How to Write an Email to a Potential Ph.D. Advisor/Professor

Please note that I no longer respond to comments/questions to this post! 

Grad School Application Guidance Package and other help listed below the post.

One of the most common points of confusion among undergraduates and new graduate students is how to write an email to contact a professor to serve as a potential Ph.D. or graduate school advisor.  This can be a minefield.  Yet the email inquiry to a potential advisor is one of the most important steps in your entire graduate school process, in that it is your chance to make a first impression on the person who will dictate many elements of your life for the next five to ten years.

I have been on the receiving end of many emails from hapless students who clearly had no guidance, and whose communication with me ended up appearing flippant and rude.

Here is that sort of email:

“Dear Professor Kelsky, I am a student at XXX College and I’m thinking about graduate school on xxx and I’m getting in touch to ask if you can give me any advice or direction about that. Sincerely, student X”

This is an instant-delete email.

Here is what an email to a professor should look like:

“Dear Professor XXX,

I am a student at XXX College with a major in xxx.  I am a [junior] and will be graduating next May.  I have a [4.0 GPA] and experience in our college’s [summer program in xxx/internship program in xxx/Honors College/etc.].

I am planning to attend graduate school in xxx, with a focus on xxx.  In one of my classes, “xxx,” which was taught by Professor XXX, I had the chance to read your article, “xxxx.”  I really enjoyed it, and it gave me many ideas for my future research.  I have been exploring graduate programs where I can work on this topic.  My specific project will likely focus on xxxx, and I am particularly interested in exploring the question of xxxxx.

I hope you don’t mind my getting in touch, but I’d like to inquire whether you are currently accepting graduate students.  If you are, would you willing to talk to me a bit more, by email or on the phone, or in person if I can arrange a campus visit, about my graduate school plans?  I have explored your department’s graduate school website in detail, and it seems like an excellent fit for me because of its emphasis on xx and xx,  but I still have a few specific questions about xx and xxx that I’d like to talk to you about.

I know you’re very busy so I appreciate any time you can give me.  Thanks very much,



Why is this email good?  Because it shows that you are serious and well qualified.  It shows that you have done thorough research and utilized all the freely available information on the website.  It shows that you have specific plans which have yielded specific questions.  It shows that you are familiar with the professor’s work.  It shows that you respect the professor’s time.

All of these attributes will make your email and your name stand out, and exponentially increase your chances of getting a timely, thorough, and friendly response, and potentially building the kind of relationship that leads to a strong mentoring relationship.

If the professor doesn’t respond in a week or so, send a follow up email gently reminding them of your initial email, and asking again for their response.  If they ignore you again, best to probably give up.  But professors are busy and distracted, and it may take a little extra effort to get through.

Good luck!




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Encapsulates all of the advice that we provide in our graduate school advising services, including:

1. General instructions and overview of the function and “best practices” of an initial query email to someone you hope to work with

2. A template for what an email like that should look like

3. A sample email to a business school prospective advisor

4. A sample email to a comparative literature prospective advisor

5. A sample email to a computer science prospective advisor.

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How to Write an Email to a Potential Ph.D. Advisor/Professor — 188 Comments

  1. Thanks for posting these bits of advice. There are so many little things about grad school that we don’t know but we are expected to know! Even though I always try to be respectful and professional in my emails to professors, having a template like this is helpful.

    • You’re very welcome, Liana! I agree, it’s these little unacknowledged and untaught things that can make or break a graduate school career…. I am genuinely mystified as to why graduate colleges don’t keep a full time advisor on the staff to help undergrad and grad students with these small but critical processes. But since they don’t, I’m going to try and be that here at The Professor Is In!

      • I wanted to ask about: what if i sent a professor an email, which has no subject line? how will he see me, and how can i fix this problem?

        2nd: i didn’t write my email as much detailed as shown above, and i sent my CV as a detailed introduction about me. so how will he see me and how can i fix this?

        Please Help!

      • I have sent phD project proposal to the potential advisor 12 days back, but I have not received any reply from her till today. What Shall I ask her, whether she has gone through the proposal or not or else she is not interested in that topic. Kindly advice

  2. This is really helpful. Actually, I had sent my first email to the potential supervisor which I had written myself without consulting to anyone or any websites and I am happy that I covered all the things that Karen has explained here. After I sent my first email he responded very well and we exchanged three emails as well. Finally he asked me to send my Masters dissertation, CV, and the proposal as well which I did after 20 days and I also got an email from him saying he received it and will get in touch with me soon. But now it has been nearly a month since I haven’t heard anything from him so I thought to write a follow up email to him and once I started writing I myself was not satisfied with the email that I wrote because I thought it was bit arrogant to directly ask what is happening with my application. So I would really be grateful if anyone could help me with that and I also don’t know how long should I wait before sending him follow up email. Any help highly appreciated. Thanks

    • hi Niraj,
      What is happened after? I did and sent couple of professor and i did not get back yet. please advise me furhter.

  3. What about writing an e-mail to request the addition of someone new to your committee? I have had one professor leave the University and another…well…let’s just say he is no longer a welcome member of my committee and I need to fill two spaces.

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  5. Dear Mrs. Karen,
    I am a Chinese stduent at Beihang University, and I want to get the first contact with my potential PhD. supervisor via E-mail, thank you very much for this constructive suggestion.
    Thank you very much!
    Best Wishes!
    Xu Chen

  6. Good job demonstrating to students how to suck up to their “superiors” (and I use the word very, very lightly) by providing an example of how to properly be a subservient schmuck and schmooze a highly over-inflated, narcissistic ego. But then again, as many will end up wage slaves to people like you, it is a good skill to have. Then again, to others it reads like a massive endorsement for self-reliance.

    What I find simply amazing is the endless self-congratulation that many professors give themselves for jumping through hoops in what amounts to an essentially, a pointless bureaucratic game. Hopefully your research contributes to the whole of humanity. Otherwise it is simply a waste of time in the larger scheme of things. There are people starving and dying out there, and we are worried how to properly impress the likes of you? You need to seriously examine the implications of this.
    In other words — get over yourself.

    • You are not being fair at all.
      I thought you would suggest something more helpful after all the ranting.
      If you can’t help others don’t criticize those who are

    • I found this comment to be stimulating and engaging! Well done! Next time, you could also try to look at things from the other side of the argument.
      Many of us feel that in order to achieve success it’s important to perform in a way that academics recognise and sadly hoop jumping is a necessary facet of life whether you are a street performer looking for a permit from your local authority or an artist applying for grants from a Charitable Trust.
      The point of this post and the point it makes quite clearly is that many students such as myself are not trained or advised on the correct protocol concerning contacting people who are probably already quite busy and who have to read literally hundreds of emails a day.
      If you think you could do a better job or don’t like academia no one is forcing you to do it and there is certainly even less of an obligation to do a PhD. You site doing good for humanity as the goal we should live by. I think you also need to assess the assumptions that this makes and the moral and ethical values you espouse but don’t seem to understand.

    • Anunomus just about sums it up. All of this advice perpetuates academic arrogance because many of the students reading this will eventually become professors themselves and will in turn want to be treated the same way by future students.

    • I was hoping to find a comment like this. The author of this article “instantly deletes” an email asking for help on a matter? And for what reason, other than a disdainful hubris? Disgraceful, in my opinion.

  7. Dear Mrs. Karen
    i am really thank full to you providing such a nice post. this is very very helpful to student like me. i really appreciate your work.
    best wishes! and happy new year
    vishal mehra

  8. Dear Mrs. Karen

    Thank you very much for your clear and concise post regarding this small but nevertheless quite important and hard to find advice.

    I’m from Portugal. I’m starting my PhD in Clinical Research and i will focus my attention in resistant schizophrenia. Would it make sense to have a supervisor from a foreign country and which i don’t know personally? Don’t you think that he would accept?

    Thank you very much for your help,

    • Your advisor has to be in the Ph.D. program you enroll in. If you are interested in enrolling in a foreign program (and are still exploring options), then yes, you can get in touch with a potential advisor there, and if accepted, you can then attend that program. They won’t discriminate based on the fact that you are from another country, if your application is strong.

      • I know I’m replying to an old thread, but it occurred to me that nuno might mean getting an external advisor from a different institution than the one nuno is doing his/her PhD in. Is this done in the States at all? In a lot of European universities it seems to be possible to have an advisor from another programme or even another university.

        • Hey Christina,

          In the US usually you are at the institution where you adviser is. However you usually have outside committee members that supervise your thesis and the can be from outside universities.

  9. I have a question about how to title the subject line of the email. What is a respectful and concise subject heading for an email to a potential advisor?

      • Thank you, this was the exact question I was trying to find an answer to. I wrote a professor earlier in the week just to introduce myself, and now I have an appointment set up with the department grad advisor and I want to meet with the professor while I am up there. I wrote a second email and asked if they had time to meet with me while I was in town. Is this rude?

  10. Karen,
    Great job ignoring anunomus, in fact I’d hugely disappointed if you do him the honor of trading words with him. This is a very helpful template. Thanks.


  11. Dear Mrs. Karen
    It’s give me pleasure to visit your webpage, relay your post is very helpful, useful, and rich.
    I’m from Palestine, I awarded DAAD scholarship in 2008 to get M. Sc. in computer information systems, now I am looking to begin my PhD. in Germany, I must find a supervisor then we arrange to write the PhD. proposal.
    Finally, I found my supervisor , he send me acceptance letter after finishing PhD. proposal but my application was rejected for scholarship for some special reasons, now I am working to find another supervisor , what is your advice to me , it will better to inform the new supervisor about my previous one .. Or not?
    and could you provide me with a template for comprehensive motivation letters and statement of propose .

    Thank you very much for your help,

  12. Thank you so much! I have been sitting here stumped as to how best to contact potential supervisors, as you only get one chance at a first impression. This was so helpful, and I just wanted to let you know my appreciation for sharing your advice.

    Thank you,

  13. This is an excellent forum you have created. Thank you very much. Please i Just want to ask whether it is wise to call a Professor who has an open PhD position in his Lab and you are strongly interest, but you sent him and email and recieved no response. And is it generally a good idea to call a Professor on phone when you find interest in his research and hope that he takes you in into his Lab.

  14. This is what look for last long month ago. I have to say thank you very much for thing you have done, in my country we not familiar with this. Your advise help me to appropriate starting and encourage to step forward on my ph.d pathway.
    Thank you

  15. Dear Karen,

    Thank you for the very insightful postings and advice.

    Do you have any suggestions for a mature applicant for PhD program, who is older than most of targeted potential supervisors? I am currently working as an assistant professor as PQ faulty in a foreign institution and trying to pursue a doctoral degree starting from forthcoming fall semester.

    Many thanks,


    • My advice is don’t do it. I don’t say that to all potential PhD applicants, but I do say it to older ones. It’s generally a disastrous choice both financially and psychically.

      • I just wanted to say that I was quite pleased by this advice until I read this response.
        I entered higher education as a “non-traditional” student and it has turned my life around. I’m now a masters student looking at PhD programs. It pains me to see an someone in your position advising someone against further education because of their age.

        • Unfortunately with the abysmal job market and the likelihood of massive debt, age becomes a major risk factor in any phd decision. I have seen the tragic outcomes among my clientele. Some do still prevail, but many more do not.

          • Hi Karen,

            What do you consider as a “mature” applicant? Past age 25, or past age 30?

          • I suppose it depends what field you are in and if you are paid to be at the institution or not. In my field PhD students are typically given full funding packages and stipends, eliminating the need to take out loans. Of course, these stipends aren’t exactly generous and the job market is still dismal, but at least you don’t necessarily have to go into debt to receive a PhD.
            That being said, are you suggesting that there is another factor, perhaps some sort of “ageism” that also works against older students?

    • yes, you could. I have the slightest hesitation though. At your stage your cv won’t be very impressive, and may well be completely improperly formatted, so it could do a lot more harm than good. I suppose my instinct would be to not send it, until asked.

  16. Dear Professor Karen Kelsky,
    I do appreciate creating such a great website for us as students. Actually your advice, comments and tips are very very helpful to me and I’m sure to others too. I check this website everyday indeed!

  17. Thanks for this outline! I am currently looking into potential advisors for Fall of 2013 and would like to contact them. When would be the ideal time to do so?

  18. Hi
    Thank you for your great advices. It was all about phd application, but what about masters? What graduate school are looking for in master applicants to accept them?

  19. i am 3rd year medical student and want to go abroad for research elective.i have no past research experience but now i am interested in doing research in should i write letter to any doctor.kindly paste a format here so that i can send it to docs.

  20. Dear Professor Karen,
    Thank you very much for guiding prospective Ph.D students towards the realization of their dreams.
    These essential things add up in a big way to help secure an admit. It becomes a bit confusing as to how to convey all your thoughts to the professors and yet be concise in your approach.
    After all you just get once chance to hit the bull’s eye.

    Thank you for your timely help.


  21. Hello Professor Karen,

    Thank for sharing this king of information.. Could tell what is subject line for seeking Phd Supervisor. And could you send the separate email for asking about that..

    Thank You..

  22. Dear Professor Karen,
    Thanks so much for your help , it is highly helpful as I am in the process of communicating a potential Advisor . Hope I find an Advisor like you .
    By the way , Who Would Care Communucating With an anonm…… ?!

  23. Hi Karen,

    It’s great to see you posting something like this, it has really helped me out. I was wondering though, I’m in a situation where there are two professors at the same University that I am interested in speaking with. Should I contact them both or just pick one and stick with it? They are in the same department, but are focused on different aspects of the same field (one is shellfish restoration and the other is shellfish aquaculture).



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  25. Thank you very much for you great input.
    Can you please post a followup email sample. I am working on one for about a week. But I think I came across rude.

    Warm regards,

  26. Hi Karen:

    Thank you for your great post, that’s very helpful.

    I have used your post as an email template and send it to several professors. About half of them respond positively. I think your template is a very good format for PhD application.

    Could you also give me more suggestion on how to continue the communication with professors? shall I first talk about my own experience? Or I should do research about the professors’ current projects and talk about that. Thanks very much

    Best regards,


  27. Dear Prof. Karen,

    I would like to thank you for your post, it is very helpful.
    I am in the process of communicating with two potential Advisors and this will be my last effort to attend a PhD.

    Best Regards,


  28. Thank you very much for this post. I am about writing my very first letter to a potential supervisor. I hope with these few tips you shared, that I get a good response.

    Best regards.

  29. thank you very much for your effort, i just want to ask if i can use this form to contact a professor in my faculty and i took some clases with him before

    thank you

  30. Dear Karen,
    I’ve finished my master about 5 years ago. since then, I am working in research institutes. I want to apply for a one-year research fellowship abroad which needs to prepare research proposal. I do not know how to choose my subject. If I ask about it from a potential supervisor, would it be harmful??
    It is very kind of you replying.

      • Thank you for your reply but do you agree with me that it is really a difficult decision what to choose for your PhD topic which is innovative and also appealing to yourself and others??

        • No, not necessarily. I think most phd students have a deep impulse or drive to do a topic and it just flows out of them. that was the case for me, certainly, and most others I know. If you don’t have that, I think doing the Ph.D. might be difficult.

  31. Thank you! I’m terribly nervous about communicating with professors–I was always the kid that sat by the door and snuck away at the end of class because I was too nervous to talk to adults–and the sample letter was hugely helpful in formatting the inquiry I just sent. Thank you, thank you for helping us would-be grad students not look dumb!

  32. Dear Professor Karen,
    Thank you for posting such important information. I actually got your information after i sent my first email to my potential supervisor. I understand i made many mistakes. Now it has been days since i sent it. So will wait the response. God help me!
    My question for you, is it appropriate to contact another professor from the same university & the same department in case i get no response from the first professor?

    Thank you very much,

    Mesfin G. (Ethiopia)

  33. Hi Prof,

    I wrote to one of the potential advisor and he has replied back the same day with a request for cv.

    Can you please advise me for the tips for CV? I am in the University town. Do you think it is a good idea if I request him for a meeting?


  34. Hi Karen,

    Thanks for this awesome post. I followed your advices and wrote an e-mail to potential faculty for Ph.D program that I want to join. And it worked very well. I received an e-mail back from him the following morning! I did not ask whether he had time to talk to me though, and I only asked whether he is accepting students this year. His e-mail was very brief (2 sentences), saying # of students he is accepting, and he encourages me to apply. Should I send another brief ‘thank-you’ e-mail? If so, should I try to talk to him more about his group/program? or would it be better to just keep it as ‘thank-you’ e-mail? I would very much appreciate your time and help!

    • what did you reply to the professor? I got same response.

      Professor encouraged me to apply in the admissions. and he wrote nothing else.

    • can you show your email to apply for phd i’d like to apply for phd program and want to contact w?th faculty member about the application and asking for schollarship.


  35. Dear Karen
    Have you any suggestion for applying together with our spouse!! My husband and I are planning to attend in a same school. how should we contact with the potential supervisor?? Do we have to mention this in our first email? Do we have to send emails separately?? How can we improve our chance to get admitted in same place???

  36. Dear Prof. Karen,

    Thank you for your info. I found your advice reassuring. I have one question though.
    I have had some good responses and offers in Europe. Now I am planning to apply to some high-ranked US universities for a research position in electronics. My master’s institution in Sweden is not that famous which I perceived as a disadvantage. How much weight does professors in the US give to GRE and grade when selecting students for a PhD? My GRE (Q:800, V~510) and B+ GPA.

    Thank you again.

  37. i faced the same problem. i’ve sent email to one prof at uni. X, but after 3 weeks, he didint reply me. so i’ve sent another email tp another prof at uni. Y… after few hours he reply saying, im ready to supervise you, welcome to uni Y.

    Then, a week after that, the Prof from Uni X replied me saying. plese send your 2 pages proposal for my consideration.

    What should i replied him? Seeking for your kind opinion…..

  38. Dear Dr. Karen
    Thank you very much for your helping. I’ve finished my master (marine biology) about 1 years ago and i would like to continue my study in PhD, but i don’t know, how i can to apply how i can obtain Scholarship and etc. Is it possible that i send email to head department and ask him/her about that? Would you please give me any advice or direction about that.
    Thanks in advance
    Parisa A.Salimi

  39. Thank you very much. I am a senior, finishing up my B.S., and in the process of applying to Ph.D. programs. Writing to professors can be extremely intimidating. I found that your example was a wonderful tool for organizing the information and thoughts that have lead me to apply the my individual programs.

  40. Dear Karen
    there were great tips i have never known. i just want to know if it works if i mention that i completed a first year of PhD in my home country and i dont want to pursue it any more or not?
    What if i guess my publication is not enough strong to compete with other candidates in the university i want to apply for? Does it mean i will not be able to attract a supervisor?
    It is a big problem in my mind and i dont know how to deal with.???

  41. Dear professor Karen,
    Thank you for this advice. could you please advice me about few matters. i have completed my M.Sc in Biomedical Genetics last year and now i am planning to do my PhD in genetics in Canada, for that i would like to contact a supervisor and in my letter what all the information should i have to include and another problem is, i am planning to publish an article in the last of this month i have already send to the journal, so whether i should try to contact the adviser after the article is published or i should contact the adviser now itself as there are only limited seats for PhD . please help me
    Thank you


  42. “My specific project will likely focus on xxxx, and I am particularly interested in exploring the question of xxxxx.”

    While the second part of this sentence is fine, I’d be rather cautious about the first half. I am in the process of writing a letter to a potential supervisor myself and have gone to talk to different professors in my current university to ask for advice. I do have a topic in mind, but almost everyone told me NOT to mention a specific topic in the e-mail but rather general idea. One of the professors even told me that more often than not the person who says they have something specific in mind will be stubborn about changing their topic (because let’s be honest, PhD topics change) and consequently not asked for an interview.

    Then again, I’m speaking from an European’s point of view. Maybe the grad school application approach is different in the States.

    • I think you are right in that the approach is different in different countries. I am in Australia and I have met up with a university professor. He told me that most people would not be able to choose their own PHD topic and that it is important to be flexible while still making sure you will enjoy the topic you end up doing. This is because the professors apply for grants on specific topics and then need students to do that topic in their PHD. The only way you could do your own topic is if you do a self-funded PHD, i.e. apply for grants yourself. For this reason I will be including broad areas of interest in my emails rather than specific topics.

      • Hi Laura,
        I saw your reply and I though of send you this message as I am in Australia too and planning to work on my PhD.
        If usually we have to work on professors projects, I couldn’t find much published topics /projects online. The only thing I found was interests of supervisors and in few universities some research projects but not relevant to my field.
        I hope you can give me some guidance.

  43. Thank you for your advice! Could you also suggest what I should include/how I should organize an email to a professor I met at a conference but don’t know well? Thanks again in advance!

  44. Thank you so much for your blog!

    I am currently applying to graduate school programs and was wondering if you had any advice on interviews. Some programs do on-campus interviews, and others do phone/Skype interviews. I was wondering what I should expect.

  45. Hi Karen,
    Thanks for the advice. I am an undergraduate student and will be applying for graduate school in the Fall of 2013, but I need to ask graduate schools if they will accept my pre-requisites for Speech Pathology because it varies at different schools… What would your advice be to go about emailing them?

  46. Dear Prof. Karen Kelsky,

    Thank you very much on posting such a wonderful e-mail template. It helped me a lot. I was wondering if you could kindly help me about writing ‘ Statement of purpose’ (SOP). I tried on my own and took the help of many seniors but all was in vain. I will be aplying for a masters degree in US for fall 2013 and I am very desperate to write a good enough SOP.

    I would be obliged if you could reply as soon as possible. Thanks very much

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  48. Thanks for providing such a nice insight and useful suggestions for admissions.
    I am 44 and wish to do an engineering MASc in Canada. Will my age(44) go against me ??
    I am working in government of India R&D sector and can get a leave (without pay) for two years only (otherwise I would have opted for a PhD). I Will require funding.
    I hold a patent in Canada (should I mention that in my email ? This patent however is for a practical device and not related to professor’s field so much…)

  49. Dear Professor Karen,
    Thanks for your suggestion . However, I am having a problem. I could not find any publication or research work available on the internet of the supervisor I want to work with. So what sort of comment(regarding his work) may I make which can help me grabbing his attention?
    I am a prospective MSc student.

    Best regards

  50. Dear Karen,
    Your description was very helpful on how to write the e-mail, but what continues to stump me is what to put into the subject line. During my time as an undergraduate, I have had many professors tell my classes to chose our subject lines wisely because they delete mail not directly related to their classes or from faculty memebers. What would be short, to the point, and attention getting as a subject so the professor doesn’t just immediately delete the e-mail without reading it?

    Best Regards,

    • I concur. I just finished composing my email to a potential Professor in an Ivy league school, and I am now confronted with the question of what subject would be appropriate for my mail. Please Karen, your help is really needed.

      • This is probably of no use to you now, but she answered it in the above comments already. “Inquiry from a Prospective Graduate Student”

  51. Hi

    Dear Karen,

    Thank you so much for such a nice and informative article.I was about to send an email to professor with many mistakes. I have just visited your site and found your page likes on facebook are 3999 and i would be the lucky one to make it 4000. So congratulations from my side on reaching 4000 likes in FB.

    Thank you again.
    Engr Nouman Khattak
    Junior Design Engineer
    BAK Consulting Engineers.

  52. Dear Professor Karen,
    Thanks for your valuable post . You have provide a good idea to write in a correct and polite way. This post is very helpful and guiding me to write an email for a professor.

    Best regards
    Lia P.

  53. Dear Karen,
    I must confess that I have been terrified just thinking about contacting the professor in a program that I am interesting in. After reading your posting and your template, I feel so much better. I plan to pursue a master degree in biomedical engineering with a focus in medical instrumentation at the university of Saskatchewan. I have been on the program website but not quite sure how to address the section in your template: my specific project will focus on xxx and I will be interested in addressing the question of xxx
    Furthermore, how does one credit you for the information?
    Linus Luki

  54. Dear Professor Karen,
    Thank you for posting this guide! It’s taken the fear out of initially contacting a potential advisor. I was wondering if you have any suggestions or additions to this for students looking to apply to M.Sc. coursework programs? Tailoring the program to my interests is heavily dependent on my potential advisor, however I also feel that any competent faculty member would be able to assist me with this. I’m now questioning the value I’m placing on selecting the right advisor to contact.
    Thank you kindly in advance for any advice.
    Ana M.

  55. Thanks for this very useful post Karen. I do have a question – it has been 9 years since I graduated from University (BSc. Hons) and have been working in a separate field since graduation (except 1 year spent teaching the Sciences to high school students). I am now looking to return to complete an MSc in Environmental Management. Should I mention/explain my break from the field in my email? What would be your suggestion on the best way to approach this?

  56. I just wanted to say I agree wholeheartedly about following up if you don’t get a response (and you’re serious about the professor and/or line of work).
    I wrote to a professor enquiring about full time openings in her lab but she didn’t reply. I followed up after 2 weeks, and she replied almost 2 seconds later apologizing for not getting in touch sooner because she was out sick and the email then got forgotten.
    In this case, there was a happy ending. The prof flew me out for an interview, and I’m still at the same lab working full time.
    I was never more glad of my persistent stick-to-it-ness.

    p.s., I should probably add I didn’t send a form email and that my email was tailored specifically for that lab and the research the PI does.

  57. Dear Professor Karen,
    Thank you so much for this valuable post. It was so informative.
    I am aspiring to do Phd in fall 2014. I would like to the right time for contacting professors regarding Phd and what are the things I should mention other than the info provided in your article

  58. Dear Prof. Karen,
    Thank you so much for this very useful and valuable post. I would like to ask question about , how to reply a mail after a supervisor giving negative feedback for an application.

  59. Hi Karen.
    Your advice was very useful in helping me figure out and frame my email to a potential supervisor. There is one concern however, and I have been frantically searching online for a tip on the same. I am a student doing my Masters (Thesis-based) and after three years I have decided to switch to a different university for a Course-based degree in the same program. I have completed 6 courses and a part of my research but it took me a while to figure out that research (long term research) does not suit me very well. My confusion is if I should mention that in my email and if I do then how to put it across in a polished manner, so that it does not have any adverse effects on my application.
    I would appreciate if you could kindly advise me on this.
    Thank you.

  60. Thank you for your advice. I’m graduated 3 years ago (MSc.). I have 2 papers published and attended some workshop and 2 national congresses. I had been working as a teacher assistant. Meanwhile I had to work that is not related to my education for 2 years. Now I’m worried and I don’t know how to explain about the gap since the graduation up to now. Could you please advise me about that? thank you very much.

  61. Hi Ms Karen,

    Thanks very much for such an incredible post. It will really guide us through the application process and applying for funding opportunities. I can not imagine what would have happened if we did not have such a nice person like you around us! Really appreciate your work.

  62. Hey Karen,

    This is a great resource for learning how to properly contact advisers, thank you for making this!

    I think it would also benefit for us to know about social/Facebook etiquette when involving potential graduate advisers. Should we befriend them on Facebook? I could see reasons for and against do that. Seeing the posts, pics, and etc., could be helpful in getting to know the adviser better. On the other hand, if the adviser seems something on your page he/she doesn’t like, you run the risk of losing them. What do you? Maybe right another blog on social/ Facebook etiquette with advisers? Thanks!

  63. Dear Pro Karen,

    Thank you for your advice. It’s help me a lot. I have already emailed my prospective supervisor, however i found out we have different personalities, and i’m afraid that i can’t work well with him. I’m decided to find another supervisor but I not know how to tell him. Besides, he work on human isolates ( microbe and molecular field) while im interested to deal with animal isolates as i’m animal science student.

    I hope you can give any suggestion on this matter. Thank you..

  64. Thanks for this informative post! Mentioning the potential research focus in the email is still a sticking point for me (“My specific project will likely focus on xxxx, and I am particularly interested in exploring the question of xxxxx”). In my case, there are many research questions I am interested in exploring within a broader topic. I don’t want to be generic, noncommittal, or scattered, but I also don’t want to be dishonest by picking a research question and declaring it my particular interest. How can I reflect this openness while still showing I am focused?

  65. Dear prof. Karen,

    Thank you for this great blog and willingness to share your professional knowledge.
    Could you please, very briefly, address two issues:
    1. If a topic can be supervised by several members of faculty and is rather specific (it`s in social sciences), would it be appropriate to address one (presumably “highest ranking”) professor at the department, but at the end to kindly ask that if she/he is not interested or not able to be advisor to recommend to me someone in the department who could be more appropriate/willing/able/suitable to contact?
    I don’t think anyone has raised this, but coming from Eastern Europe, I don’t know if this would be considered “weak”, or “improper”, or “insulting”?

    2. This is not so important, but I read few people asked similar question and it remained unanswered, but is also in way related to the previous one. I am intending to apply with my partner/fiancee who is in the same discipline, we met on first year, and since have studied, worked and lived together (I am 26, she is 39), and are very successful in it and highly compatible and productive when together – studying the same issue, but from quite different perspectives and different aspects of it (we might need to have different supervisors). Would you consider it to be a drawback that we are applying together for PhD in the US? And do you think that in similar cases it is better to send one e-mail to a Prof., or two separate, or two separate to two Prof.s?

    Once more, thank you very much, I assume it`s a hassle.
    Best regards,

    PS – Your text on passives was very useful not just for British, but I would say for most of Europe.
    PPS – Please answer my post (at least No. 1), it was my birthday yesterday and I am so depressed! 🙂

    • Yes you can do as you say re question 1. Well actually, don’t do it in the initial email. Wait until you’ve had a negative reply and then ask. To ask up front would be a little awkward. Re question 2: it’s fine for you two to both apply but you must both apply independently and contact the profs independently.You can let drop informally that you are a couple, but formally in the apps, it’s got to be entirely individual.

      • Thank you very much!
        When we are accepted (implementing positive (American) attitude), we will write you an e-mail on issues we had as Eastern European candidates and how we successfully resolved them! 🙂
        Thank you, once again, very much, your whole blog gave us a lot of positive energy and motivation to apply for PhD! 🙂
        Best regards,

  66. Dear Professor Karen,

    Thank you for giving such a nice template. I must say this would definitely help me in writing it to the professor for my phd program. This is awesome. I was always confused how to approach to the professor, i did get the reply for the emails i have sent to different school but this will make it more precise and would be easy for a professor to explain.
    Really appreciate it.

    Best regards,
    Komal Sharma

  67. Pingback: How to Write an Email to a Potential Ph.D. Advisor/Professor | Khoa Hai's homepage

  68. Dear Karen,

    I think you just saved me from being just-another-email-to-delete in my potential supervisor’s inbox. I was going to send a poorly written email but decided to get some tips on what exactly to include in my first letter and I stumbled upon your excellently written article. I really appreciate you taking time out to write these articles.

    I am going to apply for a masters degree and I am currently writing a letter to some of the professors in whose research I am interested in.

    Thank you,
    Abdullah Siddiqui

  69. Prof. Karen,
    Thanks for this insightful post. I’ve already contacted some Professors for possible Ph.D. supervision and the content of my e-mail was close to (but not as detailed) as the template here because I was trying to avoid sending a lengthy mail. However, I’ve not gotten any reply for days now.
    Please, I need your advice; should I resend my mails following this template or … ?
    Here’s a sample of the mail I sent on Tue, 17th, Sept., 2013:

    Hello Prof. XXX,

    I am XXX, a graduate of XXX and a current research student at the XXX University. I am writing you this email to inform you of my interest in your field of research (XXX). My current Masters research is in XXX and I have also been researching into more problems in this area. I have been able to come up with a research proposal for proposed Ph.D. and want to solicit your support in seeing my dream come true by accepting to supervise my work. Sequel to my preliminary findings, I make bold to reiterate that I have come to respect your insight and experience in this field and I am open to suggestions and/or corrections to my drafted proposal.

    I have attached to this mail, a copy of my CV, a brief proposal and an abstract of the same proposal so you can quickly go through it.

    I am currently applying for XXX Scholarship and I need an approval letter from my supervisor to complete my application. In case you will not be able to supervise me, I will appreciate it if you can suggest some other people whom you know can supervise my work.
    I look forward to reading from you soonest to allow me complete the application on time.

    Thank you, Sir.
    Sincere regards

  70. Hello Prof Karen,
    Thank you for generous tips and advice. I got tired to get such kind of information to relief my stresses.
    On the other hand, I would expect that I will need a far more deeper guidance about my PhD application road map.
    I have selected USCD (Materials Science + Chemical Eng.), Carnegie Mellon U. (Materials Science), U of South Florida (Chemical Engineering).
    My challenge that I will be facing both the TOEFL on Oct 25th and GRE on Dec 19th. Additionally, I have my courses in the master that I study here in Brazil, UFRGS.
    While the sites of the aforementioned schools state that it is not advised to contact faculties as they can not give any prior admission unless to submit all the application materials; test scores, transcripts, etc, it is welcome to contact them if you want to talk about the research they do or you want to do.
    The problem is that I am missing mind duel to all this timed tasks that I have to carry out simultaneously. During that I feel that an optional transaction like initiating a contact with a professor who shares my research interests – specially they won’t respond mostly – is not so advisable. Do you agree with me?
    Second point I study here in Brazil in Portuguese. As an Egyptian, I used to study engineering in a mixture of English and Arabic. Thus, it was difficult to understand and communicate with the teacher and classmates during discussion. After all, it is a MSc and understanding to solve questions in exams is important than understanding the language itself. So that I used to study in English and then make such conversion from English to Portuguese in exam times. As a result, I usually get B grades. I got only one A. Do you think that will lower my chance of getting admission?
    Third about recommendation letters, I do not have the complete ability to determine which faculty professors I should ask to recommend me. For example, my supervisor is really a nice woman and supportive. However, some times she looks like angry from me and neither I nor my colleagues know a specific reason for that. I just try to relax, supervise, and educate myself. Like that, shall i ask her to recommend me or not. Other professor who was my 65 year old supervisor in Egypt. He was considering me as a son to him and he has written many recommendations to me. But due to out-of-control problems in my work as a TA in the same dept, I feel like he has changed towards me. I am sure that he still appreciate my hard work and traits and he is the most knowledgeable person about me. Shall I ask him to recommend me?

  71. Dear Professor Karen,

    I am happy to find this template. I definitely believe it is a great help. I have one concern though. I saw you stated that age is a big risk. I am applying to PhD in finance programs for fall 2014. I will 40 years soon. I hold a triple major and an MBA.

    Do you have any advice for me?

    Thanks in advance.

  72. Hi Karen,

    Thank you for the excellent resource. I just used it to email a prospective graduate advisor. I feel I ALWAYS ask this question, but panels are often targeted on larger problems like GRE, NSF, and personal statement advice.

    I was wondering if you could answer two questions.

    1) What should a good signature for an undergraduate student look like at the end of an email?

    2) How important is a personal website in the application process?

    Thank you!


  73. Wow!!!!! What an amazing and informative resource. Thank you so much Karen for taking precious time to advice complete strangers on something extremely worthwhile…it takes someone with a good heart to do just that. I (and many others as I’ve seen from the comments) have really benefited from this post on contacting potential supervisors. May God bless you so much beyond your wildest dreams!

  74. Have you any suggestion for applying together with our spouse!! My husband and I are planning to attend in a same university. please let me know how I can write such an email.

  75. Dear Professor Karen,

    I really appreciate this post. I was trying to write an e-mail to my potential advisor and had hard time figuring out what to write about.

    I referenced your format when I was writing my e-mail. It was a great help.


  76. I sure could have used this about two weeks ago. Thank you for providing this template and sharing your information, it is greatly appreciated.
    If I may ask a question Prof. Karen, is it any good to send a second email with this template to a prof? I sent a less dense email to two potential advisors about two weeks ago and I was hoping I could redeem myself as it appears my first emails were not impressive. Do you have any thoughts on the matter?

  77. i recently completed my graduation in biotechnology. i want to per-sue my PhD, but it is difficult for me how to write a impressive email to a supervisor who really take interest in my mail.

  78. Prof.Karen,Thank you very much for your helpful posts.

    I have a question about communication with a as a future research group member. what should we do when we feel that the coordinator is not very straightforward( in case it is impossible to meet him/her in their office).

    Should we talk about it with our professors? given that most cases they are supporter of each other.


  79. Dear Prof. Kelsky,

    Many thanks for such an informative post. Some of your answers in the thread are very helpful as well.

    Do you think it is a good idea to send a draft research proposal to a potential supervisor when approaching him/her?

    Kind regards,


  80. Great posting. I sent a professional email to a my prospective adviser and she gave ma a short

    “I do expect to accept one, maybe two, students for next year. I will look forward to seeing your application! Let me know if you have further questions in the mean time.”

    I am not sure if I should keep the conversation or leave it at that. I kept it professional, stated my goals and interest and my interest in her research. I don’t want to send unnecessary questions and make myself look bad

  81. Can you please advice on whether or not it is a good idea to make a first email contact with a potential advisor, after having submitted the PhD application to the university?

  82. Dear Professor Dr. Karen,

    I am an international student. Your article, “how to Write an Email to a Potential Ph.D. Advisor/Professor”, had helped shining the way to communicate with professors who live overseas.

    After sending my email to three places, I received a good reply from a prospective professor who told me that I was a good fit to his/her laboratory.

    Because this is only one month after submitting my applications, I do not know whether the email from the professor will guarantee my chance of acceptance. At least his/her reply helps me narrow down the researches that I should pursue.

    Recently, I came across a problem. I found a university in which there are more than one professor that I would like to work with.

    In fact, this problem is often, but I cannot make a decision for this department. Could you please give me advice on whether I should send the letter to more than one professor in the same department or what positive or negative consequences that I might have encounter.

    Thank you for taking your time.

    Sincerely yours,

    Suvita Swana

  83. thank you Mrs. Karen for such a good post, i read it and its quite helping .i wanted to ask you that would it be good idea to go for a Ph.D after completing M.Sc. while you have a business mind more than an academic? I have completed BS in Electrical Engineering in 2013. Secondly i need to support my family after MSc so would i be able to support them while pursuing a PhD.

  84. Hello Dear,
    Thank you very much for your valuable post. If you don’t mind, I want to share with you my letter which I prepared for my Master’s Course in Surgical Oncology in a Canadian university for your experienced guidance.

    Thank you
    Najmul Islam Sabbir

  85. Hi Karen,
    Thank you for this post. I just discovered it yesterday,before sending the first version 🙂
    I wonder- I am about to finish my master in Germany when I finished my bachelor in Israeli and worked in between.
    Should I write all of this info in the first paragraph? I feel it might be too much? (CV style)
    I will be happy to hear your opinion before sending.
    Thanks a lot in advance.

  86. I can’t help but echo what someone else had already mentioned in the earlier posts. I feel like you have to suck up to the professor to get any real attention. I’m a straight forward guy, and I don’t understand why we can’t just keep it short and sweet, like two or three sentences, with a CV/resume.

    I don’t think I can bring myself to go into detail about how great the professor is, or how I’ve read all his/her papers, or how excited I am to start my research career. It’s politics, and I hate that game.

  87. Oh my goodness, thank you soooo much!! I am so glad i stumbled upon this right before i was about to send out my email! I’m contacting a masters supervisor, and i can assure you, my email was going to be along the lines of the “instant delete” one!! Thank you so so much! I think you just got me into a masters!!

  88. thank you for your brief guideline for the most of us. i will try this way and if will success i will tell you.

  89. Dear professor Karen,
    This is really the most important and fantastic system of writing for admission application i ever had. Surprisingly, I was facing a big challenge how to write a constructive email for consideration of my graduate program this year. I have now alleviated this mountainous problem.
    Thank you so much Keren!

  90. Dear professor Karen,
    Hello. I am a graduate student in physical chemistry (Master of Science). I am going to continue my study in Computational Chemistry fields for PhD degree in abroad. I preferred an Email (see bellow) to Ph.D. positions. Would you please read this letter and say you point of view about, is this letter suitable for sending to professors?

    My Letter:

    Dear professor ….,

    Hello. I am a graduate student in physical chemistry (Master of Science). I have worked in Computational and Theoretical chemistry for more 3 years. I have many publications in good journals (see attached files). I have very good experiences in theoretical and computational chemistry (Ab initio, DFT, Post-HF, QM/MM) and also working with computer systems, UNIX operating systems and programming.

    After graduation for gaining more experience and knowledge, I went to Isfahan University of Technology, department of chemistry, as a Research Assistant and continued my research under Professor H. Farrokhpour.

    I am going to continue my study in Computational Chemistry fields for PhD degree. I visited your homepage and I think your research areas are fit to my interest, very well and I am interested in working with you as my supervisor.

    Regarding my characteristics, I am a reliable, organized, and so enthusiastic student. I can learn everything fast. I am sure that I will carry over the same enthusiasm and skill in doing my PhD as I know that my background will prove to be an effective match for your demands. Therefore, I would like to have the opportunity to develop my abilities, for which I am confident that I have the skills, knowledge and competence.
    In addition, my English language is good and I can read, speak, write and listen. For more information, please see my CV in attached file.

    Thank you for your time and consideration and I look forward to hearing from you.
    Yours Sincerely,
    Mostafa Abedi

    Research Assistant,

    Department of Chemistry, Isfahan University of Technology, Iran

  91. I have sent a very similar e-mail to my prospective supervisor. It been a week but I have not received a reply yet.I want to ask if he received my email how should I write an email?

  92. Thank you so much for posting this information. I have used this information to contact my desired mentor, and I received a response within 24 hours. The professor has now asked for a writing sample. After performing multiple edits, the sample is ready to be sent. Is there a specific response I should give when I send this sample? Thank you again.

  93. Pingback: Resource: The Professor Is In | winter coronations

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  95. I believe the nice thing about this post is that it reminds you to tell something about yourself; your GPA, your experience, your good qualities. I think those are always worth mentioning. The other really nice thing is that it tells you to get to know the supervisor’s research (after all, why would you want a supervisor whose research was not interesting?) But I disagree with being too concerned about pleasing the professor. I think honesty is way better, and I think people should remember that it’s not just the professor evaluating the potential student, but also the student evaluating the professor; if the professor is always busy, he probably won’t have time for you either. Sucking up will eventually *always* fail. Also, by attempting to please the professor too much I think people are supporting a system where professors pick their students based not on their qualifications and interests but how much they like the person. Just my two cents.

  96. Hi,

    Thank you so much for this great post!
    I am wondering if it is ok to mention my undergrad and grad project?
    Because it is related directly to the professor’s research area.

    Thank you!

  97. Pingback: A sample email to a potential PhD advisor or professor | Ask Ben

  98. Pingback: MEXT – Step 4 : E-mailing prospective advisor | veni, vidi, vici **

  99. Hi Karen, thank you for sharing, it really help.

    After i read this article, there is one thing i need to ask you. On the statement above: “My specific project will likely focus on xxxx, and I am particularly interested in exploring the question of xxxxx.” I wonder how specific i should fill on the xxxx and xxxxx. Do you mean that i Should fill it with my research title? I was intend to fill it with my research title but then i was confused because i have some alternative for my research project.

    Thank you and i appreciate any answer.

  100. Pingback: 7 Step Guide To Changing University During Your PhD - Next Scientist

  101. Hello Karen,

    Thank you very much for the blog. it was useful to get to know about Prof’s mindset. I am getting some replys with the help of it.


  102. Pingback: Surviving Graduate School Admissions  | Sarah Friedman

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  104. Pingback: Emailing Future Ph.D. Advisor | Biomed Explorer

  105. Thank you for writing this post. In my day job, I frequently write professional correspondence to senior management, clients, and team members. That being said, I’m a little nervous about my PhD application. I appreciate the few tips I pulled from these examples.


  106. Pingback: How To Get a Social Media Ph.D. | Social Media Collective

  107. Dear Karen
    Would you please send me a template for PhD application? I am a PhD student in my country but I want to apply for a part-time PhD research as PhD research opportunity in a foreign country.
    Thank you
    Best regards,

  108. Thank you for your advice, it really helped me. I sent e-mail to a professor and he answered me asking to send CV, Cover letter, and Personal statement. Would you please help me about what should I write in the cover letter and what is the difference between it and personal statement.

    Thanks a lot.

  109. Dear Dr. Karen,

    Thank you for your informative article. I have a rather trivial question about … style (?)

    At the end of the text of the email, is there a reason for using a comma after “Thank you very much” instead of a period (dot) or an exclamation mark? Thank you very much!



  110. Dear Karen
    I must say you have done a good job in helping people like me regarding this area. Thank you so much for sharing.
    I would like to know if you offer any paid services in relation to research in general. Secondly, I am currently working on my research proposal and will be consulting potential supervisors very soon, however I do have a big worry. I am 32 years and I intend to start my Ph.D next year. I have 2 Bachelor of Science Degrees and a Masters of Science Degree. I have never worked, all I ever did was go to universities.If the supervisor asks for my CV, which has only a list of courses I have undertaken, would it be OK if I told them I never worked? Do you think having never worked is a disadvantage for me to be considered for a Ph.D?
    Thank you

  111. 99% of the professors will ignore the email since it is too long, and they cannot afford to read 200 such long emails which come to their inbox every day.

  112. Pingback: Writing Inquiry emails to Potential Supervisor (Undergraduate perspective) – Bronze student

  113. Pingback: How to get a professor's approval for supervision on first email contact - ScholarLeen

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