Contacting Potential PhD Supervisors

Application Strategy

Contacting Potential PhD Supervisors

If you are thinking about applying to a PhD program one thing that you will need to do before submitting your application is to contact a potential research supervisor, and it is never too early to do this. During your pre-application planning stage, when you are deciding what you want your research focus to be during graduate school, you should start thinking about the specific researchers you would want to work with.

To make your application stand out, in a pile of often equally as impressive applications, it is important to make yourself known ahead of time to a potential supervisor. This will demonstrate that you are serious about working with them and may also encourage them to pay extra attention to your application. Do not underestimate the importance of this email. This is your chance to make a good first impression so do not make this sloppy.

  1. Always formally address the individual with their correct title (e.g., “ Dear Professor X”).
  2. Introduce yourself. Briefly mention your first and last name, where you are currently studying, and what you are majoring in. This is also a good time to “name drop.” If one of your current professors recommended that you contact Professor X, and it is possible that they know each other, then you should definitely mention this.  This is also an excellent time to mention an award you won or an impressive GPA.  Don’t go into detail. This should just be an extremely brief introduction that gets them interested in your email.
  3. Mention what made you interested in their research. Was it a specific paper they wrote, or a talk they gave at a conference? Even the most senior professors appreciate knowing that someone read and enjoyed their papers.  What you say in this part of your email must be accurate so make sure you actually read their latest papers and browse their personal websites.  Don’t mention research they did 10 years ago. Focus on their latest publications, and look for continuing themes in their work.
  4. Sometimes professors will be away on sabbatical or won’t have available funding, which leaves them unable to supervise students. You will want to target your application to specific researchers so it is important to know who is actually able to supervise students.
  5. Briefly mention any relevant research experience you have had and attach your curriculum vitae.
  6. Thank them for their time and consideration. Professors are busy so make sure they know you are grateful for their time.

Be professional, polite, and brief! First impressions are extremely important.