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I'm applying for graduate school (PhD in computer science), and I'm considering writing to faculty whose research areas match with what I intend to pursue, to understand:

  1. Whether they'd be looking for new students at all in the coming year?
  2. If they did, would they be potentially interested in my profile (I know no-one would guarantee an acceptance without me going through the process of application), but it would help to know if they would not be interested at all in me - which would leave me free apply to other schools in which I get a neutral/positive response.

Keeping the above in mind, what would be the best way to introduce myself in the first mail?

  • What should be the salutation - I know "Respected Sir" sounds archaic, but was wondering if "Dear Professor X" sounded too informal or not!
  • Do I state my credentials (details of where I did my undergrads/masters) first, or do I state my purpose in writing to him/her?
  • How to mention my background concisely, without giving too much details, while at the same time not "underselling" myself as a potential grad student?
  • I want to give a link to my resume/profile hosted on my website - should I embed the hyperlink, or is it better to write the link in plain text?
  • How do I end such a letter - the obvious ones (such as "see you soon" or "till we meet again") being not quite suitable in this case)?

I'm basically afraid of saying too much (causing vexation) or too little (resulting in no response to my missive). I understand that the faculty are accustomed to seeing their inbox flooded with such mails each year, few of which ever get a positive response - which may not always be due to lack of an interesting profile, but the manner in which the mail is worded (Many professors have explicitly mentioned on their websites that they would not respond to generic "Do you have funding" type of queries no matter what the credentials of the student are!).

Though my interest is specific to CS, I believe it would apply to other fields as well. Also, I would be interested in the opinions of both present faculty members (who have to sort through such mails), and past applicants to grad-school (who have the experience of successfully writing to their advisers before applying)...

1 Answer 1

My personal experience relies more on postdoc application rather than PhD application, but here my answers to your questions:

  1. Salutations: I think that "Dear Professor X" is the usual salutation, although if the person is using a different title on their website, it's better to use this one.

  2. I'd start with the purpose of writing, and more particularly, with a "personal" context, in order to clarify that it's not some kind of generic email. For instance: "Dear Professor X., I have read with much interest your papers Y and Z, (or I attended your invited talk at this conference, etc), and I would be very interested in applying for PhD under your supervision. Indeed, I believe that the idea you have developed is ... (very good) and intersects strongly with my own research interests." At this point, you can start putting your credentials, and to emphasize on the points that are the most relevant.

  3. In order to be concise, I would insist on the points that make you potentially different from other applicants. For instance, if you have a regular MSc in CS (i.e. not from a top Ivy Uni), then just mention it, because it won't be the "selling point", since pretty much any other applicants for a PhD got something equivalent.

  4. For your CV, if it's light enough (i.e. less than 1MB), I would actually include it in the mail. And I would also put the link in plain text (because personally, I like to know what kind of link I'm clicking on :)).

  5. I usually finish my emails with something along the lines "I'm at your disposal for any further information you might need. Best regards".

Also, as a general advice, I would contact the Asst./Assoc. Professors rather than directly the Professor in charge, at least for an informal query.