How to e-mail a potential graduate adviser

Trying to friend them on Facebook might not be a smooth move

It’s always tough to know how to approach anyone when you’re looking for a job. And the academic field somehow sounds especially tough.

One science professor — who’s less than warm and fuzzy — gives some advice in the Chronicle of Higher Education about how to approach a potential graduate adviser through e-mail.

I’ve condensed her tips to make things easy.

The key thing to remember: Your first e-mail to a potential graduate adviser should be professional and short.

What to include:

  • Name of your undergrad institution
  • Major and minor fields
  • Graduation date
  • Relevant research experience
  • Field of interest for grad study
  • Whether you’re interested in just a master’s, a master’s and possibly a PhD, or definitely a PhD
  • A request to meet — such as at a conference — if you’re really serious about working with the adviser. Just understand that he or she may not have time.
  • Requests for specific, relevant information you can’t get any other way

What not to include:

  • Questions of money (tuition, benefits, salary for a research assistantship)
  • Information about your personal circumstances (spouses, significant others, etc.)
  • Your full CV (though you could always include a link to one)
  • A statement informing the adviser that you’ll be meeting. (That’s presumptuous.)
  • A request for the adviser’s cell phone number
  • A Facebook friend request
  • Vague requests for more information
  • Anything that makes your note look like a mass e-mail

One last tip:

Find out who the adviser’s current and recent grad students are and ask them about their experience with that professor.

  • Anonymous

    The less than fuzzy science professor has perhaps gone overkill.

    I would advise including a short cv as an attachment in .pdf form. They don’t have to read it.

    Don’t say “Dear Professor,” use their actual name.

    If you know the professor’s research area, you might say: I am interested in x, y, z.

    Whether to say you are interested in an MS or a PhD or both (at this point) is debatable. I wouldn’t mention it. Be polite but formal. Most faculty will be pleased and flattered to hear from you. We were all young once, too. If you don’t at least receive an acknowledgment, that tells you something too.

    Finally, ask the person in what department(s) they are able to take graduate students. This is very important. FSP is a member of a department, but many faculty members have affiliations with more than one department. Given the student’s interests it may be better for that student to apply to department x, rather than y or z. Department X may have many more teaching assistantships and thus chances for support are better.

    If you are actually interested in a rather specialized area and that is why you are writing to Professor X, you MIGHT ask if there are any other workers in this area whom he or she can recommend.

    And of course, if you are really interested in working for Professor X, you might try the old snail-mail approach. If your English is not that great, PLEASE have someone check it.

    Good luck.

    Bill Gleason, U of M.

    ps. I agree that Face book is a no-no. I had to get an account, but never log in.