - a negative quality), but it does show the minimal effort has been put into this email. With this form of address you could spam many people with the same email, so any recipient may assume that is the case. You can assume: "Dear Prof X", is the most formal and respectful form of address in western countries, and would be more respectful than "Respected Professor" since it demonstrates you've at least taken the time to get their name right. Though be careful to not refer to someone who isn't a professor as a professor, that indicates that you didn't actually spend time finding out about them. If you happen to email anyone like that you should use "Dear Dr. X" instead.

I am a resident of [my Country name] and I completed my masters in mathematics in June 2020 from [My Institute Name].

I am looking for PhD positions in Algebraic Geometry.

What did you do in your masters? Did you write a thesis? If so what was the topic? This is the point where you have a chance to intrigue the recipient, why should they bother to consider you over any other random person who might contact them. The topic of your masters' thesis gives them some information about what you might contribute and if you're actually a good fit for their group. By giving the topic you demonstrate that either you know enough to tell that these topics are related, or that the person you wrote to can safely ignore your application as irrelevant.

If you are hoping to change fields you may want to add an extra (brief) sentence explaining why you want to now work in algebraic geometry. Or if your thesis topic convinced you to work in algebraic geometry you might add a brief sentence about that as well.

Since June 2020, I took a break to self study more mathematics courses but could not apply anywhere in 2021 due to personal reasons.

Probably too much information, but in any case the next thing you need to do is explain why you are contacting this person for a PhD opportunity.

Upon learning about your work I went through your research satement and found it to be aligning with my interests, hence I would very much like to work with you. Kindly find my CV attached along with this e-mail. Can you please tell me if there is a vacancy for new PhD applicants in your working group for session 2022?

Too generic, you could use this sentence with anyone you emailed and so haven't demonstrated that you are invested in joining their group (otherwise you would go into more detail). You need to explain to them why them, not in the sense that they are very respected in their field, but rather how do your interests align with their interests.

This section should be targeted at whoever you are emailing, and if you didn't need to spend much time on it, then its probably bad (unless you happened to do your masters' thesis on their work). Because you need to spend more time on this section, you probably won't be emailing as many people as you otherwise would. But this forces you to only email the most appropriate potential supervisors, and so the people you email can be more confident that you may be a potential student/it's not a waste of time to look at your CV. Think of this like game theory if you're familiar with it: by specialising each email to its recipient, you are making it so that you've wasted more time if they reject you. If the person you're emailing sees this signal and knows it can't be falsified (such as by using a template) then they know they work on something interesting to you, rather than just working in your field.

You should also be careful not to show a lack of attention if their website says: "we are currently looking for PhD students, see [site]", "We have no positions available at this time", "PhD inquires are always welcome". In the case of no positions available you may want to inquire about whether they anticipate any opening up in the near future, or if they know of anyone else in a related field who is looking, or about to begin looking, for PhD students. It might also be worth asking them about this if you are cold-emailing them and they haven't said that they are looking for students or that inquiries are always welcome.

I am available to discuss the possiblilty further and look foreward hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

[My Name]

For the ending I would say "Sincerely," rather than "Yours sincerely," sounds more appropriate. Also "I am available ..." doesn't sound right to me, though at the very least it should be "possibility" and "forward".


In addition to the above, I'm going to take a guess that there are a couple of cultural differences impacting how you wrote your letter and are leading you astray for contacting potential European supervisors. I would be interested to hear if you think any of these may be correct/relevant in your case.

The first guess is that standardised tests/grades probably contribute less towards who gets hired/accepted in western cultures. When hiring someone, you want to know that you chose the best person, but this is based on what knowledge/skills/attitude the person could bring moreso than on what standardised tests say. Because filtering based on this takes more time than filtering according to grades (which are easy to order), each applicant costs the professor more time to decide upon. Therefore the expectation is that applicant provides stronger signals that this is important to them (by spending more time preparing the email in such a way that it will be wasted if they are rejected), as well as providing more information hinting towards their knowledge/skills/attitude and how it could fit into and help the group.

While I would be incredibly surprised if which people are hired as PhD students is decided solely by the grade they received in undergrad/masters, I could believe that there might be more leeway if everyone who applies is influenced by an assumption like this.

The second guess is that face-saving practices are much less common in western countries than eastern countries. I'm wondering if the expectation of face-saving may lead you to writing more general statements which have less of a chance of being wrong or exposing a mis-understanding that you have. Since a loss of face is not as bad in western cultures the expectations may be that prospective students take more risks where they might expose ignorance, but if they are good then they will demonstrate a better understanding of the topic than they otherwise could.

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No, the email is not good at all.

First, one step back: Why are you emailing? In your email, you are asking whether there is a vacancy in the research group. If there is one, it will be advertised whereever PhD positions for the country/subject combination get advertised. So look there instead.

Second, while mentioning algebraic topology puts you ahead of the curve (assuming you indeed write to someone doing algebraic topology), the whole "our interests align"-bit is utterly generic. If you are indeed telling the truth, be specific! Be very, very specific! If you are lying here, don't.

Minor nitpick: Delete the "Since June 2020"-paragraph, this isn't important enough to take up the very valuable space in a good cold-calling email.

Conclusion: Taking into account Point 1, it only makes sense to cold-call potential PhD advisors in your situation if you are hoping to search for funding together with them. This would consitute a significant time investment for both of you, so be aware that you are asking for a lot here. So try to identify one (maybe two) potential supervisors that are an awesome fit for you, and make sure that the awesomeness of the fit is clear from the email. Also, do look for advertised opportunities and apply for everything which is a decent fit.

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    res, please don't ignore the first part of this advice -- I always feel puzzled receiving such mails. Why people think there are spare budgets to hire anyone on our side? Funded positions are usually advertised, so you should clearly state whether by "having a position" you expect people to employ you (or you already have a grant/funding/whatever). Aug 8 at 11:26
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    @rg_software In part i think its a hang over from when staff did tend to have the abilty to raise funds to take on students. For example, 20-30 years ago, my department would have funded 10ish students a year, and the process for allocating those studentships was fairly informal. Secondly, while it is unheard of in the UK (and most EU countries?) for people to just have money they could use to take on a student lying around, it is not so much the case in all countries. Finally, a potential supervisor might know of scholarships/schemes that the candidate is not aware of. Aug 8 at 12:42
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    @res Aren't the first 2-3 paragraphs of a paper just general intro and/or literature review? I don't think you can make insightful comments about the paper just by reading the intro. You should read the Discussion and Conclusions at the very least.
    – justauser
    Aug 8 at 15:05
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    @IanSudbery, yes, I understand, but my main point is not "I don't have money", it is "money is the elephant in the room", and I find it super-strange when a carefully composed / personalized / well-researched email doesn't even mention this issue as if it does not exist! Aug 8 at 15:34
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    @res This is better than nothing, but reading does take a lot of time, and that is specifically why it will impress professors that you are specifically interested in them, rather than interested in a PhD in general. Aug 9 at 8:32
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No, this e-mail is not good at all. The other answers have already explained why not. But you say you want a "canonical answer," so let's go through line-by-line.

Respected Professor,

In English-speaking North America and Europe, this is already a red flag. I see this often, so I assume it is the proper form of address in some English-speaking country (India?). But in North America and Europe, this is not how we address mail. Worse, the mails we do receive that begin with "respected professor" are almost never worth reading; so, we have learned to trash such mails without reading them.

The proper form of address may vary by country; "Dear Professor X" or "Hi Professor X" should be OK throughout North America and Europe. Note, you should put the actual name into this block; otherwise, I assume you are just copying-and-pasting a generic response to hundreds of people (at which point, I immediately stop reading and trash it).

I am a resident of [my Country name] and I completed my masters in mathematics in June 2020 from [My Institute Name]. I am looking for PhD positions in Algebraic Geometry.

Here is the key point you need to internalize: most readers are just going to skim the first paragraph and then press delete. Your readers receive a ton of mail, much of it from prospective students, and do not have the time or inclination to carefully review all of them.

So, your job in this mail, and especially in this paragraph, is to convince them that:

  1. You are very impressive, and
  2. Your interests are very well-aligned

If you fail on either of these counts, they will delete without responding. In fact, a pretty high percentage will delete without responding even if they are convinced, but there's nothing you can do about that.

So, your first paragraph needs to impress them. And I mean really impress them. Something like: "I am looking for PhD positions in Algebraic Geometry. I have 3 papers in [impressive journals], have won an award from [somewhere] (the most prestigious body of mathematics in my country), have the equivalent of a 3.91 GPA, and am particularly interested in [some niche topic]." Note that you are:

  • being concise,
  • listing the specifics right here in the first paragraph, and
  • using a language the professor can understand (e.g., converting the GPA to whatever scale is used in the professor's country, explaining that your award is from the most prestigious mathematical body in your country, etc.)

I realize that you may not have any super-impressive accomplishments like this, but you need to list whatever you do have. Put it all out there in this mail, because if you don't, you will not get another opportunity.

Since June 2020, I took a break to self study more mathematics courses but couldnot apply anywhere in session 2021 due to personal reasons.

Nope. See above. In this e-mail, your one job is to volunteer information that will impress them. This information is not impressive, so don't volunteer it. Delete this paragraph completely.

Upon learning about your work I went through your research satement and found it to be aligning with my interests, hence I would very much like to work with you. Kindly find my CV attached along with this e-mail. Can you please tell me if there is a vacancy for new PhD applications in your working group for session 2022?

This is so generic it is completely meaningless. What part of my "research statement" aligned with your interest? Again, I assume you are just sending this to hundreds of professors. Instead, you should briefly explain why in particular you want to work for me -- which of my papers did you read? Why did you find them interesting? What related work have you done? If we worked together, what topics could we pursue?

Also, I wouldn't say "I would very much like to work with you." You don't even know me! Instead, say that you're interested in "exploring this further" or "discussing future possibilities." Yes, it may be that you are desperate and willing to take anything, but you need to conceal this; desperation is not attractive, and professors receive tons of mail from desperate people.

I am available to discuss the possiblilty further and look foreward hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

[My Name]

If you are asking for a job, it goes without saying that you're available to discuss, etc. It is important that your mail be very short (just 2 or 3 short paragraphs), so don't waste any space with generic statements like "looking forward to hearing from you." Delete all this (except your name). Seriously! I realize some cultures require polite, effusive farewells, but in Western Academia, putting your name alone is perfectly fine, and it's the best option in many cases.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that there are several misspellings in your mail. I realize English may not be your native language, but you should get your mail proofread by a native. Most mails that contain misspellings also highly correlated with mails I don't care about, and so most academics have learned to hit the delete button after the second or third error.

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    Love this answer! But do you think adding all the accomplishments in the first paragraph would come across as boastful in the European context?
    – justauser
    Aug 16 at 6:14
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    Coming from an Australian context (which is not as boastful as an American one, though I'm not sure how it compares to European context), I would say its not boastful as long as its not too long and it is a minimal, factual list. Something like "I was the only student to receive the [some award] from the prominent mathematical body [somewhere]" comes across as boastful to me, something like "I received [some award] from [somewhere] (the most prestigious body of mathematics in my country)" comes across as a statement of fact to me (plus some extra info to help me interpret it). Aug 16 at 16:38
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First, I want to emphasize that composing such a “generic” message that you plan to distribute without some case-by-case modifications will not work very well. You have to make any such emails personal to you and to the professor.

This means making it explicitly clear that you have read some papers by this person: something as vague as “alignment” of research interest will not get you brownie points. Some better would be “I have read your recent paper [give citation], and found [Theorem] particularly interesting because… “ or something along those lines.

Next you need to make this specific to you. Why are you interested in working with this professor? What courses or related skill set (including self taught material) or just intense interest supported by courses or experience do you have that are useful for work or study in this area. In other words, why should this professor invest time in mentoring you?

Finally, excuses like “personal reasons” have IMO no place in such letters. You don’t want to tell your life story: most people aren’t interested, at least initially. If this person brings up the topic, you can expand on personal reasons in a follow up emails.

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I don't think this is a good letter. I would personally leave out the bit about the study break as irrelevant. I can see how others may disagree.

More importantly, you're not telling the prof what you're looking for. You need a funded position, but you're not asking for a funded position. When one needs money, it is important to ask for it. You will only create ambiguity and confusion resulting in unnecessary communications if you don't ask for what you need.

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for an equivalent request I went for something similar,

here is your mail with some changes to the form so it s more "professional"

tips:

  • take care of the words/courtesy rules you use
  • take care in being precise

ps: there might be some "minor" mistakes in my writing because english is not my main language ;) I let you double check everything


Dear Professor [Name],

Currently living in [Country, City], I completed a master in mathematics [be more accurate, that's important for them] in June 2020 at the [Institute Name, Country, City].

Upon learning about your work I went through your research activities and found it to be in the domain I am looking for. I am looking for a PhD position in Algebric Geometry [be more precise] for next year and would love to work by your side.

For more informations about me, please find my resume attached along with this e-mail.

I am available to discuss with you and look forward hearing from you.

Sincerely yours,

[Name]


good luck for your application

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    Thank you very much !
    – res
    Aug 9 at 5:16

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