Thursday, 25 April 2013

Ace the Inquiry Email for your Potential Supervisor

If you are planning to go into grad school, chances are you will need to find a potential supervisor. One might think a simple email to a professor would do the trick. But, if you didn't happen to know this, let me tell you this - professors are spammed with inquiries email. So much that they start to ignore many of such emails. In this post, I will give some hint on how to write an inquiry email that makes you stand out.

Inquiry email is not always important. So, when is it that an inquiry email is important? I have listed three situations as follows:
  1. You have good grades but you come from a less well-known university. If you come from a less well-known university, it is hard to catch a prof's attention during the selection process.
  2. You are applying to a top class university (and you are not from there) like MIT and Stanford. Let me share with you a story. I applied to MIT for PhD program without inquiring any profs. Later, I found out that they didn't even review my application. So, if I had tried to get in touch with a prof, chances are my application would at least be reviewed.
  3. You don't have amazing grade. Grad school is all about marks. The higher you marks, the more prof will be interested in you. So, if you have a B+ average, you should try to convince a potential supervisor that you are indeed a good candidate.
If you find yourself in at least one of the situation, I highly recommend you to get in touch with a supervisor. So, how should you write the inquiry email?
  1. Highlight your achievement, especially when you have good grades. Don't be too arrogant about it, but don't downplay your ability either.
  2. Write your email professionally. Don't use any informal language.
  3. Ask if they are looking for graduate students. If they are not, chances are they don't have funding or they have too many students. In such cases, it is better to look for other supervisors.
  4. If you have research experience, talk a bit on it. However, if you don't, you can try to read some of the papers written by that professor and try to give some comments on it.
  5. Ask them if it is possible to set up a time to talk online (or even face-to-face). This will give the both of you a better understanding of each other.
  6. Include your resume and unofficial transcript in the email.
  7. Of course, try to thank them for their time.
If you have written to a professor and he/she has not replied you in a week time, it is rather normal. A prof is usually very busy. Try to give 2 weeks for them to reply back. If they don't reply by then, send them a kind reminder. After 2 weeks sending your reminder and you still didn't get a reply, it is safe to assume that they are not interested. It would be best for you to find other supervisors.

To end this post, I want to refer you to a good example on how to write the inquiry email. If I recalled correctly, the way I wrote my inquiry email is very similar to the example. It worked out great for me. Finally, you can find more information about writing inquiry emails in the following websites:


  1. 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???

    1. There are a few questions that you should first answer. Do the two of you have to go for the same supervisor? Can you separate family issue from work issue? Personally, I think it will be better to go for different supervisors in the same department.

      For example, you can do something like this. You should send an email to potential supervisors and she can send emails to other supervisors. Don't have overlaps. Once one of you get contact in a potential supervisor, you can ask them indirectly if they mind supervising your spouse. If they are not willing to, then you can try to ask if they know any other professors are looking for students. You can then direct your spouse to that professors. As long as both of your supervisor says they accept both of you as students, the rest from there on is easy.

      I wish the best on your endeavor.

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