[Topics were inspired by questions from mentees & discussions with the UCI's Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Ecology Group]
Applying to graduate school is a very different process than applying for undergrad. For one, you are applying to work with a professor and in their lab on specific research topics. This means you have to do a bit more research on the faculty and research happening at the school. For my blog post on how to find a program or lab click here. The goal isn’t to reach out to as many professors as possible. Rather, the goal is to find a few professors doing research you find really interesting and reaching out via email.
Why email? You want to get to know the professor and get more information on their most recent projects. It is also an opportunity to learn if they are taking on new graduate students or not. It’s important to remember that the professor is looking to see if you are a good fit, but you are also looking to see if they are a good fit for you. After all, you’ll be spending 5+ years in their lab. Emailing will give you a sense of their communication style and possibly their personality. These are both important when choosing a lab eventually [see blog post on choosing a program].
When should you send these inquiry emails? Normally, applications are due sometime in late fall or early winter. I reached out the summer before the fall I applied for graduate school. This gives you the opportunity to develop a rapport with the professor and possibly visit the lab. But don’t be afraid to reach out earlier if you see that they or their graduate students will be at a conference. It’s a great idea to try to meet and chat in person. Conferences are a great way to do this!
What to include in the inquiry email? First, make sure that each email you send out is personalized. It should be directed to the specific professor and their research. Professors easily see through “spam” emails.
General outline of inquiry emails (see sample PDF for more details outline):
Subject line – state your purpose (e.g. “Prospective PhD Student for Fall 2020”). You don’t want your email getting lost in their inbox.
Greeting – include a greeting and their title (e.g. “Dear Dr. Smith”)
First paragraph – a sentence or two introducing yourself, your institution, and your intentions. (see samples)
Second paragraph – briefly explain your research interests and how it aligns with their research. Here you can mention any specific projects they are working on that you are particularly interested in. (See samples)
Third paragraph – explain why you are interested in their lab and ask if they would be willing to chat about their research. (see samples)
Attachments – you would want to include your CV (see blog post on creating CVs)
I have attached a PDF below with a more detailed outline and two samples of my own inquiry emails. Ideally, you keep this first email relatively short. Professors get a lot of emails and can sometimes dismiss really long emails. Don’t be surprised if you don’t receive an email back. I would suggest following up after 2 weeks.
I hope this was useful and good luck!
Other useful links: