How to Email a Professor About Research Opportunities

How to Email a Professor About Research Opportunities

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Emailing a professor about research opportunities can be quite a daunting task. Therefore, if you’re hoping to get excellent research positions, it’s essential that you know exactly how to email a professor about research opportunities.

When emailing a professor about research opportunities, you should use an informative subject line, formally address the professor, emphasize that the professor’s expertise relates to your research, list your qualifications and experience, 

Let’s explore the best ways to email a professor about research opportunities so that you know all the dos and don’ts of emailing professors. Applying these tips will enable you to confidently email a professor about research opportunities and hopefully get a promising response too!

Sample Email Asking for Research Opportunity

Before we start with the article, below is an unspecific sample email that you can customize to your needs. We will outline below important guidelines that you should follow when customizing this email.

Dear Professor Surname,

I am a year student at university majoring in majorHow you found out about the professor’s researchExpression of interest in specific paper or topic.  I would appreciate the chance to talk with you about your research in topic of interest and about possible undergraduate research opportunities in your research group.

My experience in research experience or class, confirmed my intention to develop my research skills and goal. I know you are very busy. We could schedule an appointment or I can drop by your office hours on day and time.

I have attached my resume and unofficial transcript. Please let me know if there is any other information I can provide. I look forward to talking to you soon.

Best, Name

This unspecific sample email is not appropriate in all circumstances. There are many points that you might want to include or delete from this email depending on your situation. Let us outline the main guidelines that your email should follow once it is written.

Guidelines on How to Email A Professor About Research Opportunities

Here are guidelines for emailing professors about research opportunities that will give you guidance on what to say and what not to say when emailing a professor about research opportunities.

Begin Your Email With An Informative Subject Line

The subject line of your email is most likely the first thing that the professor will see. This is your opportunity to spark their interest from the get-go. 

When forming a subject line, try to use words that clearly indicate what your email is about. Your title should not be deceiving, but should be phrased in a manner that does not come across as off-putting. 

Avoid using phrases like “Looking for a research opportunity.” Rather try to sound more professional and link your subject line to the professor’s field of research. 

For example, if you are reaching out to a Property Law Professor in hopes of doing research on Property Law, consider a subject line along the lines of “Meeting to discuss Property Law Research Opportunity on X topic.”

This informs the professor of the topic without relaying a message of desperation for the opportunity.

Formally Address The Professor

When emailing professors, it is important that you address them on their formal title: “Dear Professor Surname“. Avoid calling them by their first name, as this can be interpreted as a form of disrespect.

Throughout your email, ensure that you do not use abbreviations, slang, or emoticons. 

Introduce Yourself 

After you have formally addressed the professor, it is important that you introduce yourself.

Consider a message along the lines of “Dear Professor X, my name is (full name and surname). I am in my final year of X degree at X University.”

Emphasize That The Professor Is An Expert In Your Field Of Interest

Buttering up a professor may help you score some brownie points when looking to join their research group. When emailing a professor, be sure to indicate that you have reached out to them because you consider them to be an expert in the area of research that you are interested in.

Naturally, this will only work if they are truly an expert in the research field that you are interested in. Ideally, you want to create the impression that the professor you’re emailing is the only person that could give you the research position you’re seeking. 

Discuss How Granting A Research Opportunity Would Be Beneficial To Professor

As humans, we are more likely to want to get involved with something if we see a benefit for ourselves. Your professor is no exception. For this reason, you want to start your email by phrasing your desire for pursuing independent research in a manner that appears to be beneficial for the professor as well.

You may be able to persuade the professor by highlighting how your research will be a novice contribution to their field of expertise. Professors are more likely to say yes if you highlight the significance and uniqueness of your research, as it is also an opportunity for their name to be attached to a novice contribution to their field of expertise. 

Additionally, mention how their knowledge, qualifications, and publications make them the ideal supervisor for you. Ensure that you have extensively researched the professor so that you can demonstrate that you have carefully considered why you think this professor would be a good fit for the research you envisage.

Elaborate On Your Experience And Qualifications

If you have any qualifications in the field you are seeking to do research in, it is crucial to mention this to the professor. 

Indicating that you have a basic understanding of the relevant field will provide ease to the professor as it indicates that you are already knowledgeable on the basics of the research field they specialize in. 

Additionally, if you have had any experience in their field of expertise, it is valuable to mention it. 

Indicating that you have experience in the relevant field shows them that you have been exposed to the relevant field and have a vague understanding of what will be expected of you if you obtain a research program. 

It also indicates that you have set out to find previous experiences, which shows your determination and dedication to pursue research opportunities in the field you currently are seeking a research opportunity in.

If you have no previous experience in research, that’s okay. Everyone has to start somewhere, and professors understand this. Be honest about your lack of prior experience, but state that you are an adaptable individual and that you hope to develop your research abilities.

Explain Your Interest In Acquiring A Research Opportunity 

After you have briefly explained your prior knowledge and experience in the professor’s research field, proceed to inform the professor of the reasons why you are interested in pursuing a research opportunity with them.

When you’re explaining the reason why you would like to partake in a research opportunity under their guidance, be sure to discuss the importance of the proposed field of research, how it relates to your goals and interests, and how you will be able to make a positive contribution to the relevant field.

Prepare A Research Proposal Beforehand

When approaching professors, given their academic background, they like to see the paperwork. While it is not a must, attaching a research proposal to your email will make your request for a research opportunity look a lot more attractive than just your email requesting their guidance.

Attaching a research proposal shows that you have carefully thought about the field of research your professor specializes in and are committed to pursuing research on your desired topic. By having a proposal on hand, you are able to display your research abilities while also showing the professor that you are well prepared to partake in any research opportunity they offer you.

Ideally, you want your research proposal to indicate how your research is relevant to the professors’ field of research so that they will be drawn in by your research ideas given that they align with their research interests.

In your research proposal, you should clearly set out what your research aims are, the sources available that are relevant to your research, any potential limitations to your research, and why the research you hope to conduct will contribute to the professor’s field of expertise.

Your research proposal should at most, be five pages long, as the purpose is simply to give the professor a better idea of what you hope to conduct research on. Try to keep your proposal as succinct as possible, making it easy for the professor to read quickly while still showing your knowledge and interest in the research topic. 

Ask To Schedule A Meeting 

Seeing as you have clearly laid out your research interests and indicated why you are pursuing a research opportunity under the relevant professor, it’s time to request a meeting so that you can have an in-depth conversation with the professor about your research opportunity prospects.

When asking to schedule a meeting, be sure to relay that you are at the mercy of the professor and will work your schedule around theirs. 

However, you don’t want to leave the time and date entirely open-ended. Consider giving them a framework to work with so that they can choose a time that best suits them. 

If you have a timetable with all your classes and extramural activities, consider sending them that timetable, so they are able to see when you are free and let you know if there’s any time where you are both free to meet.

Alternatively, inform them of the days and time’s that you’ll be available to meet in the week that follows. 

For example: “I am available to meet on Monday to Wednesday from 08h00 to 14h00, alternatively, I am also available on Friday from 11h00 to 16h00. Please let me know if you have any availability between these times, or if any other day or time would suit you, and I’ll try to make a plan around that.”

Avoid Asking About Financial Remuneration In Your First Email

Naturally, you’re hoping that when you become a researcher, you’ll get some sort of remuneration.

However, it may come across as impolite if you mention remuneration in the first email, as it appears as if you are simply seeking a research opportunity for financial gain, rather than a genuine interest in research and true dedication to the field of research the supervisor specializes in.

Unless you have seen a specific advert regarding a research opportunity offered by the professor that mentioned remuneration, avoid discussing remuneration during the first email. 

Ideally, you would want the professor to be the first person to mention remuneration. Alternatively, you can mention remuneration at a later stage once you are aware that the professor will be able to offer you a research opportunity.

Avoid Emailing Professors Late At Night

If you’re a night owl, it’s likely that you’re most alert at night. However, not everyone shares these sentiments. It is advisable that you avoid emailing professors late at night at all costs.

If you send your email after office hours, you run the risk of having the professor receive your email during their personal hours. If they see your email pop up on their phone while they are spending time with their loved ones, they might perceive your email negatively despite not even reading it.

Another reason you want to avoid sending your email in the middle of the night is that it could ping on their phone or computer, causing them to wake up. If your email finds them in a grumpy mood after you have disturbed their sleep, you better have an incredible research proposal ready for them; else, they’re most likely not going to be particularly enthusiastic about taking you under their wings.

When emailing your professor, it’s important to email them at a socially acceptable, reasonable time. Any time after 8 am is generally regarded as professional and acceptable. 

Check Your Spelling and Grammar

Spelling and grammar are two fundamental parts of research. Sending an email with spelling or grammar mistakes shows carelessness and poor writing skills.

Take the time to run your email through a website that can check your spelling and grammar. 

Ask For Referrals To Other Professors

While you may have your eye on a specific professor in the hope that they will offer you a research opportunity, it is possible that the professor you have may not be able to accommodate you.

There are various reasons the professor you’re emailing may not be able to offer you a research opportunity. It could be that they do not have the time to supervise your research, do not feel that they have sufficient knowledge on the topics you’re interested in, or simply feel that someone else could be a better supervisor for your research endeavors. 

Therefore, it will be valuable for you to end off your email by asking the professor who is the recipient of your email whether there is anyone they can recommend you reach out to. 

Politely state that you’ll understand if they are unable to accommodate you, and follow up your sentence with a question where you ask them if there is anyone they could refer you to who may be able to assist you in your quest for research opportunities.

Conclusion

Emailing a professor about research opportunities is quite a nerve-wracking task. Putting yourself out there and actively seeking research opportunities can be a challenging task. 

It’s likely that you may have to email quite a few professors before you find one that is willing to offer you a research opportunity. By sending polite, clear, succinct, emails informing professors about your fields of interest and desire to take part in research opportunities, you’re likely to land a research opportunity in no time.