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I'm starting in a phD program in September, and am in the process of finalizing my three lab rotations. The two PIs I'm really interested in working with are not available for the first rotation, so I'm going to do my second and third rotations in their labs. In our program, we hand in a list of lab preferences for the first rotation, and are placed in a lab on that list. However, none of the PIs I listed have agreed to take me on as a rotation student, and I've only talked with one of them (my first choice), as I was hoping that I could do my first rotation in his lab. I just got my rotation placement though, and was placed into another lab where I've had no communication with the PI.

This lab does research in an area I'm interested in and I'm looking forward to the rotation, however, I'm really kicking myself for never having reached out to this PI before. I think this really makes me look unprepared and not that interested in his lab, which is not a great start to graduate school. I now need to email this PI for the first time to ask for reading material, rotation projects... and I'm at a loss for how to set up this email. Ideally, this sort of introductory email should have been sent before this point. So I'm really interested in hearing from any professors whether you would reflect negatively on an incoming student who has never contacted you. As well, how would you phrase the first introductory email at this point? Obviously, I'm going to first introduce myself and attach my CV, but should I request a meeting with him to then talk about rotation projects? The problem is that I live about three hours away from the school, and so it would be a little difficult for me to go in for just one meeting (but I will do it if that is the best way going forward). Alternatively, should I request a skype meeting, or simply ask questions in the email? Also, should I apologize for having never reached out to him before this point, or just not mention it at all? Thanks!

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Assuming the department has been using rotations for a bit, I can't imagine this is such an unusual situation for the professor. Simply based on my own experience, I imagine that that most students don't reach out to the professor they're paired with prior to assignment. (I very well may be wrong here, but that's definitely my experience.)

Within that framework, I would read up on the professor's research and simply send an introductory email with an offer to meet at his or her convenience. They'll probably be able to walk you through expectations and requirements when you first meet.

If you're really nervous about violating social norms specific to this department, I would consult with the head of the graduate program and ask for their advice. They can guide you better than we would be able to in any event.

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Great answer from @eykanal.... Here is a first draft to get you started:

Dear Prof. So-and-So,

I am an incoming student in _____, and have recently learned that I have been assigned to your lab for my first rotation. This is very good news for me, since your area _______ is one of my main interests. I'm attaching a copy of my CV.

If you'd like to talk with me before the semester starts, my phone number is ________ and my skypeid is __________.

Are there any particular articles or books I can be starting to look at over the summer, in preparation for my rotation?

Thank you.

Sincerely,

It's natural to be a little nervous before you start, but please don't kick yourself about not having written before now. Just focus on the happy news that you've been well matched for your first rotation!

Also, please don't feel alarmed if you don't get an answer right away. The professor might be on vacation!

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