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I emailed a professor about possible openings for graduate studies in a certain research group and he answered me like this:

Your background looks great. Unfortunately, I recently recruited a graduate student. I have been working on grant proposals. If they get funded, I will have money to support more students. I will let you know, if plan changes.

How should i answer this email?

Is it polite to wish him luck? or should I send a simple thank you for reading my resume? or combining both and also saying that I "look forward to hearing from you" or something in that matter? It's really important for me to make a good impression.

(I am not a native speaker by the way)

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You're probably overthinking this... The professor's response looks like a polite refusal. If I were you I wouldn't get my hopes up.

If you're really intent on answering I would just say something like "Thank you for your time, and good luck for your grant proposals." but I would get out of my head the idea that if I make a "good impression" I would have a chance of getting in the program. (If I really were you I'm not even sure I would answer, not out of spite of course, but simply because it would be an unnecessary email that would waste both my time and the professor's time... I doubt the professor would notice a lack a response. Though a "thank you" never hurt anyone.)

  • 9
    I do not think that this is a polite refusal. If it said 'Your background looks great. Unfortunately, I recently recruited a graduate student. I wish you the best of luck in future job search' then fair enough, however the prof openly says he'd be in touch if there are any other opportunities. In my view, as well as an email to say thank you and good luck with your project, the student should also follow-up in a month or two to see if an opportunity has arisen. – Deleuze Sep 2 '16 at 15:34
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"Take a number and get in line." Congratulate him on finding money for one student, and on finding the one student. Wish him luck on finding more money and more students and express your hope that you could be one of them.

Basically, you want to "mirror" his language. He has expressed goodwill to the point of saying "I like you, even though you were not my earlier choice." Make it plain that you want to work with him even though you will be "one of several."

Hopefully, your will be his nth choice for some number n, and he will have (at least) n slots open. The more successful you are in the communication, the higher ranked (lower n) you will be.

  • Good answer. One clarification: the professor didn't choose someone else over Mahsa. The prof's email makes it clear that someone else applied earlier, and was accepted prior to Mahsa's email coming in. – aparente001 Sep 3 '16 at 19:40
  • @aparente001: Changed "first choice" to "earlier choice," to make things clear. – Tom Au Sep 3 '16 at 21:44
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If you do not need funding, and are simply looking for someone to guide your study and research, make that clear in your response. My reading of his email is that he would be interested in taking you on as a student if it weren't that he doesn't currently have the funds to support your study.

Now let's consider the case where you do need the funding. Even in this case, you may want to start building an advisor-student relationship on an informal basis with him over email (subject to his continued interest in you, of course), especially if you have a strong feeling that this person may be the right advisor for you. In this case, you could dip a toe in the water by, for example, asking about choice of courses for fall, or by sharing an article you found interesting, and a couple sentences about possible further work that could be done based on that article.

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I would reply briefly to make clear that you are interested in receiving the information that was offered (if this is the case). Something like:

Thank you for the positive feedback and the kind offer to inform me about potential possibilities in the future, which I appreciate.

I would not wish him good luck. It does not add much if received well yet could be taken in a wrong way. But really I think it does not matter all that much.

The point is just that if you do not reply at all it might be taken as disinterest in the offer to be informed about future possibilities.

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