When contacting faculty at the graduate school of your choice, the most important thing is to not get discouraged when someone doesn’t email you back. One thing I’ve learned in my many times of emailing professors is that most of the time only about 30% of the professors will email you back. When sending emails to professors make sure you have a good subject line. In talks with my past mentors, all of them have told me that they never read most of their emails. When I asked them why, they said the subject line of the message didn’t catch their eye. Most professors are too busy to read emails. Try to think of a title that engages their current research.
Second, make sure to introduce yourself. Within the first couple of sentences describe your research interest and share your academic achievements.
Here is a sample of a letter I wrote last year, I just added the McNair part to show how to amplify your achievements.
(Dear Dr. (Fill in),
Hello, my name is Alejandro Escalante Flores and I am writing to you in the hopes that you would be interested in giving me the opportunity to work in your lab this summer. I’m a Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program Scholar, a N.S.F. Louis Stokes A.M.P. Scholar and a three-time N.S.F. Louis Stokes A.M.P. Scholarship recipient. After researching graduate school programs, I believe that the Cell and Molecular Biology Joint Doctoral Program at San Diego State University is the best fit for me. While looking at the faculty members in the department and after reading about your research, I became very interested in your research of planarians for the investigation of the mechanisms that underline the stem cell based regeneration and remodeling of the CNS)….
Using this same letter and changing a few things around, I received responses from professors at U of Washington, SDSU, USC, Duke, Vanderbilt and Stanford.
In the letter make sure to mention your short-term and long-term goals. For example, a short-term goal is to get more experience under them as a researcher. A long-term goal is to earn your PhD from their school. Also, be sure to mention what areas of their research you are interested in and why.
Working in a research lab with a professor who is not your top choice might open your eyes to other areas of research. Accepting a second choice lab experience is a great way to get into a department and network. My old boss who was the admissions director for the genetics graduate program at Stanford explained, networking with people will cause them to remember you and say “isn’t this that intern you had during the summer that worked their butts off? We want students like that here!”
Lab experience in general will look great on your curriculum vita (CV). Research experience can open many doors for you.
Got more questions? Just shot me an email.