Contributed by Jenn Houtz, co-presenter of the workshop “Crafting an Effective CV/Resume for Careers Inside and Outside Academia” at AOS’s 2019 annual meeting in Anchorage, Alaska. This is the second in a series of blog posts developed from workshops presented at the meeting.
If you are considering attending graduate school, the quality of your inquiry email to a potential advisor can make or break your chances of a receiving a response. First impressions are everything, and you want to make a good one! This email might serve as the foundation for your graduate research career in your dream lab. Below we provide some useful tips for crafting a professional graduate position inquiry email.
1. Subject Line
These are the FIRST words a professor will see when they open up their email for the day. You want it to catch their attention and immediately notify them that you are a prospective student. The subject line should state the semester you wish to start a graduate program and include the words “Prospective Graduate Student” – for example, “Fall 2019 Prospective Graduate Student.”
Address the professor by their last name using “Professor” or “Dr.” Do not use “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, or “Ms.” Use a friendly but professional greeting such as “Dear” or “Hello” instead of an informal “Hey.”
The first line of the email should include your full name, year in school, major, and university/college, followed by a statement that includes what topic of graduate study you are currently considering and the semester you would start your degree. Make sure to also specify whether you are looking to do a Master’s or a PhD in their lab.
4. Relevant Experience
After introducing yourself, you want to grab the professor’s attention by providing a few lines about your research interests and relevant experiences. These experiences may include but are not limited to a seasonal field technician position, a summertime research experience for undergraduates (REU) at an external institution, or an independent study/honors thesis project at your home institution. You should state what research areas spark your interest, along with a short summary of any research projects you have conducted. You don’t want to go into extraneous detail (save that for your CV and cover letter), but you want to state the main goal of the research, the study organism, and the name of the advisor on the project.
Example: “My interests in behavioral ecology and endocrinology line up well with the research conducted in your lab. More specifically, I worked as a field assistant on a project that investigated the effect of testosterone on the mating behavior of White-throated Sparrows under the advisement of Dr. John Smith.”
5. Why Their Lab?
This is where you tell the professor how you found out about their lab and why you are interested in applying. State where you first came across their research, which may be a paper you read in class or a talk you saw at a conference. Then, explain what specific topic from their work interests you the most. Do NOT copy and paste text from the “Research” section of the professor’s website. They took great care to write that section and will recognize if you use the same wording.
Example: “I first became intrigued by your research after reading your 2019 Behavioral Ecology review paper on avian mating strategies. During my graduate studies, I am particularly interested in investigating the mechanistic underpinnings of avian mating behavior. I believe I could not only contribute to the ongoing work in your lab, but also introduce novel investigations into the impact of glucocorticoids on breeding investment.”
6. Request Further Consideration
Directly state that you would like to talk with them more about pursuing a graduate degree in their lab. Make sure you include information specifically requested by the professor on their position announcement or website, such as GPA, GRE scores, references, CV, and cover letter. Usually, you can just include your GPA, GRE scores, and references within your CV, but make sure to point this out in your email.
Thank them for their time and say that you look forward to hearing back from them. End the email with a sign-off such as “Best” or “Sincerely” and your full name.
It is important to keep the email concise, because a professor is more likely to read a short email than multiple paragraphs. The main goal of your email is to express genuine interest in the professor’s research and earn the opportunity to talk with them more over the phone or video. Regardless of whether or not you receive a reply, have confidence in your abilities and experience. The right professor will appreciate you showing interest in their lab and contact you back. Good luck!
Example Template Email
Hello Dr. (last name of professor),
My name is (your first and last name), and I am a (year in school) (major) at (name of university). I am currently considering (topic of graduate study) graduate programs for (semester you would start graduate school). My research interests in (research topic) line up well with the research conducted in your lab. More specifically, I have conducted research on (main focus of project) on (study organism)under the advisement of Dr. (name of research advisor).
I first became intrigued by your research after (how you first discovered their research). This paper was very influential in shaping my research interests and ideas. During my graduate studies, I am particularly interested in investigating (research topic that relates to the work conducted in the professor’s lab).
I would love to open a dialogue with you about (name of university and department)’s program and your lab specifically as a potential avenue for graduate school. Attached is my CV, containing my GPA, GRE scores, and references. My attached cover letter outlines my research experiences in more detail and potential graduate project ideas.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing back from you.