If you’re interested in graduate school, chances are you’re also thinking about contacting professors you’re interested in working with. This type of introductory, “cold” email is an important part of the graduate school application process, but it can be tricky to get right. You want to create a good impression so you stand out as a serious applicant. Here are some things to keep in mind when emailing potential PhD supervisors to increase your odds of getting a response.
Keep it short
Professors are short of time and receive a ton of emails each day. As a result, they often skim emails. A short email is both faster for them to read and reply to. If you write a long email there’s a higher chance a professor will wait to read it “later” (read never.)
Make a Connection
If you have a connection to the professor, make sure to mention it. Were you referred to them by one of their former or current students? Did you hear the professor speak at a conference or invited talk?
Have a Clear CTA
Have you ever reached the end of an email and still had no clue what the sender wanted from you? Don’t send that type of email to a professor. Be very clear about what you want from them. Ask direct questions like, “Will you be taking on new PhD students in the fall?” Questions like this are easier to answer which increases the likelihood that the professor will answer your email.
Once you’ve asked if you can work with them, briefly introduce yourself in a sentence or two. In addition to where you study, include your research interests, why you’re interested in this professor’s work, and what you can bring to the table. You should also attach your CV to the email.
Have a Clear Subject Line
The purpose of a subject line is to tell the reader what the email is about. Use a subject line such as “Inquiry from a prospective grad student” or “Potential applicant interested in your lab” to reinforce your CTA.
Thank them for their time
Ending your email by thanking the professor for their time is a polite way to show respect. Follow this up with a professional sign off.
If you don’t receive a reply from the professor within a week, it’s okay to send a gentle follow up email asking for a response. If you still don’t get a response, it might be best to move on.