Templates To Contact Potential PhD Advisors — The Admit Lab

Philippe Barr, PhD
6 min readFeb 28, 2023

Are you applying to a PhD program and finding the process overwhelming? You’re not alone! With all of the paperwork, application fees, letters of recommendation — and worse yet, the need to contact potential PhD advisors who might be willing to take on an unknown student like yourself as their advisee — navigating through your doctoral program search can sometimes seem daunting.

But don’t worry: we’ve got your back with this blog that will guide you in drafting emails to those potential advisors so they’ll have no choice but to see the awesomeness beneath all that stress. Here are some email templates to contact potential PhD advisors!

To Contact Potential PhD Advisors Or Not: That Is The Question

Although many PhD applicants may feel obligated to reach out to an advisor prior to applying for a program, this is not necessarily a mandatory step in the application process. In fact, many of the most prestigious PhD programs do not require applicants to reach out to potential advisors before submitting their application.

Instead, these programs often have a wide range of potential advisors and research areas, allowing applicants to find an advisor that best fits their own interests and goals. This means that applicants can take the time to research PhD programs and potential advisors before committing to any one program.

Contacting Potential PhD Advisors Before Applying Is More Often a Miss than a Hit

Reaching out to potential advisors before applying to a PhD program can often be useless. First, many professors have limited availability, and they are typically too busy to respond to more than a few inquiries. Secondly, many potential advisors might not be willing or able to commit to a student before they have taken a look at their complete file. Additionally, the research interests of a potential advisor may not necessarily align with those of the prospective PhD student.

Ultimately, the best way to find a potential advisor is to make sure your application materials are tailored to the research interests of faculty members at that school. This way, you can ensure that your application is noticed and maximize the chances of being accepted into a PhD program with an appropriate advisor.

(Would you like to know what PhD admissions committees are looking for? Watch this quick video to find out key elements to highlight in an application)

NETWORKING CAN BE A POWERFUL TOOL TO STAND OUT FROM OTHER APPLICANTS

Although PhD programs do not always require applicants to contact potential advisors before applying, it can be beneficial to reach out. Doing so allows you to introduce yourself to the professor and provide more information about your background, research interests, and experience.

Additionally, it can give you insight into what the professor may be seeking in a student and allow you to gauge whether or not your qualifications meet the professor’s expectations. As such, reaching out to potential advisors early in the process can be a great way to get familiar with their research, find out what advice they may have for you, and determine if the two of you are compatible in terms of research goals and expectations.

In some cases, getting to know faculty members in your desired field can make all the difference when it comes to standing out as an applicant.

Here Are Templates To Use If You Choose To Contact A Potential Advisor

STEP ONE: Creating the Initial Contact

We suggest keeping your email communication as short as possible to avoid taking too much time away from the professor’s already packed schedule. The goal of your email should be to lead to a phone or a Zoom conversation.

SUBJECT: Prospective doctoral student seeking your advice “Dear Professor X, My name is ***, and I am interested in applying to PhD programs in **** in December/January for matriculation in 20**. May I have 10 minutes to ask you about (…)? I am trying to learn more about (…), and your insights would be very helpful. I recognize this may be a busy time for you, so if we are unable to connect via email I’ll try to reach you in a few days to see whether that is more convenient. Thank you for your time, Signature”

STEP TWO: If you get a response within the next 3 business days, you can send this email:

“Dear Professor X, Thank you for your quick response and willingness to chat with me. Over the next week, I am free (….)-will any of those times work for you? Thank you again, Signature” If you don’t get an answer after 3 business days, you can send this email:

SUBJECT: Prospective doctoral student checking in to seek your advice

“Dear Professor X, I’m sorry we were unable to connect in the last week, and I wanted to see whether this is a better time to talk about (…) Please let me know if so and thank you for your time. Best regards, Signature”

STEP THREE: If you don’t get a response after 24 hours, move on.

What Happens When You Talk With Your Potential Advisor?

When we say “meet with a professor,” we are referring to exchanging ideas in a more intimate, direct way than just emails. It’s a great way to show your genuine intentions and an effective approach that reflects your maturity and professionalism.

When connecting with a potential PhD advisor, it is important to discuss your research interests and experience. Provide an overview of what you have studied in the past as well as your current research goals. Make sure to express why you would be a good fit for their department and how you can contribute to their research.

It is also important to ask any questions you may have about their program or the expectations they have for their students. By having an open and honest discussion, you can make sure that your goals are aligned and determine if the advisor is the right fit for you.

DON’T LET A PROFESSOR’S SILENCE DETER YOU FROM APPLYING

It is important to remember that some prospective advisors may be too busy to reply to your emails at all. If you are not required by the department to secure any type of commitment from a potential advisor, do not take this as a sign to not apply, as their silence could simply be due to other commitments and demands on their time, or simply because they do not want to commit to students before seeing their complete application file. Do not let a prospective advisor’s silence prevent you from pursuing your academic dreams!

If you end up speaking with the professor, make sure to highlight any existing relationships or interactions you have had with him or her in your statement of purpose. Acknowledging these special connections will demonstrate that you are serious about the program and that you went beyond what was requested to demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm.

Establishing relationships sets you apart.

By adhering to these steps, you can start forming successful and meaningful relationships with professors right away. Moreover, connecting on an individual level shows that you truly have a vested interest in the program which could give your application a competitive edge over other applicants.

Doing so gives you invaluable insight and guidance from professors who have knowledge of the field which will help ensure that your chosen program best reflects all of your interests. Engaging with the admissions team is a paramount part of your graduate school application.

In Conclusion

Ultimately, deciding on whether to contact potential PhD advisors before applying should be an individual judgment made by each prospective student. If you feel like contacting the professor aligns with your goals and will further your application’s success rate, go for it!

With that said, remember that there is a human element that comes with sending emails and having conversations; make sure to keep things professional and polite. However, respect the professor’s time and understand if they’re too busy or can’t respond.

With all of this considered, don’t forget that proper preparation is key to a successful application — from research project proposal drafts (to get feedback from prospective supervisors) to statements of purpose (to convince program selection committees).

For those seeking extra help with their PhD applications to maximize their competing chances, make sure to check out our PhD application services!

Originally published at https://admit-lab.com on February 28, 2023.

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Philippe Barr, PhD

I am Philippe Barr, founder of The Admit Lab, a graduate school admissions consultancy that helps students get admitted into grad school: https://admit-lab.com/