Contacting Potential PhD Supervisors | FindAPhD.com (2023)

Written by Chris Banyard

Contacting a potential PhD supervisor can seem daunting but you really should if you're thinking of applying for a doctoral programme. Dropping them an email to discuss your research area is your chance to find out whether they’d be interested in supervising you.

Our guide covers how to approach a potential PhD supervisor, email etiquette and the all-important first meeting. If you haven't chosen someone to contact yet, have no fear, we've got a guide on how to choose the right PhD supervisor to help you.

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First email to a PhD supervisorFirst meeting with a PhD supervisor

First email to a PhD supervisor

Before you contact a potential PhD supervisor, be prepared to do your research on their research. Become familiar with their work and academic specialisms (if you aren’t already).

Supervisors will have their own academic profile page, either on their university/departmental website or elsewhere. These pages are good resources to find out about their work and research interests in their own words. They’ll usually mention whether they’re currently accepting supervisees – and what academic areas they’re keen to supervise PhD students in.

When writing a PhD supervisor request letter, you’ll need to show that you understand their previous publications and their current research activity. Don’t assume that you can send a generic email to a potential supervisor without displaying genuine knowledge and passion of their field.

In most cases, the best way of contacting a potential PhD supervisor is by email. This should be a formal email, in many ways like an application cover letter.

1. Include a clear subject line

Make sure your initial email doesn’t have a vague subject line that could lead to it being ignored (or heading straight for the spam folder). Some examples could be:

  • ‘Prospective PhD student interested in Hegelian dialectics’
  • ‘Enquiry for BBSRC-funded PhD in Viral Immunology’

2. Introduce yourself

The introduction should introduce yourself and your background, including your current level of study and any experience. You should also establish your interest in studying a research topic under the supervision of the academic. It may be useful to briefly explain why you are interested, or how you discovered the supervisor, which can be a good way of building rapport with them. Plus, you can introduce your funding status or your intention to secure funding.

3. Explain your intent

The main body of the email should explain your intent in further detail. This section could act like a mini CV, and even complement it if attached. It should highlight your eligibility and enthusiasm for PhD study, and your interest in the supervisor’s research discipline.

(Video) Contacting Potential PhD Advisors / Supervisors

Here, you can also explain your funding, residential, and study mode status in more detail. If you’re applying for a specific advertised PhD project, include the name of the project.

4. Summarise your interest

The conclusion should summarise your interest in the PhD and your suitability for it. You may also include future ideas and a polite invitation to reply. Make sure you’ve provided evidence of your commitment to (and experience in) this particular research area. Give examples of your familiarity with the supervisor’s own work.

When contacting a potential PhD supervisor, it's vital that the email is kept as brief, targeted and specific as possible. Try to avoid passive or hesitant statements. Supervisors are very busy, and if they find any reason why this email is not relevant it can be ignored.

5. Sign off professionally

Conclude the email to a PhD supervisor by thanking them for their time and consideration, with a professional sign off.

Contacting Potential PhD Supervisors | FindAPhD.com (1)

Choosing the right supervisor

Finding and choosing the best supervisor for your project can sometimes be tricky. We’ve put together a handy guide on what you’ll need to take into account.

Some extra advice

Be aware of email etiquette. As a formal email, effort should be made to be polite and respectful. Be assertive but avoid rudeness or disrespect.

Use the supervisor’s correct title, starting with “Dear” and signing off with “Yours sincerely” or “Kind regards”.

Make sure there are no typos or grammatical errors, and there is clear and consistent formatting.

Have patience! Supervisors can have hectic schedules and may not be able to reply to every email in good time. If there is no reply after one or two weeks, it may be worth sending a polite reminder email. Try to avoid badgering your favoured supervisor with numerous follow up emails, as this could give a negative impression.

Should I email more than one potential PhD supervisor?

It is OK to have multiple research interests and contact multiple potential supervisors.

But it is important that each contact should be carefully considered. Each email should be tailored to the PhD supervisor in question. Copy-pasting an email and sending it to multiple potential supervisors isn’t a good idea.

There should also be a degree of transparency – most supervisors will understand that you may be contacting others, so long as they are not misled to believe otherwise.

(Video) Preparing a Graduate School Application & Contacting Potential Supervisors

Should I send a CV to a PhD supervisor?

It is usually a good idea to attach a CV along with this email.

This can complement the email and will demonstrate your appropriate qualifications and experience for a PhD. It is helpful to reference the key parts of your CV within the email.

This is often more important for Science, Engineering and Medicine projects than it is for Arts and Humanities.

It’s a good idea to attach a PDF version of your CV to avoid any potential formatting issues.

It is usually better to identify your potential supervisor and have already contacted them before writing and submitting a research proposal.

Crafting a good research proposal can be time-consuming and may require a deeper understanding of the potential supervisor’s research before starting writing.

For some PhDs, such as pre-set projects, it will not be necessary to write a research proposal at all, as you’ll be applying for a PhD that has already been organised and agreed upon by a funding body.

First meeting with a potential PhD supervisor

Often, emails to the potential supervisor will lead to a request for a meeting. This could be in person or via a video messaging platform like Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Skype. This is a good sign – the supervisor is interested in you as a candidate and may want to find out more about you or explain more in person.

You now have an opportunity to discuss your interests, ask questions, and meet your potential supervisor to see if they are compatible with you.

Although this is not the same as a formal PhD interview, it may still be worth approaching in a similar way, including preparing for interview questions. Although this should be more relaxed than an interview, you should be prepared and professional.

Preparation

(Video) When Should You Contact Potential Graduate School Supervisors?

Before the meeting, make sure you are familiar with the supervisor’s research and publications. Not only does this show interest in the supervisor and the research field, it will be useful to understand some of the topics you’ll be discussing.

It may also be worth reacquainting yourself with your emails to the potential supervisor. There may be specific questions or points brought up that could be discussed further.

Finally, make a good first impression. Be interested, interesting and dress professionally.

Questions to ask a potential PhD supervisor

While preparing to meet a potential PhD supervisor for the first time, it’s a good idea to have an idea of several questions you’d like to ask them.

You’ll want to sound enthusiastic and engaged. Showing that you’re interested in finding out more about their research and what supervision under them would look like is one way of doing this. Here are some suggestions:

  • How many other PhD students do they supervise? This can be a good way to find out if you’re going to be part of a larger team of supervisees or a relatively small partnership. There may also be a chance to discover potential crossover between your research and that of your fellow students.
  • What opportunities are there for career development during the PhD? Ask your potential supervisor about opportunities to attend PhD conferences, publish papers and teaching responsibilities.
  • How often do supervisory meetings happen? The answer to this question can be indicative of whether your supervisor will take a hands-on (or hands-off) approach and help you find out how your relationship with them will play out. You might also want to ask them about their policy for reading drafts of your research.
  • What expectations do they have of their research students? This could entail the number of publications you make during your PhD as well as participation in conferences and workshops.

Meeting

This is the first stage of developing a potential student-supervisor relationship. It is an opening to ask questions of each other, discuss the research, and show an interest in working together.

This should be a two-way meeting. Remember to evaluate your potential supervisor, checking if they are a right fit for you. Try to learn about their supervisory style, commitment to teaching, and their ability to offer you development opportunities. It may also be a chance to meet the research team and view the laboratory facilities (if appropriate).

Follow-up

After the meeting, it is worth evaluating everything you have learned about each potential supervisor and begin to compare them. Ensure you keep notes and keep in contact if necessary.

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FAQs

Should I contact a PhD supervisor before applying? ›

Often, the answer is "yes" and some universities and education systems will actually prefer students to make contact with a supervisor before they apply for a PhD.

When should I contact potential PhD advisors? ›

Plan on contacting potential advisors no later than the end of September, but earlier contacts are fine if you are ready to describe your research interests. The most effective means of contacting advisors is generally by email, but follow directions on the advisor's website, if provided.

How do you reach to a potential research supervisor? ›

Reaching out to a potential supervisor
  1. Do your research. Start by viewing their profiles online and reading a couple of their publications to familiarize yourself with their work.
  2. Be specific. ...
  3. Show you're serious and well qualified. ...
  4. Wait before following up. ...
  5. Make the ask.

How do you ask for a PhD supervisor example? ›

Sample mail for PhD or MS supervision (1)

I have gone through your profile and found that your research areas are well matched to my interests. I can also do work on any topic, but I need your kind supervision and guidance. I am solely interested in researching for my Ph.

How do you approach a supervisor for research opportunities? ›

It is useful to mention your interest in the supervisor's field, and why you want to undertake research in their lab. You may wish to mention any publications of theirs you have read. If the research you intend to pursue requires funding, state the source (e.g. self-funded, received a grant, etc.).

How do I email my dissertation supervisor for the first time? ›

Checklist: Formal email contact
  1. Use an appropriate salutation. Example: Dear Dr. ...
  2. Explain the purpose of your email. Example: I am writing in follow-up to our meeting on Monday.
  3. Be brief and clear about exactly what you want to say or ask. ...
  4. Express your appreciation in advance. ...
  5. Use an appropriate closing.
13 Oct 2015

How do I approach a PhD advisor? ›

Here are some things to keep in mind when emailing potential PhD supervisors to increase your odds of getting a response.
  1. Keep it short. Professors are short of time and receive a ton of emails each day. ...
  2. Make a Connection. ...
  3. Have a Clear CTA. ...
  4. Introduce yourself. ...
  5. Have a Clear Subject Line. ...
  6. Thank them for their time. ...
  7. Follow up.
17 Jan 2020

What should be the subject of email to professor for PhD? ›

The subject line will help the professor to guess about the contents of your email even before opening it. We recommend you to always use a clear and catchy subject line. For example, “Request for research supervision Fall 2019”, “Request for PhD supervision”, “Request for MS supervision” or “Prospective PhD Student”.

How do you ask for a PhD job? ›

Your email should:
  1. have an informative subject line.
  2. be concise.
  3. be formal: Dear Dr. Smith; Sincerely, Your Name.
  4. not use Mrs. or Ms.
  5. NOT have slang, abbreviations, or emoticons.
  6. if applying for an opening: address any qualifications the professor is looking for. ...
  7. if asking for a research opportunity:

How do I write a potential PhD advisor? ›

Dear Dr. [Potential Advisor's Name], I hope this email finds you well! My name is [Student Name], and I am reaching out because I will be applying to the Psychology PhD program at [University Name] this fall, and am very interested in joining your lab as a graduate student.

How do I find a PhD supervisor? ›

There are several ways to do this: Browsing the academic staff section of a university department website – This is where lecturers and professors will list their research interests, publications and the areas in which they're keen to supervise potential PhD students.

How do you email a professor for PhD supervision? ›

Thank you very much for your time and consideration, and for any comments you could give me. I may request you to provide me an opportunity to pursue my higher studies under your kind supervision and having an acceptance letter from you will have a positive effect on my application package. Waiting for your response.

How do you ask someone to supervise your thesis? ›

Send them an email requesting a meeting to discuss the possibility that they advise your thesis. Include the description of your topic. When you have scheduled a meeting, present your potential topic and ask them if they would be interested in advising it.

How do I write a PhD proposal? ›

What should it include?
  1. Project title. Your title should clearly indicate what your proposed research is about.
  2. Research supervisor. ...
  3. Proposed mode of research. ...
  4. Aims and objectives. ...
  5. Synopsis. ...
  6. Background. ...
  7. Expected research contribution. ...
  8. Proposed methodology.

How do you write a follow up email to a potential supervisor? ›

Follow-up email to a potential supervisor: Examples

I wanted to follow up on my email from [when you sent it] about [your concern or question]. I understand you have a busy schedule, but I wanted to see about [whatever you are following up on]. I greatly appreciate your time. I look forward to hearing from you soon!

How do you ask a professor to be a thesis supervisor? ›

03Dear Professor [Name], My name is [your name], and I am in my final year at [college or faculty name]. With the recommendation of my thesis advisors, [name of professors who are advising you], I am writing to humbly request that you be a member of my thesis committee.

How long should an email to a potential PhD supervisor be? ›

At most write an email about 6-8 lines long; people are busy. You should introduce yourself, explain what kind of research you want to do, ask he/she if she is taking on a student, and reference a few of their recent papers that you are interested and why. Include a small CV attached in the email.

How do I contact my first supervisor? ›

Hi [Boss's Name], I'm so excited to be joining [Company] in [Number of Weeks/Days] and can't wait to start working with you and the team! Is there anything I can read or do ahead of time that would help me hit the ground running?

How do you get a professor's approval for supervision on the first email contact? ›

You must be able to connect the dots between the professor's research interests and your background. If that element is missing, the email will be like any other generic email (more like a spam) where you only need to change the name of the faculty member at the salutation.

What do PhD supervisors look for? ›

All supervisors want a research student who's knowledgeable and well-read in their field, as they tend to produce higher-quality work and encounter fewer problems. Although no one expects you to be an expert, make sure you have at least read three of the most popular journal publications in your chosen research area.

How do I ask my professor to be a PhD advisor? ›

Just ask: If you have been talking to a professor and you are not sure whether your relationship is a formal advising relationship: just ask them. The question of whether they are willing and able to be your advisor is yours to ask, not theirs.

How do you write a cold email to a professor? ›

HOW TO COLD EMAIL A PROFESSOR
  1. Explain why you're emailing them about THEIR research: Here, you need to show that this isn't just-another-research-email. ...
  2. What do you want from them? ...
  3. What is your availability? ...
  4. Why should they pick you? ...
  5. Resume and CalCentral transcript. ...
  6. Review. ...
  7. Follow-up.

How do you prepare for a first meeting with a PhD supervisor? ›

Preparing for your first supervisor meeting | Advice from a current PhD ...

What should I ask a prospective thesis supervisor? ›

What areas of research can I get involved in as a graduate student within this program? OR Does my proposed research subject align with the interest areas of you and other faculty in the program? Are there any research topics that I should consider for my dissertation proposal?

How often should you meet your dissertation supervisor? ›

How often should I meet with my PhD supervisor? Although there is no one right answer to this question – some students like to meet their supervisors more frequently whereas other students don't need much guidance – it is always advisable to meet your supervisor regularly, at least two times a month.

What do you talk about with a potential PhD advisor? ›

Questions to Ask of Potential Graduate School Advisors
  • How many graduate students are you currently advising? ...
  • How many graduate students have graduated under your advisement in the last five years? ...
  • How long does a graduate student usually take to finish? ...
  • How much funding is available for your students?

What do PhD advisors look for in students? ›

Advisors want to see focused students who know what they want from the experience. Furthermore, you should know enough about your interests to confirm that they fit well within the realm of the advisor's work. “Really think about potential research questions and if those questions fit with the professor.

How do I write the first email to a professor for PHD application? ›

Sending emails to profs for your PhD program? Here's how to write them.

Should I use my university email to apply for PHD? ›

A sensible personal email, i.e. firstname.lastname@provider.com is absolutely fine to use instead. Using your university email is appropriate in this case, since it is a relatively more formal academic address which aligns well with your application for further academic study.

Should I email professor for Phd? ›

You don't have to email the faculty, but it can be extremely helpful, and we strongly recommend that you do it. In many programs (especially in Psychology), individual faculty play a huge role in determining which students are accepted into the PhD program.

How do I ask professor availability? ›

I am a [year] in your [name of course] course. I have really been enjoying the class, [especially X topic/issue/question]. I am writing to ask if I could meet with you to ask you a few questions about what we're learning [and/or your research/experience in some field.]

How do you start an email to a professor? ›

Always start out your email with a polite “Dear” or “Hello” followed by your professor's name/title (Dr. XYZ, Professor XYZ, etc.). If you're not sure what their proper title is, using “Professor” followed by their last name is almost always a safe bet.

How do you ask someone to be a research advisor? ›

Basic Principles
  1. Keep it Short. Professors are busy. ...
  2. Do Your Research and Ask Relevant Questions. Before you contact the professor, make sure to do some research on the professor and the professor's Department. ...
  3. Write Professionally. ...
  4. Send It from a Credible Email Address. ...
  5. Do not Expect an Instant Response. ...
  6. Do Not Ask Too Much.
26 Mar 2020

How do you approach a professor for graduate research? ›

5 Steps to Take Before Asking a Professor About Research
  1. Step 1: Look for Posted Research Openings. ...
  2. Step 2: Talk to Your Academic Advisor. ...
  3. Step 3: Research the Professor. ...
  4. Step 4: Contact Grad Students. ...
  5. Step 5: Be Clear About What You Want.
23 Aug 2022

Can you have PhD supervisors from different universities? ›

Academic supervisors can and do obtain jobs at a different institution during the PhD process, and it is not uncommon for the academic to continue to supervise the candidate from their new institution.

Who can supervise PhD students? ›

The new guidelines issued earlier this month clarified that any regular professor of the university or institution deemed to be a university or college with at least five research publications in refereed journals and any regular associate, assistant professor of the university/institution deemed to be a university/ ...

How do I thank a professor for choosing me as his PHD student? ›

Thank you very much for your time and consideration, and for any comments you could give me. I may request you to provide me an opportunity to pursue my higher studies under your kind supervision and having an acceptance letter from you will have a positive effect on my application package.

What is the best email subject for PhD application? ›

Subject Line

You want it to catch their attention and immediately notify them that you are a prospective student. The subject line should state the semester you wish to start a graduate program and include the words “Prospective Graduate Student” – for example, “Fall 2019 Prospective Graduate Student.”

How do I ask my professor for a stipend? ›

Usually, the academics have their own funding, and it is not usually rude to ask them for some money. Thus, you can simply go with this: Dear Professor, I am honored by your kind comments.

When should you contact a potential PhD advisor? ›

Plan on contacting potential advisors no later than the end of September, but earlier contacts are fine if you are ready to describe your research interests. The most effective means of contacting advisors is generally by email, but follow directions on the advisor's website, if provided.

How do you ask an academic supervisor? ›

Contacting potential supervisors
  1. Use proper letter format, formal salutations – Professor/Dr. ( ...
  2. Attach your CV and current transcripts.
  3. Specify the program for which you are applying.
  4. Ask if they are accepting graduate students under their supervision for your desired admit term.

How do I email my dissertation supervisor for the first time? ›

Checklist: Formal email contact
  1. Use an appropriate salutation. Example: Dear Dr. ...
  2. Explain the purpose of your email. Example: I am writing in follow-up to our meeting on Monday.
  3. Be brief and clear about exactly what you want to say or ask. ...
  4. Express your appreciation in advance. ...
  5. Use an appropriate closing.
13 Oct 2015

How do you write a follow up email to a potential supervisor? ›

Follow-up email to a potential supervisor: Examples

I wanted to follow up on my email from [when you sent it] about [your concern or question]. I understand you have a busy schedule, but I wanted to see about [whatever you are following up on]. I greatly appreciate your time. I look forward to hearing from you soon!

How do you ask for a PhD job? ›

if asking for a research opportunity: state specifically your interest in that research group (you need to read the professor's website) explain why research is important for your goals. ask to schedule a meeting or say that you will be coming to office hours.

How do I approach a professor with a PhD? ›

Sending emails to profs for your PhD program? Here's how to write them.

How do I talk to a PhD advisor? ›

But we agree on the following set of guidelines.
  1. Be introspective. Understanding yourself and your needs is the first step to communicating your needs to your adviser. ...
  2. Set the right tone. Prioritize respectful communication. ...
  3. Value one-to-one meetings. ...
  4. Regularly revisit long-term goals. ...
  5. Remain flexible in communication.
10 Dec 2021

What do you talk about with a potential PhD advisor? ›

Questions to Ask of Potential Graduate School Advisors
  • How many graduate students are you currently advising? ...
  • How many graduate students have graduated under your advisement in the last five years? ...
  • How long does a graduate student usually take to finish? ...
  • How much funding is available for your students?

How do you approach a research supervisor? ›

When you are ready to contact potential supervisors, approaching them by email is a good initial step. Ensure that your messages are tailored to each professor, not generic. You must catch the interest of the professor quickly and make a good first impression. Write a concise and professional letter.

How do you ask someone to supervise your thesis? ›

Send them an email requesting a meeting to discuss the possibility that they advise your thesis. Include the description of your topic. When you have scheduled a meeting, present your potential topic and ask them if they would be interested in advising it.

How do you prepare for a first meeting with a PhD supervisor? ›

Preparing for your first supervisor meeting | Advice from a current PhD ...

How do you politely chase someone? ›

Here are some key things to keep in mind when you reach out to someone for the second (or third, or fourth) time.
  1. Have a compelling subject line. ...
  2. Be mindful of your tone. ...
  3. Keep it short and use simple language. ...
  4. Make a clear ask. ...
  5. Give them an out. ...
  6. Be judiciously persistent.
13 Jan 2021

How do you write a reminder email to a PHD supervisor? ›

Subject: Reminder about [Reason for Reminder]

I know you have lots of things going on, but I just wanted to remind you that [whatever you are reminding of] is due/needed by [date]. Thank you again for taking time to complete [request]. Please let me know if you have any questions or need additional information.

How do I find a PhD supervisor? ›

There are several ways to do this: Browsing the academic staff section of a university department website – This is where lecturers and professors will list their research interests, publications and the areas in which they're keen to supervise potential PhD students.

How do I contact a professor For PhD? ›

- Address the faculty member with their status and surname, e.g. "Dear Professor Miller" (for professors) or "Dear Dr. Miller" (for faculty members who are not professors yet, e.g. junior group leaders).

How do you ask a professor to be a thesis supervisor? ›

03Dear Professor [Name], My name is [your name], and I am in my final year at [college or faculty name]. With the recommendation of my thesis advisors, [name of professors who are advising you], I am writing to humbly request that you be a member of my thesis committee.

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