Careers: Writing to faculty for the first time


Thinking about applying to graduate school? Not sure if you should contact the faculty that you might want to work with?

Most faculty encourage prospective graduate students to contact them. One of the most important things in graduate school is a good working relationship with your mentor/advisee/chair. It behooves you to contact faculty who are working in the same geographical or topical areas at potential universities to see if they might be interested in your research project.

However..... and this must be said .... don't forget that you should be on your best behavior as well as most formal when writing to faculty that you don't know. This means writing your initial contact letter as if it were a paper letter.

Also, be sure to look at the home page of each faculty member before you write to them to get a sense of what type of research we are currently engaged in. You don't have to read all of our books and articles in full, but if we've posted some papers you might want to at least read through the abstracts. The more personalized your letter, the greater the likelihood that we'll respond positively to it.

DOs:

  1. Start with "Dear Dr. X" or "Dear Prof. X." Whatever you do, don't write to us as "Mr. Y" or "Miss Z" -- we're not in grade school here. And don't use first names unless you are 120% sure that the faculty doesn't mind. Just because they use your first name isn't implicit permission to use theirs! It's better to be safe than sorry.
  2. Introduce yourself fully, including the name of the school you went to and the faculty you worked with at your alma mater.
  3. Close properly: Warmly, Sincerely, etc.
  4. Sign with your full name

DON'Ts:

  1. Don't send an impersonal e-mail ("Dear Professor:") or otherwise indicate that all you've done is copy and pasted the same letter to every single faculty member in the department (if not the world).
  2. In that vein, don't send the same letter to more than one faculty member at a time. This is just lazy. Although most faculty are internet unsavvy, we do know how to look at TO: and CC: headers.
  3. Don't use internet abbreviations: LOL, BRB, IMHO, LMAO, BTW, etc.
  4. Don't send from your gmail account with a silly name: surferd00d@gmail.com

I know it seems pretty stuffy but you want to get off on the right foot, right?

And finally, please understand that faculty are usually crazy busy. If we don't respond to you, it might be for a zillion reasons totally unrelated to your suitability for the program. We might be on sabbatical leave, we might have an e-mail queue from hell, your letter might have ended up in a spam folder, etc. etc. Please be patient with us!

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