People often ask whether it’s necessary to write a letter or email to potential Ph.D. supervisors. They feel that they can just fill out standard university forms and apply. The problem is, they’re not alone. Hundreds of people apply for a position with a Ph.D. supervisor, and without the proper self-promotion & relationship building, the chances of attaining a position are slim.
Writing a formal letter to a Ph.D. supervisor is something that can help you stand out, and create a relationship directly with a department’s professor. Here are five tips to keep in mind when writing a formal Ph.D. supervisor letter, with a sample letter at the end.
It’s important to know at least some information about the person you’re contacting. These days, saying ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ will quickly land you in a junk mail folder or bin without more than a glance. Make the message particular to that recipient. Call them by name, and add one or two exclusive connectors into the content. We’ll show you where to do this in the example.
This tip includes doing prior due diligence to find out the recipients particular field of research. In a survey amongst professors, over 50% of them claimed to receive inquiries which had nothing to do with their department’s research.
Make sure to check any prerequisites for the program, such as GPA. If you don’t meet the necessary criteria, look elsewhere. Remember, Ph.D. supervisors are usually not short on applications. Once you’re sure that you meet all the minimum requirements, provide information as to what makes you different than the others. Some of them may even have better grades than you. Provide information that shows more than grades. Anything demonstrating above average skills or ambitions will help.
Keep it short. Ph.D. supervisors receive many letters and emails from prospective students. This can be overwhelming, especially when they already have plenty of other duties to attend to. If it’s too long, chances are they simply won’t read the whole letter due to time constraints, which wastes both your, and the readers, time.
4. Attention-grabbing title
First impressions are everything. Make sure that your subject line provides the recipient with an instant understanding of your email’s purpose even before they open it. This way you’re more likely to be at the top of their to-read list. Use something with a similar structure to: Prospective Ph.D. student looking to study Gravitational Waves.”
5. Prove it.
Attach evidence of your academic accomplishments as well as your CV, and any other documents which can support claims made in your email. Make sure never to make claims you cannot back. False information will get you nowhere good. If they like your email, they’ll likely want to do more research on you are before contacting you. This way they’ll have all the information at their fingertips.
Dear Professor (Last Name),
My name is (Full Name), and I’m a graduate student at (University) where I major in (Degree Major). I’m graduating (Date). I would like to apply for a position on your Ph.D. program. I have a [GPA Score] and experience in our university’s [extra curriculum activities].
I am planning to attend a Ph.D. program with a focus on (subject). I first learned of your work from your article (article name). It was a great article and gave me a few ideas for my future research within the field. I particularly liked (something from the article).
I’ve been looking into various graduate programs where I can spend time delving further into this topic. The focal point of my project will likely be (project focus), and I am especially interested in exploring (Specific focus issue)
I’d like to inquire whether you’re accepting graduate students at this time. If so, would you be open to talking more via phone or email, or in person, about the possibility of joining your program? I’ve looked through your department’s website, and it seems complementary to my goals because of its focus on (department’s particular area(s) of research). However, I do have some questions about (question topic 1) and (question topic 2) that I’d like to talk to you about if possible.
I realize how busy you must be and highly appreciate your time. Thank you very much.