I just got 5 emails from prospective PhD students and there is a definite right and wrong way of approaching a potential supervisor/PI. This is not innate knowledge so here goes a thread. Starting from worst examples (1/n) #AcademicChatter #phdchat
Dear professor, I studied algal blooms and would love to join your esteemed lab.

Does not name me (suggesting that I was bcc-ed), previous experience not relevant to my line of work, no idea why they want to work with me.

Looks like spam and I never reply. (2/n)
Dear Dr. Banks-Leite, I studied owls and would like to work on restoration in your lab.

Got my name right (yay!), previous experience is ~ relevant, interests are too undefined. They could've sent the same letter to half my department.

I reply with a polite no. (3/n)
3rd category is the mixed bag. The words may be right but there are red ⛳️. Doing a PhD is 4+ years of v close interaction. As a female PI, I had my share of entitled male students being confrontational. I select students who will be collegial and + to the lab. (4/n)
How to write to a potential PI?

1-Dear [correct] title and name
2-Brief parag., who you are and what you want
3-Long parag., explaining your BSc, MSc, title of dissertation, previous experience and skills
4-Mid/long parag, explain in detail why work with PI
5-Funding (5/n)
On 3 - it's important that your previous experience and skills are relevant to PI's work. Algal blooms are totally unrelated to what I do, so previous experience won't help. Highlight prized skills such as (in ecology) field work, programming, stats (6/n)
On 4 - show that you've read the PI's papers, that you're proposing work within PI's recent interests, what skills you'd like to gain from them. Be specific. But also show flexibility, you're interested in working with PI to find a mutually beneficial project. (7/n)
On 5 - this may be UK only, you don't need to have secured funding, but show that you have looked around and suggest options. Ask if PI knows of more options. My first email back is always - sure but what about funding? It costs £25k/year in fees, so that's priority #1. (8/n)
I have also sent emails like that as a prospective foreign student. I asked someone proficient in English to edit, and many others to help with content. I spent a lot of time on the emails, and never got replies from many PIs. So I understand how taxing it can be. (9/n)
Now I receive at least 10-15 emails/year from prospective students. So far, 4 students have joined my lab via this route, and I worked with 10 others to apply for funding, but they went elsewhere. In the end getting that position involves luck. So, best of luck to you all. (fim)
Oh, and I should add because folks are asking. Definetely attach a CV and any other relevant info.

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