3 strategic phases to follow when writing an email to a professor

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We’re using analogies – comparisons that lie at the very core of human cognition and creativity. A good analogy is a compromise between two conflicting goals: familiarity and representativeness, about your goal to research on a topic. A Good research topic should be familiar. Express an abstract idea in terms of a familiar one. Concrete experiences are good breeding grounds for building up your research topic because they can be appreciated by anyone. A good research topic is also representative. You should match at least some of the ideas to your professor’s current works trying to make more matches, which mean your idea has intuitive power.

Reading your professors work is good, but as long as you understand the research domain well, anything works. It’s like making a key for a lock you haven’t seen before. You’re limited by your past experience as to what kind of keys you can make. New key designs take a lot longer to learn than borrowing old ones. That’s familiarity. But you also want the key to fit the lock. If the key shape deviates too much, it won’t open the lock. That’s representativeness.

Once you are sure that your domain, interest and topic matches with the ideologies of the professor you are writing to, let’s try not to put a wrong impression with silly mistakes we make while presenting our idea in a 200-300 words email to the professor. Here we have compiled various important steps into three phases to follow, while writing mail to a professor asking for an internship or PhD research.

 

1. Pre-mailing research phase

  • You should thoroughly understand what the professor works on, and should know enough about the field to know whether this work really interests you, before you bother a busy professor at all. Most professors have their profile in their respective university websites with details regarding their position, honours and research articles. Go through them.
  • After you have made up your mind about working with that particular professor, research about the background and working of the professor whom you’re sending the mail to before you go for gaining in-depth technical knowledge about that field to impress him.
  • Check with the ‘prospective student’ section on the website before sending e-mail. Generally the Professors mention the procedures to apply for working under them and the kind of students that he would like to take in there.
  • Never send e-mail to more than one professor in one e-mail. Your mailing list should be very specific.  And your email should sound very specific for that professor rather than a single formatted email which can be send to 10 professors.
  • Sometimes mailing the PhD students of the professor first to enquire would be more beneficial than mailing the professor itself.

2. Mailing phase

  • Address them by their name i.e. Dear Professor XYZ. Avoid making any spelling mistakes and mention their proper title.
  • Ideally the first paragraph should be your name, a little about your college, achievements/relevant projects/people you know. That could be roughly the same for every professor.
  • You can either begin with a general enquiry regarding the topic and discussing further as an interested prospective student or write a confident well composed mail expressing your interest. The later works more since it’s more of a familiar method.
  • If chosen the later one, then next paragraph should be why you want to work with him/her, why you’d be a good choice and so on. Keep the gushing flattery to a minimum. Revise it all over again before clicking Send.
  • Don’t forget to use technical jargons in your email. It should sound like you are well versed with what your professor is working on.
  • Don’t make it longer than three paragraphs; professors are very busy with little time to spare for students asking for internships.
  • If you have any stellar achievements or projects related to his field or you’ve worked under any professors he knows (i.e. Has cited or has worked with) add that in the bio as well.
  • Never attach CV, Transcript or Score sheet in your first mail. But if need be, preferably upload your resume somewhere and send the link in the e-mail. You can use the server space provided by some Institute itself or any other service to have your own domain name and upload the documents there. Just mention the link in the mail.
  • Re-check the grammar and punctuation. If you write email without proper English, it clearly indicates your incompetence and lack of good writing skills. Professors do NOT want to even reply to these kind of emails.
  • Check with the time-zone before sending the email. This is to ensure that your email is probably the latest one to reach his/her office when he/she comes to the office.

3. Post-mailing phase

  • Use ‘Yesware‘ or ‘Streak‘ for getting notified when the receiver has read your mail only if necessary but don’t use any tracking software which states that the e-mail is tracked. It’s always better to avoid such tweaks.
  • If you don’t receive response within a week time, send a reminder in the same thread of your initial email, to be assured that your mail is not skipping Professor’s sight somehow.

Be optimistic of getting the reply but never be sure of that. Your application depends on several constraints: how busy the professor is at that moment, how good you seem to be, whether there’s a communication problem, and whether you seem to be truly interested in his or her work.  Don’t keep talking about how interested you are — prove it!  And try not to be too much of a load.

A tip to the most desperate of seeking the Professors attention is to move nostalgic, write a handwritten mail and post it to the Professor’s office.

You are most welcome to share your mailing experiences, if you had received a positive or negative or even no reply to your mails! Use the comments section below

We have done our part. Pls do yours by reading, sharing and tagging your friends who might be interested in.

Written by

Vinay Nair likes to explore topics related to higher education and looks forward to help prospective students with queries related to their study abroad dreams.

 

21 thoughts on “3 strategic phases to follow when writing an email to a professor

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  14. Hey Vinay,
    I needed to know the procedure to obtain the approval from a host university in France for Charpak Exchange Program 2016.
    It will be really nice if you could help me somehow.

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