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What to say in the e-mail to the professors?

  1. May 12, 2015 #1
    I am planning to apply for a PhD position in the coming December and I think now is the right time to start contacting research group leaders in my desired universities. What I want to know is what you typically say in you first e-mail apart from telling him that you are interested in his group and asking for a vacant position? I would imagine if my e-mail contains only around those matters, it will look like too bold and too brief.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 12, 2015 #2
    Look up the papers, go through at least a couple. "I found ___ in your 20__ paper on ____ very interesting, especially since I've been working on ____ as an undergrad." Something like that. Show you put the work in.
  4. May 12, 2015 #3
    That doesn't sound too brief as well? I just imagine that they know who is just looking for an acceptance as opposed to someone who is looking to really work with them.
  5. May 12, 2015 #4
    You shouldn't write an entire essay. Brief is good as long as you say everything you want to say. He will likely propose to meet you anyway.
  6. May 12, 2015 #5
    Is this what typically happens in the US or in general in most western countries? I am living in Germany and I haven't heard anything about that before now. All of the groups which fall in my option are located in different cities, therefore meeting the professors (in case all or most of them offer me to) are rather costly.
  7. May 12, 2015 #6
    That is standard what happens in my country (belgium, which is quite small). Personally, I don't think it's a good idea to start a PhD with somebody whom you have never talked to before. Maybe skyping is an option?
  8. May 12, 2015 #7
    That does really make sense. But in case skype is not preferred on his side, would it make me sound impolite if I ask for a possibility of travel accommodation to his place?
  9. May 12, 2015 #8
    I guess you should really try to find out what the standard is in Germany. I'm only talking in my limited experience from a small country. In your case, I would probably ask to skype first. If he refuses then perhaps try to say that you're interested in meeting him personally, but that it is pretty expensive. Maybe he will propose a good solution?
    Then again, we have many German members here (with PhD), so they might be able to give some better advice.
  10. May 13, 2015 #9
    A personal meeting with an applicant before offering a paid position for 3+ years is the norm. In fact, I have not heard of anyone ever having gotten any kind of well-paid office job without a previous meeting in any branch of employment (but then: I am a scientist, not a veteran human resources manager). To set the mind-set: Consider being a PhD student as a job as a junior scientist or a scientist trainee, not as an extension of school. A common form for getting to know each other is giving a talk in a seminar and then spending the remainder of the day with the group to get to know each other.

    As for your original question: Say a few words about yourself. Really brief. Not "my hobbies are ... and I love movies directed by ..." or "I am fluent in French" but "I am currently working on my master's thesis on the topic of X at university Y, where I do Z". Try adding a few words why you are interested in working in the group or field, or at least a statement why you are writing to this exact person. It does not feel pleasant get receive mails from wannabe-applicants that sound like the exact mail was spammed to twenty other random people. Attach a CV. Do not write all the CV stuff in the text body - the attachment is only as extra information for people that actually do have an open position that for some reason is not announced on their web pages. Oh, and check if they have an open position announced on their web pages.
  11. May 13, 2015 #10
    Didn't see that question earlier: The question is not impolite. It is very valid. The answer is likely going to be that travel expenses for job interviews are not paid for by the university (it was a rule at the university I applied to; not sure if it was a university-internal, state or federal rule). Off the official track, one may play tricks like meeting for a "scientific discussion", instead (or alternatively: officially inviting you for a seminar talk). Not sure if I would suggest bending rules in case the host does not come up with such solutions by himself (you probably are not the first applicant ever to come to the institute). But if it is a real issue for you, then by all means do so.

    And to make the obvious clear: The above assumes a scenario where you were invited to a meeting, i.e. one or more steps beyond asking for open positions. Inquiring about reimbursement of travel expenses before even having been invited is impolite.
  12. May 14, 2015 #11
    Thanks for telling your experience Timo, that's quite useful for my future reference.
    For the first step actually I only want to know which open positions they (again I haven't made a choice out of the several groups I'm interested in) are currently offering. I doubt the information in the website is up to date, I remember opening the same website about a year ago and the positions listed there do not seem to change as I view them again recently. That's why I think it's better to hear the real thing directly from the person in charge of the group. Only after sorting out the replies from the group heads can I pick one or a few of them to apply to. As for the first e-mail with the purpose described above, do I still better send my cv?
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