Write an email that your supervisor will read and reply

Jan 14, 2012 by     49 Comments    Posted under: Post Graduate

Supervisors are very busy people. You might think that they have only a few hours class a week, but they are also doing hundred other things like research, grant writing, workshops, book publishing etc. On top of that, they also get hundred other emails daily from students who wants them to be their supervisor. So how do you stand out from the crowd?

Write the best email subject ever : “Prospective Phd Student”

Start with the keyword – “Prospective Phd Student” and add in your year. It guarantees that your supervisor will open your email at least. Why? Because part of their jobscope is to train more PhDs. Besides that, as an academician they love getting smart students. So if you put your subject saying you are a prospective Phd Student, your supervisor will most probably open the email.

So the key to get that email opened is subject line “Prospective Phd Student 2012/2013″ . Until I started with that I had about 5% reply rate. After I put that subject line in email, the reply rate went to 80% and above.

First paragraph : Your Name, what you do and how you found him / her

Your first paragraph should be your name and what you do. Example

Dear Professor ABC_full name,

I am Avijit Paul and I work as a tutor in Faculty of Creative Multimedia at Multimedia University, Malaysia. I read at <website name, journal name> about your various projects involving emerging technologies, big data analysis and natural disaster.

What this tells your potential supervisor that you have an idea what he or she is doing while informing where you are from and how your work may be related to his. Please try not to write more than 3 lines. And before I forget, first email it is best to write his or her full name.

Second paragraph: Brief summary of your RELATED experience

Immediately after that you should tell him or her what have you done so far that makes you qualified to work under his or her supervision and how you may potentially contribute. Example:

So far I have worked mostly on small scale mobile applications and virtual reality projects and for last one year I had been working on iPhone, android and nokia apps, Augmented Reality and games using various middleware programs such as Unity3d, Appcelerator etc. Besides that, I have created various websites over last 8 years.

Third paragraph: Action line – what you expect him or her to do

So you have informed who you are, what you do and how you got to know him. You have also informed how you have done related work. Now is call for action. Tell him that you want to work with him or her. Example:

After reading your profile and your list of projects at the website I am very eager to know about research opportunities to work with you.

That’s it: And Keep it to 10 line

Basically once you write that, you are done. Before you send the email, please double check, tripple check your spelling. If you have wrong spelling, you are just reducing your chance of getting the reply!! So make sure the spelling is correct. End with:

With regards

Your name

Contact details

And it is really important to keep the email short because if the professor is interested, he or she will ask more. If not, they will ignore or sometimes suggest who you can potentially contact.

So if you have done what I suggested, you will surely increase your chance of getting your email read and hopefully you wil get some positive reply.

Oh ya, Use a non funky email address please

This is a post from Assistant Professor Dr. Chris Blattman of Yale that I stumbled upon. It tells you some very importnat stuff that I missed such as having a non-funky email address.

Kick the email address from high school. It’s time for “hot_muffin92@hotmail.com” and “mikey_g@gmail.com” to rest in peace.

So if you are Mikey Walsh, you should have a mikey.walsh at gmail rather that having the “cool” nickenames.

Go ahead and read the 12 points – they are definitely worth your time: http://chrisblattman.com/2010/11/08/students-how-to-email-to-your-professor-employer-and-professional-peers/

[Image courtesy of Daily blog tips ]


About Avijit Paul

I am a PhD student at Queensland University of Technology, Australia. My primary field of work is in analyzing and making sense of ‘big data’ generated from Social Networks during crisis events. As my work involves design and programming, I constantly switch between these two areas. On top of that I am also interested in business and founded couple of startups. Please visit about me page from the top menu to learn more about me.

49 Comments + Add Comment

  • When writing to the supervisor (for the first time), is it necessary to attach a proposal?

    • What worked for me is, keep the proposal ready but do not send in the first email. This is because many university email program is designed to catch any attachment from first time email address. So if the supervisor replies, I sent the proposal immediately.

  • Thanks, that’s helpful.

    • Glad to hear that

  • Is it advisable to write to more than 1 supervisor at the same time? I mean from the same University. Or should I wait till one replies to approach the other?

  • Can help me with a sample Phd Research Proposal? I m completely lost as in how to start writing the proposal as in where to search for appropriate literature. I have got few uni’s interested in accepting my Phd and ask me to send proposal which is where I m stuck. Appreciate your help, thanks!

  • many thanks Avi, this is indeed very helpful…appreciate it very much and wish you goodluck in your Phd completion…

  • Thanks a lot Avijit Paul for your great writing. It seems very helpful for the prospective research student. I have further one question regarding this. Do I need to attach research proposal and bio-sketch/CV with first email?
    Appreciate your help, thanks.


    • Send normal email first and then attach bio when they reply. High chance the email filter will take your email as spam if you attach multiple files first time.

  • Thanks for your tactful writing and useful data for PhD application. Do you think that it is not necessary to mention master and bachelor GPAs in the email? also, no need to attach even the CV to the first email??

    • I do not put all the information except just a few lines such as what is my interest and what I read about the Professor because long emails wont get read – professors get hundred email a day! Any attachment has a high chance to go to junk mail.

  • Is it advisable to write to more than 1 supervisor at the same time? I mean from the same University or different university. Or should I wait till one replies to approach the other?

    • Tricky, I did that and sometimes it is embarrassing but sometimes worth the try.

  • I am confirmed by a professor for spring semester 2014. But when I mailed him to know about monthly research allowance. He didn’t reply. So what should I do? May I mail him again? or what you suggest? thanks in advance.

    • Usually that is a fixed amount – often in 900-1000 AUD for 14 days. But yes, you can email him / her.

  • Hi Paul, thanks for your very useful share. I dont have any research experience related to the current major in which I would like to apply for research, however I had reseach project when I did my bachelor degree. Can I put it to my academic resume?

    • Yes. You got nothing to loose showing you have experience. After all, if you do not put they wont know.

    • Yes.

    • Thank you very much Paul. I follow your instruction and get reply from professor. She told me write about Context-aware system. It is quite a big subject and I asked for more specific topic to write proposal but she said I can write general one for application. I am so confused and query what I have to write if I don’t have a specific topic. Could you help me for some advices?

    • Hi Dion,
      You can look for current research on context aware in google scholar and select since 2012 from the left. I googled that and found that “Context-aware saliency detection” is the most cited. I clicked on the citation to go deeper. You can follow similar process to find a suitable topic that is current.

  • Hi Paul,
    Thanks a lot for your shared experience
    I have research experience in a field different from the one i want to apply to, should i mention that in my first email (i have a few publications)?
    I am a computer engineer and I have joined Microsoft research as a research assistance for around 18 months, is this an info i should mention i my first email ?

    • Microsoft research? yes. Of course yes. Yes you should include and inform that. Yes. Well, I guess I have said yes enough haha! It is a definite positive point to include that. It is possible in some really really rare case that the supervisor is anti microsoft and wont like but the chance is as high as you getting struck by lightening. So please include that. Working in Microsoft research is dream for many people in academia.

      You SHOULD include that you have published. Details of publication is probably good to send as a separate email or include in the resume because they will make the email long. You can however include well known publications such as IEEE saying that you have published in IEEE (just an example).

  • Thanks a lot for your fast reply

  • Thanks again,
    I have sent to professor at Melbourne university and got the reply in the same day asking for the transcripts and a draft proposal for the project i want to work on. But i don’t have a certain project on mind because my experience is in a different field. Do you have ideas how to reply? Should i make any draft proposal ? Or ask him about his projects? Or search for one of the available projects in the university ?


  • How to find a PhD supervisor who is in the area “BIG DATA”..if any one knows please guide me…..Thanks in advance

    • Have you googled for Professors in Data Mining in Australia? I just googled and found a few. I know Professor Yuefang and Richi Nayek from QUT but there are quite a few from UQ too. You really just have to google it.

  • It means that I select a specific topic by myself and write proposal for that topic?

    • yes

  • Hi Paul!
    I want to do my PHD in HRM from university of Sydney. I’ve some quires regarding admission but first i want to when should i apply for scholarship… i mean whts the whole procedure for admission…. should i apply directly to uni? or my consultant will apply for everything(like admission, scholorship etc).
    second thing… If in case i didn’t get the scholarship than how can i find a job, that will cover my tuition fees or living expenses. as u know the PHD fees is 35000 AUD/per year. means at least i would need 5000AUD/ per month.

    waiting for your swift response….. thank u for ur time in advance.


    • Hi Kiswar,
      If there is one advice I can give – DO NOT come to Australia without a scholarship. It is really hard to find a job to support your education. It might have worked before but it clearly wont work now. Try looking at some forums and you will hear horror stories. So, do your best to get a scholarship.

      Now, both agents or yourself can apply. But you need to do it quick because the application round just opened and will finish in two months. So do it quick.

      Good luck.

  • thank u so much for your quick response… Pual i would need one more suggestion… i also want that my younger brother should also come with me to Australia for studies (he is 12 years old)…because i’m the only educated person from my home and also a guardian for my younger brother studies…


    • Sorry, no idea about that :( You should ask an immigration agent or your education agent about it.

  • Thank you very much!

  • what should be the appropriate subject for the mail seeking “graduate research assistant-ship” ??

    • Potential Graduate Research Assistant in (professor’s current research)

  • hi Avijit Paul,

    tq for the info.

    wa caya sama lu..!!!

    good luck in ur studies!

    -Perk Omar

    • Thanks. Good luck to you.

  • Dear Avi,

    once i got the offer, Waiting for Scholarships.
    Till now i have not discussed with supervisor about scholarships and allowances .
    can ask Her about my scholarships ?

    Moorthy E

    • Yes you can. In fact, you should

  • dear avi, i need ur help , m plaaning for phd from newzeeland , i have done my masters from pakistan.

    • I know nothing about NZ phd. Sorry

  • hi avi,am doing my thesis now should I mention it in my mail to supervisor..?

    • Yes.

  • My spouse and I want to apply for the same university. How can we write an email which includes both of us in. Thanks

    • Unless you want to apply under exact same supervisor, you should write separately.

  • Is this procedure is same for Mphil applications? if not plz mention it…..

    • I have no idea about Mphil sorry

  • Hi Avi
    Thank you for your helpful educative writing. I am 4th year std (5 month left). If I have some conference paper , Should I mention them in Email? And another questions in total how much line are appreciable at the first email to a supervisor ? Please advise me.

Got anything to say? Go ahead and leave a comment!

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Read previous post:
How to get 7.5 and above in IELTS in a rush

IELTS tests are not very easy. But if you do some practice you will score higher even if you use...