I am currently an industry researcher at a startup with a few year experience post masters and I am wanting to do a PhD for professional development and because I believe I will enjoy it.

I am looking for PhDs in Europe and I have looked at open PhD in my field and I am planning on going through with a few applications. However I would also like (and have been advised) to send out emails to professors with research I am interested in to gauge if they would take me on as a PhD student.

I am unsure of how to reach out to potential supervisors. I was thinking of sending an email with a short description of why I am reaching out and a CV.

I would really appreciate any advice!

  • 1
    Best time is when they advertise a position. Commented Jun 23 at 21:58

4 Answers 4


Professors are usually looking for PhD candidates capable to carry out research in these professors' field. On your hands, you already have a Masters degree and several years of industrial experience. So, for a potential advisor working in your current field, you could be quite an acquisition. For this reason, it would be reasonable of you to single out such colleagues, and to offer your qualifications and experience to them.

Your letter could sound like this:

Dear Professor ... ,

I am aware of your research on ... . Specifically, I am now reading your recent paper in the journal ... . Having worked in a close area for several years after getting my master's, I feel prepared to read for PhD, and I believe that my experience could be of use in your lab. I am attaching my CV, and would be happy to apply for PhD studies at your department, if you find my experience relevant to your work.

You are not asking for a favour. You have something to offer. So don't be shy.

  • 2
    "You are not asking for a favour. You have something to offer." +1 Commented Apr 26 at 20:03
  • I know OP asked about Europe, but so I left "read for PhD" but I'm unfamiliar with where this is idiomatic. Commented Apr 28 at 16:13
  • @AzorAhai-him- In the UK, for certain. Less sure about other countries. Commented Apr 29 at 1:41

If it is unsolicited then it should not be an application. How can you apply for a position that does not exist?

Reach out with a succinct and professional email enquiring if there are any current or upcoming positions.

Provide a BRIEF (I cannot stress this part enough) introduction and statement of interest (research areas, what you can bring, and what you would like to learn).

Attach a CV and some examples of representative works if you have them (not everything, 1 or 2 is enough).

Then leave the door open for further conversation if there is interest.

If they do not reply - (and this goes against the advice given on this website), no "gentle reminders". This is a cold call, the faculty on the other end is busy and owes you nothing, and likely gets lots of these. Just remember this is NOT AN APPLICATION, this is a cold call. There is no position, there is no contractual understanding that someone must answer you.


Step 1 is to look at the web pages of any professors you're interested in working with, and see if they have an individual page where they are what they'd like to see in such an email. Not all faculty have such a page, but many do (I do). Some faculty may have specific things they want to hear about, and that may give good concrete suggestions to include when emailing professors who don't have their own public request, specific to your research are of interest.

In the absence of specific requests from the faculty member you're contacting, express your interests and background, and why you're interested in working with that specific faculty member.

If you mention reading a specific paper, include something to show that you really did read it. Most faculty get many form emails where it's clear that someone pasted a random paper tile from the faculty member's publications and said they particularly enjoyed . That doesn't really give the reader meaningful information about the sender. If you write something meaningful that indicates you actually read and considered the paper, you can stand out. But unless otherwise specified (see step 1), this isn't a requirement.

  • You surely meant "public" in the third sentence! At least I hope so.
    – user176372
    Commented Apr 26 at 17:28
  • Indeed, a bad autocorrect misfire on the phone Commented May 28 at 21:35

I had literally the exact same situation! I graduated in 2020 with an MSc in physics, went on to work as a researcher at a startup and in summer of 2023 decided that I want to do a PhD. I am also from Europe, but was looking for a PhD in Australia. I had no network there, so sending a cold email was my only option.

In the end, I ended up emailing two professors. One ignored me, whereas the other responded and I am now doing a PhD with the one that responded (since April 2024). Here is what I think made it work:

  1. When choosing a supervisor, I made sure to find out as much as possible about them. This is obviously necessary to even know if you want to work with them at all, but it also helped me write a better email. I didn't attach my CV, but I did shortly describe what kind of topics I have worked on. The important part (I think), is that I explained that the work they have been doing is the kind of work that I would like to do, and that is why I am writing to them specifically. I did my best to formulate what that is exactly, and how it connects to my existing knowledge and motivation. This is quite tricky, because obviously you will never have a 100% overlap with your supervisors interests and they will be much more knowledgable in their domain than you are. So the goal is not to sound smart, but to convey the message that you are interested in working with specifically them, and that your past experience indicates that you are capable of learning quickly.

  2. I leveraged my startup experience as much as I could. Working at a small company, I was a main actor on many projects. This grew my network quite a bit and I explained in my email that I have ongoing industry collaborations, and that I can bring these to the PhD project. In my case, I had my employer on board, that if I do a PhD with an industry collaboration component, he would support me. I don't know how much impact these statements ended up having, but I think having the startup experience is certainly unique, and it generally generates intrigue in people working in academia.

  3. I suggested a scheme for funding. I explained which kind of public funding I intend to apply for and how much that would be. In the end, I ended up applying for funding from three separate places, and got a full scholarship from one that my supervisor suggested (and which I wasn't aware of at the time of writing the email). I think it is totally fine to apply unsolicited to a position that doesn't exist, but you have to address the elephant in the room and seek a solution for it. I ended up doing a lot of work to get it organized. Of course, if there is an existing open position then that is easy mode, but if you have the energy and know-how to fund your own position, then that is certainly welcome.

  4. I found the personal webpages of the professors I wrote to. It contained useful information, and also had statements that they are actually looking for PhD students, which was encouraging. Additionally, one of them asked on their webpage to send enquiries to their personal email instead of their university one. That's what I did and there is no telling how much of a filter that is. In general, you have to be personal when writing. If a letter just says "dear respected professor" or some generic nonsense that doesn't address them personally, then it is unlikely for the letter to be read with full attention, especially if it is long.

I think the hardest part is to get the initial response. Once you do that, then it is easier to figure everything out, and even if things don't end up working out, you would know the reason and can adapt your approach in the future. To get an initial response, be concice, personal, and prepared with a plan to address the practicalities of your situation. Good luck!

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