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Email to prospective research advisor/professor?


zh_awk

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I may be a little behind on this, but I'm preparing to contact the professors at programs I'm interested in to confirm whether or not they'll be taking on incoming grad students (2023-24) to advise. What's a good way to approach laying these emails out? I imagine making them personalized (ie - speaking to their specific field/work/research topics), but is there anything I should definitely make sure I mention or incorporate? 

Thanks in advance!

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I did this two different ways over two different years (was going to apply in 2019, but ended up going on last minute medical leave after emailing professors). First year, I had a 10% response rate. Second year, my response rate was 75%. Here's an example of one of mine from the year I got 75% responses, which is the format I used for every email (names redacted):

----

"Dear Professor X,

I am a rising senior at SCHOOL studying Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and I am applying to Sociology Ph.D. programs this fall.

I read your article, "ARTICLE NAME," when I was conducting research on RELATED TOPIC. I was particularly appreciative of your attention to SOMETHING IN THE ARTICLE. Your work appears to intersect with my research interests; I plan on studying MY TOPIC IN HALF A SENTENCE PORTRAYED IN A WAY THAT INTERSECTS WITH THE PROFESSOR'S INTERESTS.

I know you are probably busy, but after reading about your work, I wanted to ask if you will be taking on new graduate students for Fall 2020.

Thank you so much for your time.

Best,
MY NAME
MY SCHOOL Class of 2020
email address

P.S. I have attached my CV for your convenience."
----
 
That's it! The trick is to keep it short, and email one professor at each school instead of several (unless the first doesn't respond in a month, in which case change up the email format before emailing the second one). My first year emailing, my emails were maybe double this length with longer paragraphs on the professor's research, my research, etc., and the response rate was much lower. I also tried asking research-related questions, which could make me sound like an idiot much more easily, though feel free to go that route if you know what you're doing. Most responses I got included something like, "We don't admit by advisor" (which I knew), but many included invitations to do a Zoom or phone call, questions about my research, and other valuable information on whether or not the professor was leaving or overloaded with advisees.
 
Also, I recommend emailing on a Tuesday or Wednesday during business hours at the professor's institution, preferably sometime in the morning, so it doesn't get lost in the weekend email backlog. If you have a .edu email, that is more likely to make it past spam filters. Attaching the CV is optional — if you do it, attach it as a PDF so virus scanners have an easier time okaying it, and make sure it is formatted nicely like the CVs of current grad students at the institution.
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50 minutes ago, lkaitlyn said:

I did this two different ways over two different years (was going to apply in 2019, but ended up going on last minute medical leave after emailing professors). First year, I had a 10% response rate. Second year, my response rate was 75%. Here's an example of one of mine from the year I got 75% responses, which is the format I used for every email (names redacted):

----

"Dear Professor X,

I am a rising senior at SCHOOL studying Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and I am applying to Sociology Ph.D. programs this fall.

I read your article, "ARTICLE NAME," when I was conducting research on RELATED TOPIC. I was particularly appreciative of your attention to SOMETHING IN THE ARTICLE. Your work appears to intersect with my research interests; I plan on studying MY TOPIC IN HALF A SENTENCE PORTRAYED IN A WAY THAT INTERSECTS WITH THE PROFESSOR'S INTERESTS.

I know you are probably busy, but after reading about your work, I wanted to ask if you will be taking on new graduate students for Fall 2020.

Thank you so much for your time.

Best,
MY NAME
MY SCHOOL Class of 2020
email address

P.S. I have attached my CV for your convenience."
----
 
That's it! The trick is to keep it short, and email one professor at each school instead of several (unless the first doesn't respond in a month, in which case change up the email format before emailing the second one). My first year emailing, my emails were maybe double this length with longer paragraphs on the professor's research, my research, etc., and the response rate was much lower. I also tried asking research-related questions, which could make me sound like an idiot much more easily, though feel free to go that route if you know what you're doing. Most responses I got included something like, "We don't admit by advisor" (which I knew), but many included invitations to do a Zoom or phone call, questions about my research, and other valuable information on whether or not the professor was leaving or overloaded with advisees.
 
Also, I recommend emailing on a Tuesday or Wednesday during business hours at the professor's institution, preferably sometime in the morning, so it doesn't get lost in the weekend email backlog. If you have a .edu email, that is more likely to make it past spam filters. Attaching the CV is optional — if you do it, attach it as a PDF so virus scanners have an easier time okaying it, and make sure it is formatted nicely like the CVs of current grad students at the institution.

This is soooo helpful - I was going back and forth on how much detail to include, and knowing a good time of the week to hit send is also very insightful. Thank you so much!

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3 hours ago, zh_awk said:

I may be a little behind on this, but I'm preparing to contact the professors at programs I'm interested in to confirm whether or not they'll be taking on incoming grad students (2023-24) to advise. What's a good way to approach laying these emails out? I imagine making them personalized (ie - speaking to their specific field/work/research topics), but is there anything I should definitely make sure I mention or incorporate? 

Thanks in advance!

Unless it is required by the department, it is not necessary to write professors to ask if they are taking students for a few reasons: 

1. In most programs, you are teamed with your advisor at the dissertation proposal stage, which is at least 2 years down the line. Unless the professor is not taking students for the next 3 years, it's pointless to ask them prior to applying. They will not be "advising" you in your first few semesters, that comes later.

2. At least half of PhD students take a slightly different direction from the project they write about in the SOP or take on a brand new topic as they progress through the program. So why ask a professor you might not even end up working with? Profs all know that you might work on something entirely different as you go through the program, so asking them for some commitment is always a bit odd.

3. Professors would rather connect with specific students once they have taken a wholistic look at the application: grade, CV, LORs, SOP, etc. So, unless you have a completed SOP in hand, sending them an email with a cv doesn`t really achieve much. 

4. Some professors are not the best at communication or would rather only interact with students once they have been accepted in a program, so if you don`t hear back from them, it should not be a reason to not apply.

In other words, you can always write a short email to network a bit with professors but it is not at all necessary, AND you should definitely apply even if you don`t get the answer you want from the initial contact.

Hope this helps!

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