Wednesday, June 28, 2017

How would you respond to this email?

On monday, I received the following email.

Subject: Meeting: Prospective Doctoral Student

Dear Professor McKenzie,

My name is M... W.... I have recently finished my honours degree and I am interested in undertaking doctoral study. The project I have in mind is closely related to your research. I became very familiar with your work while writing my thesis, and am eager to learn as much as I can about research opportunities with you. 

I was wondering if you might have 10 minutes when you would be willing to meet with me to briefly talk about your work and any possible opportunities for me to get involved in your research. I will be on campus today, and will also be available for the rest of the week. Any time would be fine with me. Meeting with you is among my highest priorities as I prepare to apply for doctoral studies.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

M.... W...

Tomorrow, I will reveal how I responded and the ensuing firestorm... It is a fascinating story.

But, first I am curious to hear how you would have responded.


  1. I'd take the meeting, but schedule 30 minutes for it. Very curious about what happened!

  2. Dr Neufield gives an outline as how undergrads should apply for PG research .

    This is in journal Science

    This may be bit off topic as you have asked for response. If major items listed in Dr Neufield list is not fulfilled, pardon the applicant , for the applicant is immature ( How immature all faculty were due to metrics for 25 yrs) . Give the applicant a final chance to apply.

    1. Thanks. That article is a great resource for students. I feel he is a bit pedantic and unrealistic, but he is hammering home a very important point.

  3. Is this a form letter sent out to many prospective supervisors? I would reply asking which aspects of my research they are interested in?

  4. Refer them to your blog. Tell them to find a research thread at least 3 entries or more in length, and give them 10 minutes to present a critical summary presentation to you.

  5. Other than your name, the email is so generic that the sender does not seem serious. I would have just ignored it.

  6. I agree with the commenters above: it is very generic.
    However, this could be a naive student - and I'm fine with that as we all have to learn. So I would not blow this person off based on this email.

    Instead, to be sure you're not scheduling a meeting without any chance of result, I would ask for a statement as to what aspects of your work appeal to this person. Apart from probing genuine interest, it also gives an entrypoint for some discussions as the (naive) student should have better thought about the research you do.

  7. Maybe, as my mother tongue is German, I am not really familiar with the English style of writing applications. To me, the Email sounds like a strange mixture of self-confidence and servility. I would ignore it.

  8. Thanks for the comments. They are helpful. I will now post the rest of the story.