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I live in an Asian country and I wrote to three professors in France asking to discuss PhD research opportunities in Math.

I introduced myself and told them my background in the particular branch of mathematics (courses done, title of my master's thesis) and e-mailed them my CV along with mentioning how my research interests match with them.

I e-mailed them on 22 December and 23 December and haven't received any reply.

I think now is a good time to send a reminder E-mail. Am I right?

Question : How should I frame my reminder E-mail so that the E-mail is not interpreted as rude or impolite or disrespectful? I am not a native speaker although I have a good command over English. But still I thought I should ask, as such impressions really hold value if done badly (I think). What I thought of writing:

Subject: A very polite reminder of my previous E-mail regarding discussing PhD research opportunities in ...

Dear Dr. ABC,

This E-mail is a very polite remainder of my previous E-mail written to you on December 23 regarding discussing PhD research Opportunities in ....

After this line I will copy contents of my previous E-mail and attach my CV.

Is this way of writing fine?

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    (1) if those were cold emails (never communicated with them before), getting any answer is a bonus. They don't owe you a reply. (2) you emailed them right before the holiday break, which many still might be on - classes at universities in my area don't start until next week.
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 10 at 16:54
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    December 22 and 23rd is right before important European holidays (Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year's, etc.). I don't know the European calendar precisely, but some American professors might just be getting back to email today. Jan 10 at 16:54
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    @YannicMuller As others have stated, here in Europe some might have been out of office until the 6th of january, and then the first thing they do will not be responding to (potentially unsolicited) PhD applications. If you haven't heard back at the end of the month you might send a reminder.
    – Sursula
    Jan 10 at 17:24
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    Further, while I did check my email (national lab, not university) over the holidays, I only replied to one high priority item. I would not have replied to any unexpected external communications.
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 10 at 17:50
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    Not directly an answer to your question, but you should note that in France most PhD position funded either through doctoral scools or through grants received by the supervisor are advertised at some point of the recruiting process. Thus if you sent an email to professors simply based on seeing their work, they might be interested but not have any possibility to offer a PhD position unless you have figured a scheme to secure funding through your home country. So such emails can simply be ignored or classified low priority since they receive many of these and cannot give positive answer.
    – PLD
    Jan 10 at 18:35
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+50

As an alternate strategy to Ben which had a good template, I would propose to send a follow up email which does not directly refer to your original email at all. First, based on your proposed emails for the follow-up, there's some odds that your original emails were dismissed for cause (i.e., they had issues). Second, if they did not see your prior email, then including the prior email on the thread is a nudge, even if you never refer to it. It says: "Hey, I tried before and you didn't get a response." Sometimes this is what you want, to add a bit of pressure, such as when bothering an admin where a paper trail of non-responses will help light a fire if you need to escalate the issue.

In the current case (and for professors in general), you're asking for a favor you messaged during the middle of the most prevalent religious holiday in their country, so including the prior message in the thread will definitely not help you. I would say don't include it and don't directly refer to it. There is no upside. They either already dismissed you (and will again) or you will be highlighting to them that you messaged them days before Christmas and actually expected a response.

As a proposed contact.

Dear Professor [NAME],

I hope you had a good holiday break and are doing well.

I hope it is not a bother, but I was writing to see if there may be any opportunities for a PhD candidature under your supervision in the upcoming year. I have attached my CV and previous experience.

If you think I might be a suitable fit for your program then I'd appreciate an opportunity to talk more about this and to read any articles or whitepapers that reflect your current directions. Alternatively, if you think my background is not suitable, I'd love it if you could send me back any critical appraisal of weaknesses or skills that I could build which would make me a better candidate (or even just reply to let me know I'm not a good fit).

Thank you so much for your time.

Yours sincerely,

[NAME], Pestering PhD wannabe

[No prior email chain. Nothing here. But attach your CV and whatever else you're giving]

This is sufficient to alude to the prior email (it references the break, which excuses them for not responding) and it apologizes for bothering them.

Then, before you send anything, have two people look it over: someone who is ideally somewhat familiar with the academic culture of where you are sending it, and a second person who is good at French.

With that said, rather than starting by cold-calling professors: I would encourage you to look for the CV's of the students who are currently in the labs you are applying to. Take those CV's, cross out everything that happened since they started the program, and compare your CV to those CV's. What are you missing? Are you actually at all competitive for where you are inquiring? It's fine to inquire at a few places that are a reach, but you need to know where your standing is: if you're well-below where the average accepted applicant is, you need to own that and know where you stand when you contact. People are more likely to respond if you're actually closer to a fit and if you have reasonable metacognition of your strengths and weaknesses.

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  • "[NAME], Pestering PhD wannabe" ...really?
    – TSF
    Jan 17 at 18:43
  • @TSF If you would look at the other answers, this was done because it was an adaptation of another comment using that phrase (which I referred to). Don't actually use that line.
    – Namey
    Jan 18 at 7:48
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Though this is really a matter of opinion, in my view every and any reminder for an unsolicited communication is rude. It carries with it the presumption that your original contact warranted a response. Yes, it would probably be most polite for people to graciously decline, but unless they've solicited contact by advertising an open position I don't think they are being rude by not replying.

As pointed out in the comments, you've sent your message immediately before or right after the start of a typical holiday break period in the country you are targeting. To expect a reply while people celebrate the primary holiday season in their country is even more rude. Although working styles vary immensely from person-to-person in academia, my impression from the French academics I have worked with is that they are far more serious about separating their work from their vacation than the average US academic.

I personally would not recommend sending any reminder email after unsolicited emails like this. If you do, follow the general guidelines in How should I phrase an important question that I need to ask a professor? and please do wait for at least a couple more weeks past the holiday season for people to catch up on more important things first.

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    I completely agree with the second paragraph... But the conclusion I draw from it is: Yes, absolutely do send a reminder email. Chances are, the email sent during the holidays has been completely dismissed. If you don't send a reminder email, you'll never get a response.
    – Stef
    Jan 11 at 9:56
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    @Stef It's still rude. Most people have a system for going through their emails after holidays; prioritizing what needs to be done now, bypassing things that can be delayed. Getting a second unsolicited email while the first one sits in your to-do list isn't helping the problem of having too many emails.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 11 at 15:23
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    I wouldn't say it's rude. Professors and university researchers are in some respects public figures: we have public emails because it is acceptable and expected that people are going to contact us (about PhD's, news stories, whatever). I can't always respond to every email, but I don't think it's an offense to try or to retry (3 tries would be the limit though, if there's no response by 3 tries spread over maybe 6 months it's not going to happen).
    – Namey
    Jan 17 at 3:20
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Don't frame it as a "reminder" at all

For any unsolicited emails where the recipient has reasonable grounds to ignore the email, it is not a good idea to send a "reminder" (and especially not a "very polite reminder" --- yuck!). As Bryan Krause points out in his answer, a reminder could be taken to imply that the original email demanded a response, and this can come across as presumptuous.

Instead of sending a "reminder" you should just send another email that makes it clear that you're still really keen to work there. Remember that the inevitable effect of the email is to remind him you exist so you don't have to explicitly tell him that it is a reminder. There is also no need to explicitly mention your previous email, since you can just put your new email as the next part of that email chain and speak in a way that assumes previous contact. The goal here is to get the recipient to draw the conclusion that you are eager and ambitious, not that you are bossy and presumptuous.

If it were me, I'd wait about six business weeks from the previous email (not counting the holiday break) and then I'd send another email, in the same email chain (i.e., with your previous email showing below) just saying how keen I am to work with him and how much I'd appreciate it if he could consider me. If I felt like I was being a bit pestering/annoying then I'd probably even ham this up a bit with some self-deprecation. Something like this:

Dear Professor [NAME],

Hello again --- I hope you had a nice holiday break.

I'm sorry to keep bothering you, but I just thought I'd write again to let you know that I'm still really eager to see if there are any opportunities for a PhD candidature under your supervision. I hope my CV and previous experience looked okay to you. If you think I might be a suitable fit for your supervision then I'd appreciate an opportunity to talk more about this. Alternatively, if you think I'm not suitable, I'd love it if you could send me back any critical appraisal of weaknesses in my skills that are holding me back, or just reply to let me know I'm not a good fit.

Thanks so much for your time.

Yours sincerely,

[NAME], Pestering PhD wannabe

[My previous email in the email chain appears here]

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    I agree that this is the best approach (if a reminder is to be sent at all). Jan 14 at 22:27
  • Maybe not "love", but "appreciate"? :) Jan 14 at 23:14
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    I like this one, with some minor polish. Honestly though, I might not even have the prior email included and not refer to it at all, because then I could retry with a nudge on a better email like this which intros with that I hope they had a good holiday. You really can't easily send 3 emails to someone in a chain with no response unless you want things to get awkward.
    – Namey
    Jan 17 at 1:15
  • "[NAME], Pestering PhD wannabe" this is not helpful to include.
    – TSF
    Jan 17 at 18:44
  • I disagree; it blunts the annoyance of the unsolicited email and shows that the student has a sense of humour about any unintended adverse effects of their own actions.
    – Ben
    Jan 17 at 20:22
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It seems to me that:

  1. the recipients might not have yet read your email as they are still on holidays, OR
  2. the recipients have read your email and are not interested for whatever reason.

I would consider it rude to send a reminder. These people do not owe you anything so if item 1 applies it is indeed rude, and if item 2 applies they will be annoyed and not answer back anyways.

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    Hero Ya, they don't owe me anything but certainly I need to apply and get PhD position. Jan 11 at 5:22
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    Sure... but you're asking if it is rude to send a reminder email, and my answer is yes. With due respect: these people don't care about that you need, and viewing this from your perspective is not useful: they might not reply to an unsolicited email as a matter of course given the volumes of such emails, and if they are not annoyed by the original email they might be by a reminder. I certainly am when this happens to me. Jan 11 at 15:49
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    Or 3. They have read your email, might be interested but did not have the capacity to respond immediately - in which case a reminder may be alright.
    – Lodinn
    Jan 13 at 8:25
  • @Lodinn I actually think that if one or more are interested they are unlikely to need a reminder, but YMMV. Jan 13 at 17:55
  • @Lodinn so a remainder by the end of this week is fine? What do you say? Jan 13 at 19:48
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Don’t follow up. It is rude if you’ve never met before. At my university, PhD students are frequently students and paid employees (research assistants or teaching assistants). If a professor had a position open, they’d be required to post it in an official way and would probably link to it from their lab’s website. If you’ve checked all the right places, that professor probably doesn’t have any student positions open right now. Might be time to look around at other institutions and other professors.

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  • Sending an email the 22nd of December, just before holidays, is not the best idea. You can leverage on that to rephrase your second email, if you want to write a second one.
  • Also keep in mind, when I was looking for a PhD, about 80% of professors I have tried to contact have not answered my email (a single one). And at the end I ended up working with a professor I sent no emails at all before the interview.
  • The official channel, which is the PhD application form, is a better idea.
  • After applying via form, it may help to have a phone call with one of their assistants, that is NOT directly involved in the decision process (that would be then your co-supervisor). Prepare some humble questions about what they expect from you and if you would be a good fit for them. This would help you both to understand if the future years of collaboration would go smoothly in the department. Also if the phone call goes well the assistant would support you at the moment of the decision.

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