How to write to a prospective PhD (or Post-Doc) supervisor

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I’ve noticed recently that a lot of people make their way to this site while searching for advice on how to write to a potential PhD supervisor. I’ve also noticed that many of the letters/emails that I personally get on this topic are actually irrelevant to me, poorly written, or both. So, I figured it might be a good idea to put a little bit of advice out there to help students who are trying to get into a PhD (or Masters) program. All the same principles also apply for those seeking post-doc supervisors.

There are two categories of people writing these letters – those who need financial support for their graduate program and those who don’t. If you have a big scholarship, or if you’re independently wealthy, you fall into the second category and it’s important to mention it right at the beginning of your letter. Believe me – that will get you noticed! The reason is that the other 99% of people are looking for a supervisor AND for financial support, and there’s just not enough money to go around. Letting a prospective supervisor know that you are not looking for money increases the likelihood that they will read the rest of your letter and, as a result, it improves your chances of getting admitted.

You might be wondering, “Do I even need to write letters to potential supervisors? Can’t I just fill out university application forms?” The fact is – hundreds of people apply for each spot and if you just fill out the application form without actually contacting any of the professors at the university in question, then you’re not likely to get noticed. Furthermore, most graduate students (especially PhDs) and Post-Docs are admitted because a particular professor has expressed an interest in recruiting them, so if you’ve not been in contact with a professor, chances are, nobody there is going to push to get you admitted.

The next obvious question is whether you have to write an actual letter, or will an email do? The answer is ‘both’. You should do it by email, but write it in the form of a proper letter. Specifically: make the subject line informative, use a proper salutation, write in proper paragraphs, organize your thoughts, make sure the spelling and grammar are perfect, and end it with a proper closing. Essentially, you are applying for a job and so, in a way, your application form is analogous to your resume and your letter to a prospective supervisor is equivalent to the corresponding cover letter. Like those who write a good cover letter when applying for a job, students who write good letters to potential supervisors are more likely to get noticed.

You can go ahead and read about writing an effective cover letter to get some basic advice on witting to a potential PhD (or Post-doc, or Masters) supervisor. Here below are some more specific tips for you. (You’ll notice a bit of overlap.)

Do Your Research

It’s important to …

Want to read the rest of this article? Are you looking for examples? Please check out the booklet below – it costs just US$0.99…


This little booklet includes the complete article containing specific and detailed advice on how to write to a prospective PhD supervisor, along with two detailed examples (one bad and one good), each with a full critique to help you when developing your own letter.  Click here to get your copy.


360 thoughts on “How to write to a prospective PhD (or Post-Doc) supervisor

    Marialuisa Aliotta said:
    July 31, 2012 at 1:33 am

    Hi Faye,

    This is excellent advice and an excellent post. Would it be ok if I re-posted it on my blog, maybe next week?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 31, 2012 at 9:37 am

      Thanks Marialuisa! Absolutely, please go ahead and repost it on your blog.
      Thanks for your interest!

    Marialuisa Aliotta said:
    August 5, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    Reblogged this on Academic Life and commented:
    Today’s post is from Prof Faye Hicks. Faye is a hydrotechincal (civil) engineer with 30+ years of experience and the Author of “The Art of Scientific Writing”, a blog where she provides advice for university students in Science and Engineering. I hope you’ll like her post as much as I did. Enjoy!

    Anthony Finkelstein (@profserious) said:
    August 6, 2012 at 12:54 am

    Thanks for this post which is very useful …. I took on this subject in an altogether less serious vein at which you may find useful!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      August 6, 2012 at 7:56 am

      Thanks Anthony – I enjoyed reading your post on this same topic. 🙂

        nikky said:
        June 24, 2013 at 6:02 am

        God bless you immensely for this,now I know the mistakes to avoid.

        Faye Hicks responded:
        June 29, 2013 at 8:46 am

        Thanks Nikky – glad to hear that you found it useful!

    Applying to PhD Programs Part 2 « Justin O'Hearn said:
    August 12, 2012 at 2:41 am

    […] conclusion, mine is not the only advice on this topic by a long shot. You can also check out this post on writing to potential supervisors by Marialuisa Aliotta, a senior lecturer at University of […]

    csadangi said:
    August 16, 2012 at 7:40 am

    excellent tips 🙂 Thanks a lot

      Faye Hicks responded:
      August 16, 2012 at 5:17 pm

      Thank-you! And thanks for visiting and commenting! 🙂

    […] conclusion, mine is not the only advice on this topic by a long shot. You can also check out this post on writing to potential supervisors by Faye Hicks (I had originally misattributed this post and I […]

    Nan said:
    September 20, 2012 at 10:01 am

    Professor Hicks, As a prospective Ph.D. applicant, I am thoroughly grateful to you for sharing such an informative post with us. Your post has helped me clearly understand the material that goes into writing an effective letter to a prospective supervisor. I cannot thank you enough for all the valuable advice! Many thanks!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      September 20, 2012 at 12:44 pm

      Thanks! I’m so happy you found it useful.
      Best of luck!

    Nan said:
    October 11, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Professor Hicks, Thank you for the wishes! I have a question for you. I am in the process of contacting prospective advisers from a number of schools. I am interested in conducting research in topic X. I have taken one graduate level course and have written a graduate seminar paper on the topic of interest. My seminar paper does not accurately reflect my truest potential and would hate for it to limit my chances to work with a professor of my interest. Do you have any thoughts on whether or not I must choose to talk about the seminar paper. ( Side note: The one graduate course and the seminar paper are the only work relevant to my current area of research interest.)
    Any thoughts you may have will be much appreciated!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 11, 2012 at 8:04 pm

      I think it’s always important to be completely honest and to provide all relevant information. It’s always possible that the prospective professor might not even be interested in seeing the seminar paper anyway – it’s not the type of inforation I usually request myself. However, if s/he does ask to see it, then you can always just explain that it does not “accurately reflect [your] truest potential.”
      Best of luck!

    Nan said:
    October 12, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Thank you very much for your prompt response and guidance!

    Stefanie (@sKibsey) said:
    October 14, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    Thank you for posting this, I am actually looking to write a letter to a potential supervisor for a masters degree, but I think this info is relevant. There is one thing I’m unsure about… I finished my undergrad in archaeology in 2010, spent a few months traveling abroad, come back and took various language and graphic design courses while I worked full time (in an unrelated field, of course!) then started a part-time graduate program in PR management, only to improve on my communication and leadership skills while trying to decide what I really wanted to do. I finally decided a masters in archaeology is just not for me, and realized a masters in environment/geography is a much better fit for my interests and career goals. So i’m taking part time geography courses in human environment right now. Should I mention all that stuff in my letter, like starting the graduate program in PR, or does that just make me sound flakey?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 14, 2012 at 10:05 pm

      I think that it’s better to provide complete information rather than just leaving mysterious gaps in your c.v. Keep in mind that a lot of people try different things until they figure out what they want to do. It’s not as unusual as you might think. Besides, your supervisor will come to know this info eventually. You will have the best experience with a supervisor who you can be completely honest with and who accepts you for who you are, not who you think they want you to be.
      Good luck!

    Stefanie (@sKibsey) said:
    October 15, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Thank you very much for the advice!

    Florian Edmachis said:
    October 17, 2012 at 9:51 am

    thanks alot professor Hicks for your good post to help us (students). i’m a graduate with bachellor degree in public administration and management. i was very glad when i met your post above because i want to appeal for master’s degree schollarships.
    i hope this post will help me together with other posts from you as you are still posting.
    my God be with yu alays.
    Florian Edmachius

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 17, 2012 at 8:37 pm

      Thanks for your nice comments – I am so glad you found this useful! Good luck with the scholarships!

    Eva said:
    October 21, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Very useful tips. Thanks a lot

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 21, 2012 at 8:29 pm

      Thanks Eva – I am so glad you found them helpful!

        Muhammad Baqir Ali said:
        January 12, 2018 at 9:33 am

        Hi Professor, Good evening. Good read for me. Thanks for the blog. Kindly tell me what you teach. Actually i am in search for my PHD supervisor in public finance economics. Please write to me on ( I need help in finding a supervisor for economics.

        Faye Hicks responded:
        January 12, 2018 at 2:59 pm

        Sorry, can’t help you there – I’m in engineering. The good news is that finding the appropriate people to contact is a great way to practice, and demonstrate, your research skills and tenacity. It takes time but it will be worth the effort! Good luck!

    Pyali said:
    October 25, 2012 at 1:44 am

    Thank you Mam these articles are really helpful to me and I believe for many others also

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 25, 2012 at 11:59 am

      Thank-you! I am so glad you found them useful!

    dharani said:
    October 31, 2012 at 12:20 am

    Very well organized information for a prospective student. Thank you

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 31, 2012 at 8:37 am

      Thanks! So glad you found it useful. 🙂

    dharani said:
    October 31, 2012 at 12:34 am

    Also need an advise..I’m keen at applying for a phd, I do have relevent research experience, but my cv has few gaps which include my self employed tutoring. Should I include this in my email?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 31, 2012 at 8:40 am

      I think that it’s better to provide complete information rather than just leaving mysterious gaps in your c.v. Good luck!

    dharani said:
    October 31, 2012 at 9:52 am

    thank you for the quick reply

    Barry said:
    November 2, 2012 at 11:00 am

    very useful and helpful , thanks

      Faye Hicks responded:
      November 2, 2012 at 11:27 am

      Thanks Barry!
      I’m really glad it was helpful.

    bk said:
    November 3, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    Thanks for the great post. I’m looking at PhD programs in Geography and I have two questions: first, I’m writing to a professor that a friend from my undergraduate days currently works with. My friend told the professor I’d be writing. However, I don’t think this professor would actually be the best fit as an advisor. But the other faculty members are quite famous and (I’ve heard) a bit inaccessible, and I’m not sure who my advisor would be, so I figure it’s best to make contact with someone who’s expecting a message from me. Should I still write to this professor, and should I mention that I’m unsure about who a potential advisor could be?

    Second, I’m wondering what a few other people above were wondering: should I include in this introductory letter of just a few paragraphs my entire recent history? How much do they want to know? I’m already in the middle of a project and just describing that takes way too much space, around 350 words. Thanks for your advice!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      November 4, 2012 at 10:21 am

      Thanks for the comment – I’m glad you found it useful.
      Regarding your questions, I’m sure you can appreciate that it’s difficult to provide advice on such specific issues. It can depend on many things – particularly how graduate students are assigned to supervisors (i.e. before or after they start the program). Perhaps the person who is expecting to hear from you can give you some advice on this – you could make your first communciation about that. My personal opinion is that it is best to choose a PhD supervisor based on topic rather than degree of fame (assuming you have a specific topic in mind). Many famous professors have so many graduate students that each one does not get a lot of contact time. Younger/newer professors generally have fewer students and so have much more time to spend with each one. In addition, many are incredibly good and are just not famous ‘yet’. I was my MSc supervisor’s very first graduate student and I hit the jackpot. I stayed to do my PhD with him – he was, and still is, the most amazing supervisor anyone could ever hope to have. Of course he is now ‘famous’, as well. The truth is, there are superb and terrible supervisors in both groups, and many other factors other than fame to consider in choosing a PhD supervisor.
      Regarding how much info to present in your first communication – again, it’s hard to give specific advice – I really can’t add much beyond what I said above. You could always include the project description as an attachment and just make reference to it in the letter – telling him/her the topic and inviting them to read the attachment if they are interested in more detail.

    rs said:
    November 10, 2012 at 3:05 am

    Hi Prof! Thanks for the post. It is very helpful since I am planning to apply to a phd program this fall in physical chemistry…I would like to ask you three questions! Firstly, how important is the GRE general score as an international applicant? My gre verbal score is 53 percentile and my math score is 77 percentile. Is this score too low? I know many universities say that they don’t have a cut-off score for GRE but will this scoreof mine hamper my chances. Should I retake the general gre test? My second question is that I have sent a few emails to profs without their replys back. Should I still go ahead and apply to that university or is my chances of getting admitted there is virtually nil since the professor hasn’t replied back. Lastly, when a professor does reply back and encourage me to apply does this mean I have a very good chance to get in?!! Thanks a lot !!!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      November 10, 2012 at 9:31 am

      Thanks for the comment – I’m really happy you found the post useful.

      Regarding your first question, I’m sorry, I cannot comment since we don’t use GRE test results to assess applicants for our programs.

      In response to your second question, if you send an email to a prof and get no reply, the most likely reason is that they are not interested. However, there can be exceptions. Most professors are constantly inundated with email; occasionally it happens that they intended to answer and just forgot. So you could try and send one follow-up email, especially if you can improve it substantially based on what you learned above. As to whether you should apply to the university if you didn’t get a response when you emailed a professor, this depends on the university. For our programs, we have a preliminary screening application which serves a similar purpose as the introductory email. I would say that about half of our applicants contact professors directly, and the other half attract the professors’ interest by way of this preliminary application. So, if there is no fee for applying to the program, you might want to give it a try.

      Regarding your last question, if a professor does respond then I would say that s/he is definitely interested and that is certainly very promising. However, there are many steps after that before actual admission. In particular, there will have to be close scrutiny of your academic record and reference letters. Also, if you are seeking funding, then your application package will have to be considered in comparison to other applicants, both in terms of academic record and how well your research interests fit with the professors’ interests. Thus, getting a positive response to your email is generally just the first step, but definitely a very positive one.

      Good luck! 🙂

        rs said:
        November 10, 2012 at 8:34 pm

        Thanks for the post !!! It has certainly answered some of the questions troubling me over the last few weeks. Once again, thanks 🙂

    Viera Semaneková (@adelle207) said:
    November 12, 2012 at 6:48 am

    Thanks a lot for this post. Fortunately I have found it right before sending an email to prospective supervisor 🙂 So now I can rework the text again to make it better. 🙂

      Faye Hicks responded:
      November 12, 2012 at 7:55 am

      That’s great! Good luck! 🙂

    SPO said:
    November 14, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    Many thanks for the post, it’s really helpful.

    I am also a prospective student seeking to study PhD and I would like to ask you a question. When contacting the prospective supervisor for the first time, do I have to attach My Proposal (Maybe a Draft) in the EMail? Or should I just make an Introduction of my research topic and area without attaching the proposal?

    Thanks a lot!!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      November 14, 2012 at 6:48 pm

      Thanks – I’m glad you found it useful.
      Regarding your question – I can only give you an answer from my own personal perspective. If a student wants funding support during their graduate program, then I need them to work on a project for which I already have funding. In that case, their research proposal is completely irrelevant. If the student has a scholarship, then I can afford to be a bit more flexible; however, there are many costs for doing research in addition to paying graduate students, so again, I need them to at least be working on something complementary to my existing projects. Therefore, in terms of first contact, the last thing I want to see from a prospective student is ‘their’ proposal. Although, this may not be the case for all prospective supervisors, I’m willing to bet a lot of them would say exactly the same thing for exactly the same reasons.

        SPO said:
        November 16, 2012 at 7:04 pm

        Thanks for your post professor. It’s really supportive.

    Unigwe Obinna said:
    November 19, 2012 at 12:29 am

    Thank you professor for your very informative piece. It is just the right information I need at this time. I am a BSc graduate of Electrical Engineering and I just got a full scholarship to study to PhD level. I have been asked by my government, the scholarship provider, to apply directly for the PhD program. But my problem is that I am not sure if I have enough background research experience that the schools or professors may be needing. Academically I dont think I am lacking which is why I won the scholarship in the first place. But in truth, apart from my final year project, I have not worked on any research topic before. Please prof, how do you advice I go about this. It really worries me a lot because I do not have persons to advice me on issues such as this. To me right now, you are God-sent. Please help me.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      November 19, 2012 at 4:32 pm

      Sorry – I really can’t advise you on that. In our civil engineering PhD programs (at my university) we generally require people to do a Masters first, and I think that’s pretty typical – at least for Canada. However, I don’t know how easy or hard it will be for you to find an electrical engineering PhD program that accepts BSc grads directly (i.e. without doing a Masters first); I suspect it may not be all that common. You’ll definitely need to do some research to check on it. I agree – it would be a challenge to do a PhD without any research experience, but people in science do it all the time. If the PhD program is designed for it – then it probably works out fine. I wish you the best of luck with it.

    Namta said:
    November 19, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    Thanks for the post Professor, just got through it at the right time….

    Gloria Appiah said:
    November 21, 2012 at 3:03 am

    Thanks Professor for the wealth of advice. Please, what if one is required to write a cover letter to a department in application for PhD? In this instance, there is no specific potential supervisor to write to so how specific can I make my interest known to the department (not sure who will be reading the letter) ?
    Thank you

      Faye Hicks responded:
      November 21, 2012 at 9:40 am

      This application process depends on that particular program but that doesn’t change the fact that it is worthwhile to try to connect with a potential PhD supervisor before applying. The advice I’ve offered in this blog is to help you make that first contact with a potential PhD supervisor. The formal application (and cover letter) would typically follow. If you haven’t got a professor there interested in you yet, then there is no point applying (in my opinion). If you have got a professor interested, then s/he can advise you on what they are looking for in the letter.
      If the university discourages people from contacting specific professors directly and instead uses these cover letters as the primary point of contact – then I would say you still need to do your research and find out which professor(s) would be a good match for you and make that case in the cover letter.

    rs said:
    November 24, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    Hello prof ! I have posted in this blog before where you answered few of my questions. I have tried writing emails to potential supervisors according to your suggestions here, and it really works since I am now getting a high percentage of replys. So, I thought to let you know and thanks again !!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      November 25, 2012 at 11:18 am

      That’s great to hear! Thanks for letting me know. 🙂

    jagadish prasad said:
    November 27, 2012 at 4:31 am

    Really awesome post worth reading.But i even have a doubt that if a professor is interested in admitting me,will the gre scores and other criteria of mine should be really good enough when compared to other students?.Or with the help of the professor’s word will i be able to get admit into the university having the same research interest?,despite having the low gre score..?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      November 27, 2012 at 2:48 pm

      Thanks – I ‘m glad you found it useful.
      Sorry, I can’t really comment on the GRE score – we don’t use it for our admissions. However generally, if you meet the minimum academic requirements for a particular program, then it is always possible to get admitted providing there is a professor who wants you. That’s the idea of writing directly to the professors – to find one who might be willing to take you on. It’s true, the better your marks, the more likely professors are to be interested in you. But one thing you know for sure, if you don’t try, you’ll never know.

    Tasneem said:
    December 3, 2012 at 5:32 am

    Very useful tips!!! I was a bit amazed too realizing what all disastrous mails i have written so far :D.. Thanks a lot.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      December 3, 2012 at 8:15 am

      Thanks – I’m so glad you found it useful. 🙂

    Esther Ekeledo said:
    December 4, 2012 at 1:15 am

    Hi Faye, thanks for a beautiful write up. You really helped me to refocus my writing skills. Thanks a lot.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      December 4, 2012 at 5:31 am

      Thanks Esther – I’m glad you found it useful! 🙂

    Kibrom Negash said:
    December 9, 2012 at 6:07 am

    Hi Faye ! how are you? my name is Kibrom Negash and I want to apply masters scholar ship in archaeology in Jordan, it is for my first time to apply for scholarship and I do not have experience of writing motivation letter. Could you help me something how I write it?
    Best Regard,
    Kibrom Negash ( Addis Ababa , Ethiopia )

      Faye Hicks responded:
      December 9, 2012 at 11:17 am

      Hi Kibrom – thanks for visiting this blog. You’ll find advice on preparing scholarship applications and cover letters in the archives. Click on the link at the top (or click here) to see the complete list of posts to find those. Good luck!

    Vivien Wang said:
    December 9, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Dear Professor Hicks – thank you so much for this insightful blog, had loads of very useful information and was also quite funny, had me chuckling on several counts! I’m planning on writing letters to several prospective supervisors recently and your article is a godsend. I also think it’s lovely how you responded to every comment here! I wish I was researching river ice since you would be an amazing person to work with.
    All the best!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      December 9, 2012 at 12:25 pm

      That’s great, Vivien – I’m so glad you’ve found it useful! Thanks too for all your nice comments!

    Udhara said:
    December 12, 2012 at 1:08 am

    Thank you so much Prof. Hicks – Actually your advice and the way you have replied to all is really great.Your thoughts are very interesting and that implies that you got a very clear mind with a good problem solving ability . Your writing skills are superb , so thankful to you for sharing your talents with others.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      December 12, 2012 at 9:22 am

      Thanks for the nice comments – they are much appreciated! 🙂

    Chloe Mcintyre said:
    December 13, 2012 at 7:19 am

    Dear Prof. Hicks,
    That was definitely a very helpful blog. 🙂 Thanks a ton for this! I am currently contacting supervisors for PhD opportunities in their lab. From your replies to earlier comments/questions, I gather that you suggest the applicants should be frank and open about themselves. This is where my question comes. I have been doing a PhD since 4 months and unfortunately things haven’t been working out for me. Some recent incidents have especially made me decide that I need to switch to a better place. Now, when I contact professors w.r.t PhD openings in their lab I can’t understand how frank should I be about the current situation in the first email. I assume this information could act against me (unless I am able to explain them the whole situation) but I definitely don’t want it to! :/

      Faye Hicks responded:
      December 14, 2012 at 2:05 pm

      Thanks Chloe – I’m glad you found it useful. Regarding your question, I can offer you two things to think about. First, keep in mind that your new PhD supervisor would have to find out about this eventually and if you aren’t forthcoming right from the beginning, you could risk losing their trust. Absolute honesty in all things is one of the cornerstones of academia, because credibility is essential to our reputation and value as academics. Thus we must demonstrate honesty in our every action; if we cause others to doubt our integrity as individuals, how can we then expect them trust our research results? Thus one of the worst things that can happen is for your PhD supervisor to lose trust in you. Along those same lines, probably the biggest issue for the new PhD supervisor upon finding this out (assuming you do it up front), is likely going to be concern for you original PhD supervisor. It would be totally unethical for one professor to “steal” a graduate student from another, thus your prospective new supervisor would need to know that you have respectfully terminated your relationship with the current PhD supervisor before taking you on, but how can they know this if they are not even aware of your situation? In fact, by not telling them at the outset, you could potentially compromise their reputation, as well. Just imagine how awful that would be for everyone concerned.

      Second, this sort of thing happens more often that you might expect and is not necessarily that big a deal. If it’s no big deal to the new PhD supervisor you seek, then there’s no big deal in telling them about it up front. If it is going to be a big deal for them, then it’s just all the more important to tell them up front. In truth, they will naturally wonder (and need to know) why you are leaving your current position/program/supervisor but you don’t need to tell them all the gory details. (Believe me – they probably don’t want to hear them.) They just need to know the facts of the matter: you started a program elsewhere; why it didn’t work out – in one sentence (e.g. because things just didn’t jive between you and your PhD supervisor, because the project funding was lost, because the project didn’t turn out to be interesting/what you expected/what you were promised; because you are uncomfortable in your current situation due to conflicts among your colleagues… – or whatever the reason); that you have respectfully terminated your relationship with that PhD supervisor; and that you are now seeking a new PhD supervisor.

      Best of luck!

    Subi said:
    December 15, 2012 at 9:31 am

    Thank you very much for sharing your ideas with us dear prof. Faye Hicks,, This will be very useful for me. I just started to write professors for my PHD. I’m a research officer and my interest area is International trade. Could you please let me know is it necessary to attach a research proposal or synopsis with the email.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      December 15, 2012 at 9:59 am

      Thanks – I’m glad you found it useful.
      Regarding your question – I can only give you an answer from my own personal perspective. If a student wants funding support during their graduate program, then I need them to work on a project for which I already have funding. In that case, their research proposal is completely irrelevant to me. If the student has a scholarship, then I can afford to be a bit more flexible; however, there are many costs for doing research in addition to paying graduate students, so again, I need them to at least be working on something complementary to my existing projects. Therefore, in terms of first contact, the last thing I want to see from a prospective student is ‘their’ proposal. Although, this may not be the case for all prospective supervisors, I’m willing to bet a lot of them would say exactly the same thing for exactly the same reasons.

    Subi said:
    December 15, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    Thanks a lot Prof. Hicks. Could you please further let me know is it ethical to write few professors in same department saying that I m interesting for their research.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      December 16, 2012 at 3:21 pm

      It’s hard to say – I can only speak for myself. I am only interested in recruiting students who are specifically interested in working with me in my specific area of expertise. If I’m just one in a list of recipients and/or if the applicant is contacting other professors in my group – I leave it to the other professors to respond.

    Gustavo said:
    December 20, 2012 at 3:07 am

    Thank you very much for the post. I was just wondering how brief should my letter be? 200, 300 or 400 words approx?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      December 20, 2012 at 9:06 am

      You’re welcome – I hope you found it useful. In terms of the length of email for first contact, I would say around 300 to 400 words is a reasonable upper limit to aim for – at least that is what I prefer to see. Good luck!

    sathish said:
    December 23, 2012 at 3:17 am

    Thanks a lot Dear Faye. The information you provided is very genuine, It’s very useful for every prospective student. I have a small query, I don’t have a particular research proposal to work on but I need to a admission for PhD. Can u suggest me how to write a request letter for a supervisor.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 3, 2013 at 8:18 am

      Thanks for the nice comments. For advice on wrting to a propsective supervisor just read the blog above – that’s exactly what it’s aimed at providing. You can get some additional general advice from one of my other posts – the one on writing an effective cover letter.

    kidane desta said:
    December 31, 2012 at 1:15 am

    Many thanks for your post professor!! I will apply your advice soon!!

      kidane desta said:
      December 31, 2012 at 1:16 am

      Have a very happy new year!!

        Faye Hicks responded:
        January 3, 2013 at 8:20 am

        Thanks! Happy new year to you, too!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 3, 2013 at 8:19 am

      Thanks – good luck! 🙂

    Elvis said:
    January 3, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    Many thanks to you Faye. I have learnt a lot reading blog. I am applying for M.Eng program in Environmental Engineering. I am aware that I will need to contact a prospective supervisor for M.Sc programs, but since I am applying for the course based program (M.Eng), is it imperative I contact a supervisor? Thank you so much and happy new year!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 3, 2013 at 4:52 pm

      Thanks – I’m glad you’ve found it useful.
      Regarding your question – I doubt that it would be needed in your case, although it might depend on the particular university.

    May said:
    January 4, 2013 at 1:57 am

    Thank u very much, Madam…
    Your tips and advices really help me…

    Thanks again 🙂
    Happy new year

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 6, 2013 at 10:40 am

      Thanks May – I am glad you found them useful! 🙂

    Nauman said:
    January 15, 2013 at 8:27 am

    Hi Faye,
    I read blogs for suggestions but never ever replied to anybody. These are some excellent tips you have shared. I am in process of applying for a PhD. Hope these suggestions will help me fulfill my ambitions
    Thanks again .

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 18, 2013 at 10:34 am

      Thanks – hope it helps you out!
      Thanks for visiting my blog! 🙂 said:
    January 16, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    “How to write to a prospective PhD supervisor The Art of
    Scientific Communication” genuinely got me addicted on ur web site!
    I actuallywill be returning way more frequently. Thanks a lot

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 19, 2013 at 12:11 pm

      Thanks! So happy you find it useful!

    Sina said:
    January 17, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Thank You for your hugely helpful post.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 18, 2013 at 10:35 am

      Thanks – glad it was helpful! 🙂

    Kamlesh said:
    January 18, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    Thank you Prof. Hicks for taking so much of care and pain. I am taking guidelines from all of your blogs for my PhD application. Thank you once again.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 18, 2013 at 8:11 pm

      You’re welcome! Glad you find it useful! said:
    January 22, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    U constructed quite a few remarkable ideas with your blog post, “How to write
    to a prospective PhD supervisor The Art of Scientific
    Communication”. I’ll become coming back again to ur web page soon. Thx ,Manie

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 23, 2013 at 8:07 am

      Thanks for the kind comments!

    Tilak Raj said:
    January 23, 2013 at 12:40 am

    Thank you Professor Faye,
    Really useful information.


      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 23, 2013 at 8:07 am

      Thanks – I’m glad it was useful for you!

    Aladdin said:
    January 30, 2013 at 2:08 am

    Thanks Prof. for sharing your experience with us

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 31, 2013 at 10:32 am

      You’re welcome! Thanks for visiting and commenting!

    Swaib said:
    February 4, 2013 at 9:54 am

    This post is very good and helpful to me as i look out for a potential PHD supervisor. I am going to follow your advise. I have always wondered how to get a supervisor. i thought supervisors pick on potential student they know personal or those introduced by their colleagues or friends.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      February 4, 2013 at 3:14 pm

      I’m glad to hear that you found it useful – good luck!

    Luna said:
    February 4, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Dear Professor Hicks,

    Thank you for the wonderful tips! It’s heart-warming to be able to see things from an academic’s point of view.
    I have contacted about five professors from different universities with PhD supervision requests. Two have responded positively and stated their willingness to support my application. I’ve submitted my applications to these two universities now and I’m waiting for the result. If I receive offers from both universities, I will have to decline one of them. My concern is that it might seem impolite of me to decline an offer and the professor who has agreed to support my application might be offended. Please let me know what you think!


      Faye Hicks responded:
      February 8, 2013 at 12:20 pm

      Hi Luna – thanks for the nice comments – I’m glad you found the information useful.
      Regarding your question, I can only speak from my own perspective, but I am always expecting that applicants are applying to more than one university and that they may end up accepting another offer. The important thing is to let them know as soon as you make your decision. That way another applicant can be accepted in your place. So many times people don’t bother to let us know that they won’t be coming and that hurts the professor as well as the applicants on the waiting list.
      Best wishes for a sucessful PhD!

    Abhishek said:
    February 14, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    This post is excellent and very helpful. Each and every question I had is addressed. Thanks a lot Prof.Hicks. Actually, I am looking for a PhD supervisor in the field of cancer research and I’m luck to find this post.Remarkable:)

      Faye Hicks responded:
      February 15, 2013 at 8:09 am

      Thanks for the nice comments – I am so glad you found this post useful.
      Good luck with your applications!

    newenglandpastor said:
    February 25, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    Thank you very much for your advice. My question is this: when would be the best time to contact a potential supervisor? I am not applying until next December, for Fall 2014 matriculation. Is it too early to contact potential supervisors now? I know that many have just gone through the process of selecting PhD students for this fall, so they may be burned out by the whole topic right now.

    Then again, is it ever too early? I’d like to try to build a rapport with these individuals sooner rather than later so that if need be, I will have plenty of time to develop the relationship. Your feedback will be much appreciated!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      February 25, 2013 at 9:29 pm

      I can only speak from my own perspective, but we typically like people to get in touch starting a year or more ahead – it takes time to get all the documents in hand, and there are competitive reviews, recruitment scholarships, etc. to think about. Most people leave it far too late. I don’t think you need to worry that they’re tired of looking at applications.
      Good luck!

    Hanan said:
    March 9, 2013 at 5:28 am

    I think your article is very helpful! Thank you!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      March 10, 2013 at 5:08 pm

      Thanks Hanan! Good to hear! 🙂

    Sophia said:
    March 9, 2013 at 6:08 am

    Thanks a lot Prof. Faye for your blogs.
    Grateful for your advice in my situation. I am prospective PhD candidate with interests in Human Resource and Industrial Relations. Particularly seeking research in the application of IT Technology to identify Talents and skills in multinational organizations. My challenge is that my first degree is computer science and I worked for 12 years as IT professional before moving to HR in the last 1 and half year(2011 to date). I have an MBA in Technology, Marketing and Business strategy and now seeking to do the PhD to progress my new career as a HR Practitioner. I’m not sure if I stand a chance especially I have no research background apart from my BSc and MBA final projects. Financially I intend to sponsor myself. Thank you. Sophia

      Faye Hicks responded:
      March 10, 2013 at 5:10 pm

      Hi Sophia – your area is quite different than mine, so I really can’t comment on how easy it will be for you to find a PhD supervisor. However, it should help a lot that you are self-funded. Good luck!

    Joseph said:
    March 10, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    Hi Dr. Hicks,

    Do you have any advice on reporting GRE scores to a potential faculty mentor as part of the initial contact letter? The reason I ask is because the program I am considering has a recommended minimum of 70th and 50th %iles for the quantitative and verbal sections, respectively. Although I had met these requirements, since changing formats, ETS is now displaying my percentile scores as being noticeably lower than they were originally (with the quantitative section now dipping below the recommended minimum of 70%).

    Although I would hope my interest as expressed in the email itself, combined with my resume and transcripts would provide the faculty with a solid idea of my credentials, I do not want to spring any surprises come time to actually submitting the application. Any advice you would have would mean a lot.


      Faye Hicks responded:
      March 11, 2013 at 9:38 pm

      Hi Joseph – I really can’t comment on how important it would be as we don’t even consider GRE scores in my field. However, as there is a recommended minimum, I would say that it would make sense to discuss this relatively early in your contact with the prospective professor(s). Perhaps it is getting too detailed for the first email – I really don’t know – but it definitely sounds like something you should address by the second email. That way neither of you will waste much of your time if it turns out ot be critical.

    Maryam said:
    March 17, 2013 at 2:50 am

    First of all THAAAAAAAAAAANK YOU Dr. Hicks 🙂 I followed your advice and I had a reply from my potential supervisor for an interview, I am so excited. Thanks a lot 😀

      Faye Hicks responded:
      March 17, 2013 at 7:06 am

      Wow – that is terrific news, Maryam! Congratulations!

    Imali said:
    March 18, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    Thank you Prof. Faye for your usefull ideas.I’m seeking for a PhD in marine sciences and I got a reply from a prof. asking how I’m going to fund my study.I said I’m looking for a placement as a research student first and then I can apply for a scholarship.But he said he needs verifications of funding first and then consider of supervising my project. I’m from a developing country and I cannot afford it all by myself.To apply for a Phd scholarship,It requires a placement. If the situation is like this,how can I get a supervisor’s offer without already assigned funding? Can you express your ideas on this matter?Thank you.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      March 19, 2013 at 4:16 pm

      Hi Imali – I think you need to check with some other potential supervisors. It sounds like that particular supervisor is only looking for self-funded students. Good luck!

    Lily said:
    March 23, 2013 at 6:14 am

    Thank you so much for this posting. It’s really useful for me. I’m interested in applying PhD (Coastal Management) and I have contacted a prof. from a university. He replied my email, he said that my topic sounds interesting and in line with his work. Then he asked me my CV. I sent him my CV as his consideration. But after that I haven’t got any reply, I have been waiting for his reply until now (it has been three weeks). Do you think I need to send him an email again and ask about it? I’m worried because I need to obtain a confirmation admission letter from the university before I submit my scholarship application (he knew that I want to apply a scholarship for my PhD, I told him in my first email), and for applying a PhD at the university I need an agreement from potential supervisor for my proposed research. Or maybe he thinks that I’m not eligible for doing research in his institution? Thank you for your advice.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      March 23, 2013 at 9:42 am

      Thanks Lily – I think you could write a follow-up email to the professor explaining the situation. It’s possible he just got busy and needs a reminder. Most professors would not mind getting a reminder in that situation. Good luck!

    niyanuday said:
    April 1, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Thank you madam for sharing a very informative knowledge on the Art of Scientific Communication. I wish to know something from your experience that what is the difference between a Letter of Motivation and Cover Letter. I have prepared a letter of motivation but I am confused what should I write in the cover letters should I copy paste the letter of motivation in that or is there something which I should know. I would be grateful if I can be enriched on this situation.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      April 3, 2013 at 4:40 pm

      Thanks for your kind commnets. Sorry – I have no idea what you mean by a ‘Letter of Motivation’. If it is a specific requirement of a particular university, perhaps you could contact them for more information?

    I-am-going-to-turn-into-jello...soon said:
    April 3, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    Dear Prof. Hicks,
    Thank you for this informative post. It was helpful even though I don’t study river ice and/or engineering. I came across it quite by accident.
    I am in the midst of the “I-am-going-to-turn-into-jello…soon” state of researching prospective graduate supervisors, programs, and funding sources. I have been told (could be wrong) I have fantastic research background and experiences as I have a published paper and several conferences and I only have a bachelors. But the world still feels extremely big right now. And intimidating.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      April 15, 2013 at 10:09 pm

      Thanks – and good luck!!

    Shahadat Hossan said:
    April 17, 2013 at 4:57 am

    Dear Faye Hicks,
    Thank you very much for your post. It is really helpful for me as I am looking to contact with prospective PhD supervisor. Is it a good idea if I send my CV with the letter?

    Thank you very much.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      April 17, 2013 at 3:44 pm

      Thanks – glad you found it useful.
      Yes, I think it’s okay to send a c.v. – but keep in mind that many people are not keen to open attachments from people they don’t know, so they might not open it.

    Joseph said:
    April 20, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    Hi Dr. Hicks,

    I was glad to see you suggested being honest about not having a specific research topic in mind, as I am currently in this boat. However, I am concerned about striking the right tone. On the one hand, I want to be honest about my willingness to take pretty much any project available within my field. But on the other hand, I don’t want to come across as being immature or uncommitted by not having well-articulated research interests of my own. Would you have any advice on the matter?

    Thanks again,

      Faye Hicks responded:
      April 21, 2013 at 9:49 am

      Hi Joseph – keep in mind that I can only speak for myself… I personally don’t find it that relevant or appealing for potential PhD students to have their own research plans. If a student wants funding support during their graduate program, then I need them to work on a project for which I already have funding. In that case, their research proposal is completely irrelevant. If the student has a scholarship, then I can afford to be a bit more flexible; however, there are many costs for doing research in addition to paying graduate students, so again, I need them to at least be working on something complementary to my existing projects. Therefore, in terms of first contact, the last thing I want to see from a prospective student is ‘their’ proposal. Although, this may not be the case for all prospective supervisors, I’m willing to bet a lot of them would say exactly the same thing for exactly the same reasons.
      I do think it is vital for you to have an idea of the specific area(s) you want to do research in, so that you are approaching the right people.
      Best wishes!

    Abdullah Alghamdi said:
    April 26, 2013 at 9:47 am

    I really like what you have wrote
    Many thanks

      Faye Hicks responded:
      May 1, 2013 at 6:53 am

      Thanks Abdullah – glad you found it useful!

    Aakanksha said:
    May 2, 2013 at 8:15 am

    Prof Hicks
    Thank you so much for the blog. I work for Sage publications (India) and planning to apply for PhD soon. Your blog is really helpful for contacting prospective supervisors 🙂

      Faye Hicks responded:
      May 2, 2013 at 2:24 pm

      Thanks Aakanksha – great to hear that it was useful! 🙂

    eainmobiliat said:
    May 6, 2013 at 1:26 am

    Loved the advice … im just in that process. 🙂 greetings

      Faye Hicks responded:
      May 9, 2013 at 8:30 am

      Thanks! So glad you liked it! 🙂

    Muhammad Shafiq said:
    May 7, 2013 at 9:34 am

    Dear Prof. Hicks
    Thank you very much for sharing this beneficial information and providing guidance.
    I wish to have your guidance regarding my PhD studies.
    I am searching for a potential PhD supervisor and once a professor will be agree to supervise my PhD studies, I would be able to submit my application to the scholarship agencies.
    Although I have published five papers and my research interests matches with several professors, only a limited number of them reply.
    With best regards
    Shafiq, Pakistan

      Faye Hicks responded:
      May 9, 2013 at 8:35 am

      Hi Muhammad – sorry, I really don’t know why many haven’t responded. Likely it’s simply because, at this lofty level, the competition gets extremely tough. There are just so many excellent poeple looking to get into a PhD program and such limited space. Most professors get hundreds of requests per year, many from superb applicants, yet they likely take on only 1 or 2 new PhD students each year.
      Good luck!

    sanjay said:
    May 17, 2013 at 2:27 am

    Hi Faye.
    Last year, I applied to one of the reputed universities in Australia for a PhD. Deadline was approaching and my prospective supervisor was not responding me although we exchanged some emails before. I was hurried not to miss the opportunity to put my application. I then contacted another professor from the same university who responded me quickly and agreed to supervise me on the proposed topic and asked me to put my application before deadline (3 days to go). She suggested the co-supervisor as well. Suddenly, the previously proposed supervisor also responded and advised me to put the application. Then I was tensed and in dilemma. I decided to write an email to the professor whom I contacted later and explained everything. I wrote her my situation. But she was very angry. Later I told her that I will not be putting the application that time because of the sense of guilt. But she advised me to go forward with my decision and put the application. I applied for the university scholarship round and my application was unsuccessful.

    After all these happened, I think I have a very bad image over there. But still I want to apply there. So, could you please advise me how to improve my image ? After all this happened do you think that they may accept me as their future student? Should I write the second professor ?

    Please let me know what you think about the situation.

    Thank you very much.


      Faye Hicks responded:
      May 17, 2013 at 8:51 am

      Hi Sanjay – sorry, but I really can’t advise you on such a specific situation. I will say though – the bond of trust, so essential in the student-professor relationship, can be very difficult to repair after something like this. You could try writing to both professors and apologizing, but the outcome really depends on many more specifics including the personalities of, and relationships between, all of the individuals concerned. Despite the unfortunate situation, I think that it is unlikely that any of this had anything to do with you not getting the scholarship there – most often those are decided in academic competitions, not decided upon by individual professors.

    mohammad said:
    May 18, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Hi Dear Faye Hicks,
    First of all, I like to thank you for your helpful post in this web page. It might help a lot of students to achieve their goal.
    Honestly, we are a couple with the same educational major and experience. We are extremely interested to continue our education in PhD level at the same department and program. Plus that we have almost the same C.V. and work experience. So we are really in a big dilemma to corresponding with faculties to find supervisor.
    It would be appreciable, if you can guide us how we can organize our letter? If we want to contact separately we are competitor with the same qualification, otherwise, if we write a common letter, how we can catch their interest?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 6, 2013 at 7:38 pm

      Hi Mohammad – sorry for the delay responding. This is a difficult question but I don’t think you have much choice – I imagine that most (likely all) universities will require you to apply separately. You best bet is to try contacting professors first – mentioning you are both in the same field and both wanting to do a PhD. We’ve had a lot of couples come to do PhDs in our research group – it’s not as uncommon as you may think.
      Sometimes one gets admitted only, but once they are both here, we get to meet the other and become keen to admit them, too.
      Best of luck!

        mohammad said:
        June 6, 2013 at 7:46 pm

        Dear Faye,
        Thank you for your time and attention.

    Aga said:
    May 23, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Dear Professor Hicks,

    Thank you very much for this wonderful and useful website. Would you have any advice on how to talk about the supervisor in the PhD research proposal? The university I’m applying to requires a section on “Why you feel your project fits with a potential supervisors’ research and the strengths of the proposed department” – are there any do’s and don’ts in terms of wording? Is it OK to say that the supervisor has excellent expertise and significant contributions in the field or do I need to be more specific? Is it OK to “accolade” the supervisor (who will be one of the people reading the final proposal) or should I keep it neutral? The supervisor in question has already accepted my proposed research, but the formal decision will be made by a panel, so I would like the “administrative” sections of the proposal sound as good as possible (although I’m not sure how important these non-research related parts really are…). I would greatly appreciate your advice.

    Kind regards,

      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 6, 2013 at 7:31 pm

      Hi Aga – sorry for the delay responding. It sounds like they are wanting to ensure a good fit in terms of research topic. In order for you to address this question, you need to know which professors work in what areas – it sounds like they are expecting you to check that and make a case for how your research interests fit with the supervisor you are applying to work with.
      Best of luck!

    siruna said:
    May 30, 2013 at 12:26 am

    Dear Prof. Hicks,

    Thank you so much for all the information and guidance you are providing. I want to apply for PhD in Biomolecular Engineering. I have also contacted a potential supervisor. He has replied to me stating that he doesn’t have funding to support me although I was not asking him for studentship. He also replied that he would be happy to consider my application after is has been processed. I want to apply for scholarship granted through university and for that I have to lodge an admission application form.
    I am bit confused because without letter of support from supervisor,I cannot apply then what does he mean by saying that he would consider me after my application has been processed. I think it would be rude to ask him that. Can you please tell me what should I do?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 6, 2013 at 7:43 pm

      Hi Siruna – I’m not sure what they mean; it sounds a bit confusing to me, as well. I don’t think it’s rude to write to ask for clarification of the process. If they get upset over something like that, likely it wouldn’t be all that pleasant a place to do a PhD anyway.
      Best of luck!

    YS said:
    June 3, 2013 at 6:11 am

    Dear Professor Hicks,

    I’ve sent you an email with the same content a few days ago but I’m not sure whether it reached you, so forgive me for posting a similar copy here.

    First of all, thank you so much for writing so many useful articles. This article is a terrific guide. However, because of my situation, I need further advice on the subject.

    I’m from Malaysia and I’ve just recently graduated with an upper second-class honours in a Bachelor of Psychology (Hons) programme. When I was in the second year of the programme, I took the Biopsychology module and developed an interest in the neurosciences. I’ve thought about this seriously and I intend to pursue a Master’s degree in the neurosciences because I’d love to contribute to brain research.

    However, most of the Master’s in Neuroscience programmes offered here have a strong emphasis on neurogenomics and require a basic degree in biology (or other relevant subjects). As a psychology major, I failed to meet the prerequisites. This, I believe, means that my chances of getting into my desired programme are slim to none. The closest ‘experience’ that I have is the Biopsychology module I took, for which I obtained an A grade despite it being reputed as the module with the highest failing rate.

    Therefore, I’m wondering if you could advice me on how I should email my prospective supervisors who are looking for students with a biology/genetics background, given my situation. I’m a diligent individual and my undergraduate thesis supervisor has commented that I’m a good student because I persevere. I would like to have my prospective supervisors understand that if they are willing to accept me, I’ll be more than willing to learn everything they need me to know from scratch.

    I apologise that this is so lengthy, and I understand that you have a busy schedule. I truly appreciate your kindness and time. Thank you very much!


      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 6, 2013 at 7:56 pm

      Hi there – sorry for the delay responding. I understand you situation – it can be difficult. Generally it can be hard to get admitted to some programs without the corresponding undergraduate degree. It’s sometimes possible – but you usually do have to do a lot of hunting to find a program that will consider you. You might try taking some of those preparatory courses on your own to strengthen your credentials before applying. You might start by writing to prospective supervisors asking them what courses they would recommend/require before considering someone of your background. That way there would be less chance of wasting time and money.
      Good luck!

        YS said:
        June 11, 2013 at 9:37 pm

        Thank you for your reply!

    munaz said:
    June 6, 2013 at 10:11 am

    Dear professor Faye Hicks,
    I finished my research based Masters in Electrical Engineering. I have 5 publications including 2 SCI journals. I want to apply for PhD in Australia/Canada. But my professor from S.Korea wants me to do the PhD from his lab. I told him what I want but it seems he doesn’t want to give me the recommendation.
    He also have name as a corresponding author in all of my published papers. Now I am worried about this situation. I talked with my 2 other thesis supervisor and they said to give their recommendation. I also have contacted with my bachelor thesis supervisor and I can take recommendation from him as well.
    If I do so (I believe I have to), could this effects to manage the funding or getting acceptance in the university for persuading the PhD?

    Thank you so much for your guidance.


      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 6, 2013 at 7:59 pm

      I would suggest you just apply with the references you have and explain the situation to the professors you are contacting. Since you normally contact the professor before applying – it shouldn’t be a problem.

        Munaz said:
        June 16, 2013 at 7:51 pm

        Dear professor Faye Hicks,
        Thank you so much for your suggestion and time.

    Muhammad Bashir Saidu said:
    June 15, 2013 at 8:27 am

    Thank you Prof. Hicks for this informative and useful post. As a PhD prospective student, i’ve never found a post as helpful as yours. And thank your very much, not only for the post but also having for replying every comment.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 16, 2013 at 10:11 am

      Thanks Muhammad – I am glad you found it useful! 🙂

    Dana said:
    June 19, 2013 at 10:08 am

    Thank you Prof. Hicks your comments are so helpful. Please i am thinking of applying for a phd ,i have good grades in my first degree major project and masters course work level except with the masters dissertation were my supervisor and i had a conflict of interest through out the dissertation and the final thesis grades does not reflect my performance and abilities in research. I have been advised by my other professor to let go of academic appeal or a grade review and go ahead with applying for phd, but how will this aid my phd application as i understand that the masters dissertation grade is very useful. Should i go ahead with contacting a supervisor in my fiels of interest and explaining my situation as my professor have promised a stellar recommendation letter and i have also prepared a research proposal and personal statement to apply to phd programmes. Or should i let go of getting a phd even though my thesis grade does not reflect my true research abilities. Thank you.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 22, 2013 at 8:17 am

      Hi Dana – I am not sure it will be a huge problem – many programs do not even assign a grade to the dissertation. The bigger issue is probably the difficulty you would have in getting a good reference from you masters theses supervisor. However, the situation you describe is actually not particularly rare. So I would say that if you really want to do a PhD – go ahead and contact some potential supervisors. After all, if you don’t even try you won’t get to do it – so why not try (if it’s what you really want)? If/when it gets to the stage of providing reference letters, just explain the situation honestly. If the fit is good – your other (excellent) references will carry the weight and you’ll be fine. Good luck!

    Arti said:
    June 20, 2013 at 7:01 am

    Professor Hicks, As a prospective Ph.D. applicant, I am very grateful to you for sharing such an informative post . Your post has helped me clearly understand the material that goes into writing an effective letter to a prospective supervisor.I am very glad and would like to thanks you for your precious advice! Many many thanks 🙂

      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 22, 2013 at 8:18 am

      Thanks Arti – so glad you found them useful! 🙂

    Jyoti said:
    June 26, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    Prof. Hicks, thanks for sharing this handful of information. Since I am looking for a doctoral program in Canada and through this post you have really helped me with selling my expertise through an effective email. Thanks a ton. I was really looking for such posts for a long time.
    Bingo!!! 🙂

      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 29, 2013 at 8:46 am

      Thanks Jyoti – that’s great to hear! Good luck! 🙂

    Alin said:
    June 27, 2013 at 9:17 am

    Dear Professor Hicks, thank you for such a useful information. Could you give me some advice with my situation? I’ve sent lots of improper letters to professors, Having read your article I realized that I had made lots of mistakes, namely I wasn’t very specific about my future research and the sphere of my research wasn’t fit with the professors’ interests. Should I sent my proper e-mail once again or what?Thank you in advance!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 29, 2013 at 8:51 am

      Hi Alin – I wouldn’t bother sending any additional emails to the profs with irrelevant interests. However, if you now have a much improved letter to send to profs that do have similar interests to you, then yes I would suggest you go ahead and send them the new one. The truth is, if they didn’t respond to your first letter, they probably won’t remember you specifically anyway. So it will just look like a new contact. 🙂
      Good luck!

    Dana said:
    June 30, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Thank you Professor Hicks, your advise is very helpful, i will move forward with the phd because its really what i want to do considering that i want to be a lecturer myself , and i have recently talked to my Msc supervisor and we have decided to move past our conflicts. I hope it all works out. Thanks again Prof and good luck with everything.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 30, 2013 at 11:43 am

      That is all great news, Dana – best of luck with going forward with it!

    Nariman said:
    July 2, 2013 at 12:28 am

    Thank you professor Hicks, tell you the truth, I sent an request email for you yesterday, today, suddenly I taught, there is a mistake in my request that I can’t receive any response and I tried to search “how to request for phd supervision” in Google.
    By chance, I found your advises here, describing my faults.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 2, 2013 at 5:12 pm

      Hi Nariman – it was a holiday here yesterday. I am just wading through all the emails now. 🙂

    Md Nurul Islam said:
    July 6, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    I am currently looking for a PhD position. Thanks for your valuable suggestions in such an important topic. I will be grateful if you kindly mention that if there is any harm, if I use multiple small paragraphs highlighting individual aspects. For example, I make a brief intro that what I am (what I am doing now) and what I am planning to do, and also what I have written in teh next of the email. In the next paragraph, I briefly mention what I am doing for my Master’s thesis and what I did in the Bachelor thesis. In the 3rd paragraph, I give a list of practical and theoretical courses those are relevant to the Professor’s research theme. I also mention software skills those I think are useful in his/her field. In the last paragraph, I briefly welcome the opportunity for an interview in any of his/her current and future projects with explicitly saying ‘funded PhD position’. Do you think that it’s a good approach?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 6, 2013 at 2:12 pm

      Hi there – you could try it and see if it works. To be honest it sounds like a bit more information that I’d want to see myself in a first contact (particularly the third paragraph), but these things are very subjective and that’s only my opinion. It might be perfectly suited to someone else.
      Good luck!

    Md Nurul Islam said:
    July 6, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    Thanks for your response! 🙂

    Akinade Samuel said:
    July 7, 2013 at 2:45 am

    Prof Faye, I find this information very useful and contains important facts thats prospective PhD students show less attention to. Currently am facing difficulty getting a PhD supervisor to work with in my area of research interest since there are few Professors working in that area (Financial Mathematics), should I consider diverting to other area of research and make it my second option.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 14, 2013 at 6:54 pm

      Hi Akinade – sorry, I’m not familiar with that specialty – so it’s pretty hard to advise you. I’d suggest talking to some of your previous professors – they might be able to advise you.
      Good luck!

    lisai9093 said:
    July 12, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Useful ideas for a prospective master student!! Thank you!

    Sidd said:
    July 13, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    Respected Mam i liked the way you guide for writing letter! Can you please help me in getting some samples of letter to Msc supervisors as I am an undergraduate student seeking admission in some of the Canadian Universities

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 14, 2013 at 7:06 pm

      Sorry – I don’t have any example letters. I hope the advice above gets you started at least. Good luck!

    Aseil Khalid said:
    July 16, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    You are really amazing dear professor
    thanks alot
    your information is really helpful

    Aseil from Iraq

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 17, 2013 at 7:35 pm

      Thanks! Glad you found it helpful! 🙂

    Karla Rivera said:
    July 19, 2013 at 9:47 am

    Greetings Prof. Faye Hicks,

    Thank you a lot for your post! making the first contact can be difficult and stressful if you dont know exactly what they want to hear. Yesterday I wrote to my first professor and I think I did a good job and followed your advice. Anyway I am worried that I might be to late to contact them since its already July and I know people start to do this earlier. But I really didn”t want to write to professors just to write to them, I really wanted to write to someone that shared my interest. I just want to hear your opinion, Do you think I should started this earlier?

    Thanks for your time,

    Karla from Puerto Rico

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 22, 2013 at 8:20 pm

      Hi there – the academic terms starts at different times in different countries – so you never know. If you are too late for this year, then you are plenty early for next year, at least. Generally, if a professor is interested, the will consider you for the first available upcoming term.
      Good luck!

    Shiva said:
    July 22, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Prof hicks..i contacted a professor who responded positively within an hour..he said ‘i would be happy to have you in my research group where we do research in x, y, and z. all the best with your application’. How should I respond back? Can I ask for more details about his latest research projects and whether any openings are there in the same? Also is it polite to send his mail to the graduate admissions mailbox so as to push my case for the application?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 22, 2013 at 8:23 pm

      Sure, i think it would be okay go ahead and respond to the professor with your questions in such a case. As for using his/her name in contacting the admissions office – I can’t see a case where that would help – and it might just annoy somebody – at least that would be the culture here in Canada. It might be different elsewhere…
      Good luck!

    Bhuvaneswari said:
    July 23, 2013 at 1:05 am

    thank you so much very useful 🙂

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 28, 2013 at 10:42 am

      Great – glad it was helpful! 🙂

    Bafana said:
    July 24, 2013 at 4:55 am

    Thank you so much Proff Hicks, I was finding it difficult to write proper emails when I want to apply for masters but this page has detailed everything that must be done. Thank you a lott

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 28, 2013 at 10:42 am

      Thanks for the kind word – glad you found it useful!

    Tadesse Alemayehu Belie said:
    July 28, 2013 at 5:29 am

    Hi Prof.Hicks,
    Many thanks for all these useful tips and guides!

    One question:
    I have just recieved a positive reply from a professor to be my potential PhD supervisor. He already has been awarded a grant for his project and advised me to start the application to the Graduate School if my interests align with his projects but didn’t mention anything about writing a research proposal. I am just wondering if I should ask him again about it during my second email. Or shall I start the application process listing him as a potential supervisor? By the way, I am planning to apply to a Canadian University. Thanks again”

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 28, 2013 at 10:49 am

      You’re welcome!

      Regarding your question – it really depends on the situation. Personally I never need, or want, proposals from prospective students. (This is because, in our program, students don’t actually write their thesis proposal until they have finished both their coursework and their literature review. However, this is not necessarily the case in all programs or universities.) My advice is that, if you have any questions, email the professor and ask for clarification. It’s best not to make any assumptions – it’s always better to have the correct facts.
      Good luck!

        Tadesse Alemayehu Belie said:
        July 29, 2013 at 4:04 am

        Thank you for the help, I really appreciate it.

        Faye Hicks responded:
        August 4, 2013 at 8:50 am

        You’re welcome – good luck!

    Zia said:
    August 2, 2013 at 11:15 am

    Hello FAYE! Thanks a lot for this trouble shooting manual for prospective research students. Here i would like to add that professors should not check letters from research students so critically. In my opinion a student writing poor context in such letters might have best analytical capabilities in research. If I would be a professor I only prefer the research hypothesis the prospective student have. The information you provided is really good and i learn much more about scientific communication. Last i would like to ask that How much i expend (in number of words) the mutual interest of PhD research project in letter to a professor?


      Faye Hicks responded:
      August 4, 2013 at 8:52 am

      Good luck with it – I’d keep it brief for the first letter.

    Ashraf Zia said:
    August 3, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    Experience is earned from mistakes and mistakes are avoided through Experience, thus creating a guideline for the younger one to avoid them.
    Thanks Professor for sharing with us your Experience. I really appreciate your post.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      August 4, 2013 at 8:53 am

      Glad you found it useful – thanks for commenting!

    Mostafa said:
    August 5, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    Thanks a lot Professor,
    I have followed the guidelines and got a fast reply from the professor asking me for the transcript and a draft research proposal, but i didn’t prepare one because i don’t have research experience in his field, my research experience is in another (yet related) but not the same and i wanted tostart working on the professor field in my phd.
    Should i tell him i don’t have a project in my mind? Or should i write a draft for any project and change it after that? Or what should i do?
    thanks again,

      Faye Hicks responded:
      August 8, 2013 at 3:52 am

      Personally, I would write to the professor and explain the situation honestly, and ask him/her this same question you have asked me here.
      However, that is just what I would do in your situation and not necessarily the best course of action – it really depends on the particular professor. Good luck!

    Dhaarsan said:
    August 8, 2013 at 3:43 am

    Thank you Professor Faye Hicks.
    I found it very helpful. you’ve given a really good guidance.
    Thanks again for the great piece of work.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      August 8, 2013 at 3:53 am

      Thanks! I’m glad you found it useful! Good luck!

    Evangelina said:
    August 15, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    Greetings Professor Hicks. I would like to thank you for all the information you share with us. I am a Greek graduate of Music Composition, and after following your advice I contacted the supervisor of my choice, wrote a research proposal and got accepted for a PhD at the University of Birmingham, UK. Your guidance has been the most helpful, so thank you again so much.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      August 17, 2013 at 6:54 am

      Thanks Evangelina – that is terrific to hear. Congratulations!

    Daniella said:
    August 22, 2013 at 10:32 am

    Professor Hicks, I am a Mexican science student in the process of getting admitted to a MSc program in the UK, this is extremely helpful and exactly what I needed to know right now! Thank you!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      August 24, 2013 at 6:22 am

      Thanks Daniella – I’m happy you found it useful!

    Muradul Islam said:
    August 26, 2013 at 3:15 am

    Wonderful post!

    I read many tips from various other higher study abroad websites on this topic. [Also I already sent 5 test emails to professors though my undergraduate is not completed yet 😀 . Most probably they are currently on any spam folder 😦 } But this one is special because it is directly from a professor.

    Some points I know very well now:

    1. Before emailing professors check university requirements and professors research interest. Do a primary research on them first.
    2. Write briefly but not so long.
    3. Attach your Academic details.

    Btw, I will follow your instructions at the time of emailing professors.

    And of course I will write “Prospective Msc student seeking to study river ice” if I email to you.LOL

    Thank you.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      August 31, 2013 at 8:47 am

      Glad you liked it! 🙂

    Bharath said:
    August 31, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Thank you very much for the post, Professor Hicks. What would a prospective supervisor be keen in a prospective student’s masters thesis? Would they be interested with just the relevance of the research topic? Or do they gauge the experience gained out of independent research conducted? I ask this because my master’s thesis and my current research interest for PhD are two different fields of study under the same umbrella. Thank you!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      September 3, 2013 at 7:52 pm

      I think that depends on the professor and the academic area you’re in. In my field, people often do something different for their PhD vs. MSc – for example experimental for one and numerical for the other. Or they work on something in a slightly different subject area. Most of us consider the MSc as just ‘learning to do research’ – the specific topic is not that important as long as it’s relevant (i.e. under the same umbrella). To be honest, the question of more relevant interest to me is always, “Was it published?” not what the specific topic was.
      Every area is different though – so this may not apply to your case.

        Bharath said:
        September 4, 2013 at 12:15 pm

        I belong to environmental studies and your reply clears my cloud of doubt over the choice I can make. Thank you very much for your sincere assistance, Professor Hicks. Much appreciated. 🙂

        Faye Hicks responded:
        September 8, 2013 at 9:31 am

        Thanks Bharath! 🙂

    jla said:
    September 4, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    Hello Faye, Thank you for this excellent advice-I will soon be embarking on this stage of the process and your post has made me somewhat less intimidated by it!

    I am especially intrigued that you’ve said to mention scholarship funding, this never would have crossed my mind. I am a minority student and will have at least partial funding through diversity scholarships and grants. Do you suggest I mention this partial funding? Thank you again!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      September 8, 2013 at 9:33 am

      Thanks Jla – glad you found the post useful. I would go ahead and mention any funding that you have in hand. It doesn’t hurt to mention scholarships you may get as well, but the ones that will matter most at this stage are the ones you have already secured. Best of luck!

        jla said:
        September 8, 2013 at 8:28 pm

        Thank you, Dr. Hicks!

    Radhika Yadav said:
    September 9, 2013 at 7:59 am

    Hello Faye,
    This post is really helpful for prospective students. I have one more question in my mind, as how to address a supervisor?
    Should I write “Dear Dr. XY Z”(Full Name) Or “Dear Dr. Z”.(Only last name).
    Waiting for your valuable comment.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      September 18, 2013 at 2:15 pm

      Hi there – this might vary depending upon what part of the world you are in, but in North America (and Europe too, I think) “Dear Dr. Z” (i.e. last name only) is the proper convention.

    Ayesha Shakoor (@aszrazvi) said:
    September 16, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    Hi Faye
    This was very informative and useful!
    One question though: Supposing one does not have funding available, what should one mention first to attract and retain attention of the potential supervisor?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      September 18, 2013 at 2:22 pm

      Hi there – The types of things that I would suggest would catch their attention include:
      1. high GPA – especially ranking first (or close to it) in undergrad and/or grad class
      2. Masters degree from one of the top 2 or 3 universities in your country, for your field
      3. mainstream journal publications from your Masters thesis
      4. conference publications/presentations from your Masters thesis
      5. scholarships you might be eligible for, or have applied for

    Ahsan said:
    September 19, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    Dear Dr. Faye,

    Your blog is very helpful for me. Thanks for writing such a nice blog.

    With a Bachelors degree, I did Masters (M.Eng) as well. Now I am doing my 2nd Masters (M.Eng). I don’t need funding. I want to convert my (M.Eng) into (M.Sc), but I am hesitating to write email to any professor as my first semester grades are just fulfilling minimum requirements of the university. I hope I will score much better in the next semester. Even If I don’t need an funding and with my grades just “okay”, will I be eligible to to convert my (M.Eng to M.Sc)?


      Faye Hicks responded:
      September 20, 2013 at 8:43 am

      Hi Ahsan -thanks for commenting – I’m glad you find this blog useful.

      Regarding your question – sorry, I really don’t know the answer to this. It’s something that depends on the polices of your university, as well as the department and professor(s) involved. I encourage you to go talk to the professor you hope to do this MSc with and ask him/her what your chances would be, and how to go about it. You can mention at that time that you are self-funded and I’m sure you’ll get the opportunity to tell him/her that you expect to earn better grades in the next semester. I do suggest you make an appointment rather than just dropping in for this chat though – that way you can be sure you’ll have time to have a proper discussion. Good luck!

    Divya Shiroor said:
    September 24, 2013 at 9:00 am

    Dear Dr. Hicks,
    Thank you for this wonderful blog and for taking time out to patiently answer each of your viewers questions. You have given me prompt and sound advice in the past and i was wondering if you could help me by answering another question i had. I have written to a couple of professors, taking care to conform to all of the above mentioned guidelines. I have approached only professors who are researching in an area which i have a background in, addressed them personally in the form of a short formal mail and provided necessary supporting documents with the mail. My academic and extra curricular background has been consistently strong and i when i sent out my emails i anticipated either a positive or a negative reply within a few days. I am still awaiting responses from most of them and am at a loss as to what i can do. Does no response mean that the professor is not interested? How long should i wait for a response? should i contact these professors again? I am still debating as to whether no news is actually bad news and i also have no idea as to how long a prospective applicant should wait. I was really hoping you could help me once again.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      September 27, 2013 at 9:35 am

      Thanks Divya for the kind comments. Regarding your question – I would say there are quite a few reasons a professor might not answer. These include:
      1.) It’s the wrong time of year and they are not actively recruiting students, so are ignoring these types of emails.
      2.) They never consider direct inquiries from prospective students. (They expect you to go through an admissions office.)
      3.) They just get a ton of emails every day and they never even noticed your email among these.
      4.) They were possibly interested and planned to answer but are really busy and just forgot.
      5.) They were not sufficiently interested to bother to reply.

      The average professor probably gets about a hundred emails a day – many get much more. Most get at least 2 or 3 from prospective grad students each day, some may get 10 or 20 (even more). Each prof deals with this in different ways – few will get back to you in less than a couple of weeks unless they are super interested.

      I would say that you have nothing to lose by contacting a professor a second time. If they meant to reply and didn’t – you will be reminding them and they’ll be glad. If they never meant to reply – what have you lost by trying a second time? They probably have forgotten your first email. However, I would check a couple of things before emailing them again…

      First – when does the academic year start? Don’t send it then. For example, at my university the academic terms starts in September and it’s an extremely busy time of year. We have all the new students, classes, etc. to deal with – the last thing I am interested in at this time of year is recruiting next year’s students. Give it a couple of months and it will be different – we start thinking about next year’s students in November. Similarly I am not interested in recruiting after, say, about February or March – it’s too late. We start sending offers by March or April because several months are typically needed to get student visas in time for September. So – my advice on timing is to send your emails to profs starting about 8 to 10 weeks after the start of their academic school year at that institution, and no later than about 6 months before then next school year starts. This window can vary in timing between universities, so it’s a good idea to do you research – often there is lots of info for prospective applicants on university web sites and it usually includes advice on timing for applications.

      Second – have you actually demonstrated an interest and/or experience in the research area that prof currently focusses on? If you don’t do this specifically, then you will not stand out from the crowd. If you think you have done this – check to be sure you’ve got the topic right. I often get emails from people who are looking at my papers form decades ago and are assuming I am still interested in those topics. You should be looking at the prof’s most recent publications to get an idea of what they are currently focusing on.

      Finally – don’t just send the same email again – and don’t send it a week later. Give it at least 2 to 3 weeks before making a repeat contact. Then put a new subject line – which includes the word ‘follow-up’ so they know you have contacted them before. Also – change the content of the email – to mention at the outset that you emailed them a few weeks ago and you are just sending this follow-up in case your previous email didn’t get through for some reason.

      Hope this helps! Good luck! 🙂

        jla said:
        September 27, 2013 at 12:46 pm

        Thank you, Dr. Hicks!
        This answers many of my questions as well. Your blog has been extremely helpful during my application process. More helpful then my own advisor! Thank you for always taking the time to answer our questions.

        Faye Hicks responded:
        September 30, 2013 at 7:51 am

        You’re welcome! 🙂

    Divya Shiroor said:
    September 30, 2013 at 8:44 am

    Thank you so very much Dr. Hicks. i love your blog and keep re-reading your posts whenever i get muddled. It is very reassuring and gives me a lot of clarity. Thank you for your prompt and detailed reply to my question.

    okereke chinyere said:
    October 9, 2013 at 7:00 am

    This is completely amazing..thank you professor.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 9, 2013 at 8:07 am

      Thanks – glad you liked it! 🙂

    Mrugank Bhatt said:
    October 10, 2013 at 6:21 am

    Dear Dr. Hicks,

    Thank you so much for the information that you have provided. I am preparing my application for the graduate studies and your blog really helped me on how to contact my prospective supervisor.

    I am currently an undergraduate and I am applying for MS+ PhD programs in US universities. Can you help me a little with the specifics regarding how an undergraduate should write for the potential supervisor?I understand that all the points listed above applies to me, too. In the last paragraph you have briefly stated about undergraduate seeking the masters, but I would be grateful if you have any further suggestions on it. In my case I would be willing to do both Master’s and PhD under the same supervisor.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 12, 2013 at 11:38 am

      Hi Mrugank – thanks for the nice comments – I’m glad you found the post useful. I can’t think of anything in particular to add for undergrads – are there perhaps some specific questions you would like me to address?

        Mrugank Bhatt said:
        October 12, 2013 at 11:55 am

        I want to keep it short and to the point.. will it be appropriate if I mention my purpose and brief overview of my research background in 2 paragraphs and for my detailed research and academic work I give a link to my research web page?

        Faye Hicks responded:
        October 12, 2013 at 12:26 pm

        Sounds like a reasonable plan – however, I would keep those 2 paragraphs short. I suggest that you focus on what is specifically relevant to the person you are writing to. 🙂

    Sanjay said:
    October 11, 2013 at 11:31 am

    Dear Prof.Hicks,

    Thank you so much for this article.It’s a great help.However,I wanted a piece of advice from you.

    I will begin by briefly telling you about my background.I have a 4 years Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering with first class distinction.I have worked independently on aerospace specific projects.I also have a year of research experience as an intern in an internationally well-known lab in aerospace propulsion.I tutored science & math to high school students for a year,assisted final year engineering student in their projects using commercial CAD/CAE software.

    Last year,I got into an MSc Space engineering program in a reputed university in EU with a merit scholarship but things didn’t turn out to be as accepted.The program was course-based entirely,repetition of what I have already covered in my bachelors,contrary to what was promised and lecture delivery was not entirely in English with no classroom participation at all.

    Eventually I lost my interest.I wanted to leave the program earlier but according to the terms and condition of the scholarship I had to stay till the end of academic year.I tried my best to develop interest but I couldn’t. So,I quit and did not earn any credits for the courses.Besides,all 5 of the foreign students quit the program too.I feel I wasted a year.Although,I shouldn’t feel it that way since I got to travel extensively all over EU and experience different cultures.It was a great experience in a way.

    But this experience taught me that it is very essential to have a good ‘fit’ between the university/research group and the prospective student.I also realized that I want to join a research oriented program where I select specific courses which will complement my research and give me opportunities to hone my skills.

    Now,I’m hoping to apply for MS/PhD in Aerospace engineering in US.How do I explain the reasons for quitting the program in my personal essay without sounding like someone who is too picky with too high expectations? Does it ruin my chances of getting an admit? I’m worried.When I applied to that university I felt I had done enough research on that program but unfortunately it was not through enough.I know I made a wrong decision and I learnt my lesson.I only wished I had known before.

    What would be the right and honest thing to do? Please advice.


      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 12, 2013 at 11:43 am

      Hi Sanjay – I think the important thing to keep in mind is that you need to be honest – as this is the most important characteristic anyone ever has to offer academically. Having said that, this history is not something you necessarily need to get into in the first email – it’s probably getting too detailed. (At least it would be for me.) However, if the professor does write back expressing interest, it would be most important to let him/her know about this right away in your second email.
      I wouldn’t worry too much about it – this sort of thing happens more than you might expect. It certainly wouldn’t be a ‘deal-breaker’ for me.
      Good luck!

    KT said:
    October 23, 2013 at 11:19 am

    I found your advice vey useful although I have a few more questions to ask. First of all I am a B.S. final year student in Biotechnology and intend to apply for a PhD studentship. Luckily I came across such an scholarship offered by a prestigious institute for a topic much relevant to my research interest. However, I don’t have any undergraduate research experience and the specific topic belongs to an emerging field for which no undergraduate course is available but I have done a relevant online course through Coursera. Do I still have a chance to avail this studentship? Furthermore, they have asked for a CV and cover letter. I have written some fair assignments relevant to this topic due to my personal interest, should I include them in the CV? Also, they have given an email address of one of their HR personnel to forward our documents to, should I still contact the laboratory PI?
    Kindly advice me regarding the above mentioned issues.
    Thank you.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 26, 2013 at 8:24 am

      Hi there – Sorry I cannot really advise you on what your chances are – you really just need to apply to find out. In terms of your related course experience, I suggest you include the course in the CV and the details of the relevant assignments in the cover letter. (You might also want to check out my post on writing cover letters.) As for whether you should contact the PI directly, as well – again, I really don’t know – it would depend on what their policy is. If they don’t explicitly say not to contact the PI – then it might be a good idea to try emailing and ask these other questions of the PI before you apply. It would serve the dual purpose of introducing you to the PI and would also help you to submit the best possible application package. Good luck!

    Angyee said:
    November 5, 2013 at 6:47 am

    Hi Faye, This was most useful. Thank you very much. I am interested in applying for a PhD (in social sciences though). I have an idea of what I want to do and I have prepared a proposal. I am still open to other researches within the same area. Is it advisable to attach my proposal in my initial correspondence with a potential supervisor and state that I am open to research in their areas of interest as it aligns with my interest?
    Also, for the programmes I am applying for 2 supervisors are assigned. I have identified potential supervisors whose area of interest lies where I am interested in researching.
    1. Do I contact only two supervisors initially?
    2. If I contact only 2 to ascertain interest, do I let each know that I have also contacted the other as a potential supervisor as I am aware that I will be assigned 2 supervisors?

    Kindly advise,
    Thank you

      Faye Hicks responded:
      November 6, 2013 at 12:27 pm

      Hi Angyee – – as you probably noticed, personally I am not keen to see proposals, especially on first contact (for all of the reasons I outlined in the post above), but it may be different in your field of expertise. Keep in mind, you are essentially writing a cover letter to a potential employer (especially if you are going to need financial support), so it not at all about whether they fit with your interests, it’s whether you fit with theirs. If you are too specific about what you are looking to do in your first contact, you might run the risk of putting them off because they are not interested in what you want to do. Really – you need to do some research and find out exactly what it is that they do – then write a letter to any that do fit with your interests.

      In terms of your other question – I am not sure really what to tell you as it depends how it works there. For example, do these two professors have to be people who regularly collaborate? (It seems odd that they would leave it to you to choose two professors and then make those professors co-supervise you.) Perhaps you might start with contacting one person and asking them what the typical procedure is? I think if you do contact more than one professor in the same group, you do need to make that absolutely clear to both of them. However, it’s possible that each will assume the other has answered – and won’t bother to do so themselves. (Not ideal.) So I suggest you start early and contact one person at a time.

    Hajar said:
    November 7, 2013 at 3:24 am

    Have you any suggestion for applying together with our spouse!! My husband and I are planning to attend in a same school. how should we contact with the potential supervisor?? Do we have to mention this in our first email? Do we have to send emails separately?? How can we improve our chance to get admitted in same place???

      Faye Hicks responded:
      November 7, 2013 at 7:11 am

      Hi there – I would suggest you both apply to professors individually. If/when one of you finds a professor keen to recruit you, then ask that professor if they, or a colleague, might be interested in recruiting your spouse. You could try applying together, but that doesn’t alway work as well. If only one gets a position, you might want to take it – the other has a very good chance of getting on the following year (especially if they volunteer to work with a professor in the meantime). We have had many couples go through our program in this manner – it’s just easier to get in if you are right there and your spouse is already in the program.
      Good luck!

    Viswanath said:
    January 8, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Dear Prof. Hicks, this is a wonderful post and thanks for sharing. One of my prospective PhD advisor has responded positively and discussed about what possible works I can perform in his laboratory, but never assured me regarding the admission. How to ask him politely about the assurance of admission?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 11, 2014 at 12:28 pm

      Hi there – thanks for commenting – I’m glad you found this useful. 🙂
      Regarding your question – at most universities admissions are handled by an administrative group, not directly by the professors. So, I would start by looking at the website for the Department you’ve applied to, or the university’s Faculty of Graduate Studies web site. They usually have information on procedures, as well as info on what to expect in terms of the application/admission process. If you haven’t yet formally applied, then you should contact the professor for advice on how to formally apply. If you have formally applied, you could still email the professor and ask for information on who you might contact to get an update on the status of your application.
      Good luck!

    […] Reblogged from The Art of Scientific Communication: […]

    Judith de Mel said:
    January 16, 2014 at 7:12 am

    Dear Professor,
    If a prospective student has not decided on exactly what he/she wants to pursue his/her degree, but wants to explore possibilities of getting accepted, Do you think it is good to ask professors about their work first?
    Won’t they find it disrespectful when a student who has passion for maybe a multiple subjects write to them, asking for guidance? We all understand that they are busy, sometimes, personally, I hesitate to contact professors whose work excites me, simply because I feel terrible to have disturbed them unnecessarily. Please advice. Thank you!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 17, 2014 at 12:49 pm

      Hi Judith – it depends on the professor, I guess. I suggest you first do some research on the particular professors you plan to write to (e.g. read a few of their recent papers), so that you can formulate some specific questions. I would expect that the less specific your questions, the less likely they would be to respond.
      Good luck! 🙂

    Abhilasha said:
    January 16, 2014 at 8:55 pm

    I am so grateful to you for this post Professor Hicks! I had one question though. I wrote few mails to professors during Christmas season. I am afraid, they didn’t read my mails. I want to send reminder mails now. How should a reminder mail be? I will be really thankful if you could reply 🙂

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 17, 2014 at 12:51 pm

      Hi Abhilasha – It is a busy time of year – so it’s possible your emails went unnoticed. I think it would be reasonable to follow up with a polite email; however, you might want to wait another week or two, as things tend to be quite hectic at the start of any academic term.
      Good luck! 🙂

    renuka said:
    January 20, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    Hello Professor,
    Thank you so much for this informative post. I followed your advice while contacting the professors and most of them replied. I had some questions regarding this. Firstly, I had mailed some professors of the same department and one faculty directly stated that she does not have funding whilt the other said you should first apply to the graduate program to be considered. So should I apply such universities where the faculty of same department provides different opinion. Also my second question is that most of the replies i got from the professor were : In order to give serious consideration to your application you should apply to the graduate program and there was no discussion beyond this point. So should I again contact them after applying? Regards

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 31, 2014 at 8:43 am

      Hi there – sorry for the delay responding. In response to your questions – the situation varies from university to university and there are usually various sources of money (e.g. research grants, internal scholarships, etc.) – so funding for student’s pay might come from the university or from the professor. The university money might be gone, and one professor might still have grant money available while another might not – that would explain why you got different answers about the funding. I would let that discourage you from applying – likely there is still some money if one professor was encouraging about that. As for applying only and not contacting professors – this too varies from university to university. In some cases the professors might not welcome direct contact from students, if that’s the case it’s important to stick to the formal process as instructed. Good luck!

    Julia said:
    February 23, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    Hi Professor Hicks,

    I applied to a couple of PhD programs. One is in the UK and I spoke to a supervisor beforehand since I needed to apply with a specific research proposal. For the program in the US, I listed a few different research interests in my personal statement and submitted my application.
    I know there are professors there that can supervise some of my interests, but I did not contact them because I thought it was a bit early and presumptuous.

    But now, I keep hearing that I should have. Is it too late to contact them after you’ve applied and is it really awful not to have contacted anyone in the first place?

    Thank you,

      Faye Hicks responded:
      February 26, 2014 at 8:39 am

      I don’t think it’s necessarily too late to contact them. However, it would depend upon the particular university’s polices and procedures. I would say it’s worth a try and, particularly if they expect it, not contacting anyone might mean that your application does not move forward. Good luck!

    Sebastian said:
    February 23, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    Hello Professor Hicks,
    First of all, thank you for this blog, it’s absolutely amazing.
    This might be a trivial question, but i was just about to send a cover letter to a prospective phd supervisor when i started to wonder whether it’s more appreciated if the cover letter is within the email itself or attached to the email (I really don’t want to do anything wrong here). Typing it directly into the email would certainly be faster for the professor to read it, but is it style-wise appropriate?
    Kind regards,

      Faye Hicks responded:
      February 26, 2014 at 8:41 am

      Hi Sebastian – thanks for the nice comments – I’m glad you found it useful.
      Regarding your question – many professors do not open attachments from people they don’t know because of the risk of getting a computer virus. So I would suggest your first contact should be in the body of an email. Good luck!

    Vivek said:
    March 1, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    Hello Madam,
    I have been working last 10 years as scientist in reputed biotech company. i have experience and interest in molecular biology research. i am intend to do PhD in UK OR Germany. i have done my BSc and MSc in Zoology, unfortunately my grades are not very good specially in masters. The only plus point is my work experience. i would like you to advice me, how do i approach professor? and what are my chances to get PhD

      Faye Hicks responded:
      March 7, 2014 at 5:58 pm

      Hi Vivek – I really can’t tell you what your chances are; however, if it’s something you really want, you will never know until you try! 🙂
      I’d approach the professor exactly as I describe in this post, and let your enthusiasm shine through. Hopefully they will think that the experience you’ve gained in between makes up for the lower grades early on. Good luck!

    Kay said:
    March 11, 2014 at 3:29 am

    Reblogged this on Everyday Issues and commented:
    Very good advice, thank you!

    Kay said:
    March 11, 2014 at 3:34 am

    Greetings Faye, ‘

    Just wanted to thank your for writing this nice and very insightful piece of advice. Hope it is ok to reblog. I just couldn’t help my self.

    Kindest regards,


      Faye Hicks responded:
      March 18, 2014 at 8:03 am

      Absolutely! Thanks Kay!!! 🙂

    Dr. Najmul Islam Sabbir said:
    March 14, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    Hello Faye,
    Glad to have your suggestion. It’s really really helpful to understand specially for those who are preparing their initial step like me. I made a demo email for Master’s in Surgical Oncology in University of British Columbia. If you don’t mind, Can I show that to you for your experienced suggestion?

    Thank you
    Dr. Najmul Islam Sabbir

      Faye Hicks responded:
      March 18, 2014 at 8:02 am

      Hi there – glad you found it useful. Sorry, I don’t have time to give personal consultations for individuals.

    Yimy Sarkis said:
    March 26, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    You say that it’s important to demonstrate an interest in their (supervisor) research projects, not simply to dictate your own research interests to them. But how do I now what is the specific project that he is working on or wants to work with?

    And what do you recommend for an international student to improve his chances to get notice in the letter?

    Hope you can help me in this query.

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      March 31, 2014 at 9:36 pm

      Hi there – see my answer to this where you first asked it.

    Yimy Sarkis said:
    March 27, 2014 at 12:21 am

    I am an undergraduate International student and I can apply for an scholarship aid from my country to pay the tuition fees of the graduate program in Canada, but first I need a letter of acceptance from the University prior to be considered for the scholarship from my country, but this does not necessarily assure me the scholarahip, if I write this on my email it will improve my chances of getting admitted?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      March 31, 2014 at 9:37 pm

      Possibly – a lot depends on your academic record and references.

    Soheil Salimi said:
    April 1, 2014 at 12:12 am

    Dear Dr. Hicks,
    I’m so grateful to you for your remarkable , fabulous ideas which you’ve shared with rest of the world to help all students!
    As a “Prospective MSc. student seeking to study Hydraulics or maybe Environmental Engineering”, I would like to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to you for your outstanding lessons you taught me through this article!

    Best regards,
    Soheil Salimi

      Faye Hicks responded:
      April 26, 2014 at 12:51 pm

      Thanks Soheil! 🙂

    yesica said:
    April 18, 2014 at 7:56 am

    Hello Faye:
    I’am so grateful to you for this post Professor Faye. I am interested in applying for a PhD. I am from mexico,and I’ll obtaining my master degree in 2 months my question is do I have to mention this in my first email?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      April 26, 2014 at 12:53 pm

      Hi Yesica – I would mention it – it is really useful information. Good luck!

    Shubham said:
    May 2, 2014 at 1:01 am

    Hello Prof. Hicks 🙂 Thank you soooooo very much for such a beautiful article. I am about to start with the process of contacting a supervisor for MSc (Neuroscience). I have two queries:
    1) I wish work with Dr. X in an university in Canada. I mean to say, she is the only person I am willing to work under. I really liked her work and want to be a part of her research. Do you think it is wise if I contact just her, and not any other supervisor of other university?
    2) I have one publication in an average repute journal, but, the work was not at all relevant to what Dr. X is working on (neither what I want to do in MSc). Do you think it makes good idea to attach my published paper to the email? She is neuroscientist and my paper is on ecotoxicology. By the way, I am the first as well as corresponding author for that paper.
    Kindly guide me regarding this.
    Thank you so much!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 11, 2014 at 9:46 am

      Sorry for the delay responding. I think you really have to decide for yourself how to go about it. However, you should ask yourself what happens if this particular professor doesn’t take you on. It might not be a bad idea to have a backup plan.

      You could send along the paper – just keep in mind that most people are hesitant to open attachments from strangers. Given that the topic is not relevant, you might just offer to send it if she would like to see it.
      Good luck!

    sonia said:
    June 16, 2014 at 7:48 am

    I am currently trying to get a supervisor and I haven’t gotten any positive response. I want to apply for masters in anatomy … and all the supervisiors have topics there are currently working on in there labs… is there any need for me to get a topic, because I have no topic in mind? please am really looking forward to your responds…

      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 27, 2014 at 5:47 am

      Hi there – sorry for the delay responding – I just moved and was out of touch for a few weeks.

      It’s difficult to give you a definitive answer – in my field we prefer that you do not already have a topic in mind but this is not a universal situation. I would suggest you simply write a few professors and ask them. Keep your email brief and to the point – focus on getting the answer to this specific question – then you can look at further contact if you get positive responses.

    sun alliance home insurance said:
    June 27, 2014 at 4:38 am

    Excellent post. I was checking continuously this blog and
    I am impressed! Very helpful info particularly the last part 🙂 I care for such info much.

    I was looking for this certain information for a very long time.
    Thank you and best of luck.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 27, 2014 at 5:48 am

      Thanks! I am so glad you found it helpful! 🙂

    Beti said:
    July 28, 2014 at 4:47 am

    Hi, thanks so much for the helpful information. I would be more grateful if you could put a sample latter considered as a good one. Thanks!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 28, 2014 at 6:14 pm

      That is difficult to do for a few reasons. First it is very case and situation dependent. Second, different potential supervisors might like different styles. Finally, if I make up a good letter (from my perspective) many readers will just adapt my letter. The goal here is to find someone you connect with – so the best letter is one personalized to you. Follow the suggestions above and keep it brief – but most important, let your true self shine through. Good luck!

    Md. Shariar Siddiqui said:
    August 8, 2014 at 7:45 am

    I would like to thank you for this constructive article over such an important subject. I am trying to find a supervisor for master’s program. I think this article will guide me to write my prospective supervisor. Here, you have told to keep the personal details as short as possible. I would like to know how much should I write about my personal information. Whether I should include my previous academic records and my job experiences. How should I start the mail? Should I introduced me first or start with expressing my research interest? Is it worth to let the professor know about any unfinished program like master’s program that has been started but not finished.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      August 13, 2014 at 4:01 pm

      I would suggest you could introduce yourself briefly – your academic record is the most relevant. Job experiences are less so – you could leave them for later. I’d suggest including a 3 or 4 sentence summary – it’s best to include all programs complete or not. That’s just my own opinion though. As for research interests – suffice to say you’re interested in whatever the prof is working on and has funding for. If you’re not, then you’re writing to the wrong person. Good luck!

    Yichuan Song said:
    August 11, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    Hi, thanks for your article. Can you tell me what is the appropriate way to inform the professor that I do not need the financial aid (in the beginning of the email)? I would really appreciate your help.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      August 13, 2014 at 4:03 pm

      I would just say first what program you are interested in, then I would suggest you say that you have your own funding and provide a sentence or two explaining where it is from, for how long, and how much it is. Good luck!

    Faye Hicks responded:
    August 13, 2014 at 3:56 pm


    Ana said:
    September 9, 2014 at 5:39 am

    Hi, Thank you for useful information. I have a question. After I received a negative answer from a professor, is it fine if I ask him for recommendation or to introduce me another professor with related topic?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      September 15, 2014 at 5:51 am

      Hi Ana – you could try but I would suspect that they would have made that suggestion already if they could. The best way to find names is to research the web pages for the professors at various universities and find the people who are working in your field of interest. Also, it is usually much easier to get a positive response from a young/new professor than from an older more established professor. These young/new professors are a great untapped resource for aspiring PhD students – they are keen, energetic and have much more time to spend per student since they usually have fewer students.

    Harpreet said:
    October 1, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Prof Hicks
    This post was really helpful. I contacted my prospective advisor stating my research interests. I got an instant reply. The Prof. asked me to apply to the graduate program and contact him for further queries. He also put my email “cc” to the chair of graduate admissions. Should I consider this as a positive response and continue to contact him? I didn’t include my CV in the first email.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 2, 2014 at 5:34 pm

      It’s hard to say as each university tends to handle things slightly differently. You could always email the professor and ask. Good luck!

    Harpreet said:
    October 2, 2014 at 6:04 am

    Prof Hicks
    I have yet another question. Should I explain a bad score to the advisor in the second email. I already got a response to the first email.
    Thanks a lot

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 2, 2014 at 5:40 pm

      Assuming the professor has seen your transcript and already knows about it, then you could wait until s/he asks for an explanation. If s/he hasn’t seen this bad grade yet, then you should let them know about all of your grades (good and bad) when they are requested. It’s important to provide complete info (such as transcripts) as it is requested. It’s also important not to bombard the professor with emails. Hope that helps.

        Harpreet said:
        October 2, 2014 at 7:49 pm

        Thanks a lot 🙂

    Report Elo Boosting Lol said:
    October 17, 2014 at 12:49 am

    This site was… how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I’ve found something which helped me.
    Thank you!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 23, 2014 at 5:18 am

      Thanks – glad you found it useful! 🙂

    Aysha said:
    October 21, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    Hello Dr. Hicks,

    Thank you for this extremely informative and helpful post! I’m currently preparing my documents in order to approach potential PhD. supervisors for a meeting to find out more about the work being done in their labs. I have a few questions regarding the same.

    1. Is it necessary to include research interests or a short blurb about my background and skills in my CV?
    2. You mention in the post that the email itself serves as a cover letter. Is it alright to highlight some of my achievements/awards in the email then?
    3. Should I send them a copy of posters I have presented?
    4. Do I need to send them my official transcripts at this point?

    Thank you!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 23, 2014 at 5:25 am

      Hi Aysha – as I mention above – you don’t want to get too lengthy in the first email. Also, keep in mind my advice against including attachments in this first contact. Regarding specifying research interests – find out what their research interest are and state that you are interested in the same. (If you’re not – you’re approaching the wrong person). You could have a brief paragraph about your background and awards in this first email (keeping to the size limitations that I describe above). You could list the number of refereed journal papers, conference papers and posters, you have published in this brief paragraph. You could close by saying that you could provide copies of these, your cv and/or your transcripts if they are interested. Then you can let them tell you exactly what they want.
      Of course, all of this is very case specific… I suggest you re-read the above post for more detail on these suggestions. Much of this was covered above.

    Yousif Ashwal said:
    November 27, 2014 at 12:38 am

    Reblogged this on YousifAshwal.

    Patrick Omoniyi said:
    January 19, 2015 at 8:20 am

    Dear Prof. Hicks,

    Thank you for these insights on writing prospective supervisors. I have read all the blogs above, it is quite educative. I will apply them as I continue the process of securing PhD admission with funding from a Canadian University. I will surely come back to this platform to share my testimony. Thanks.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 19, 2015 at 8:45 am

      Thanks Patrick – so glad you found them useful!
      Good luck! 🙂

    […] have two websites about that subject, you can link here and here. But in short I can say […]

    giulia said:
    April 15, 2015 at 11:08 am

    Dear Prof Hicks,

    Thank you very much for this inspiring post. I am now approaching the end of my PhD and starting looking for a PostDoc position. I would like to contact a prospective supervisor who is working on a research project that fascinates me.
    However, I have done some research and there are no open positions in his lab at the moment.
    Moreover, the type of research he is conducting (Clinical Neuroscience) deviates considerably from my PhD (Experimental Psychology), although it is more in line with my Master degree (Neuroscience).
    Hence, first I need to convince him that the research skills achieved during my PhD combine with my theoretical background and strong enthusiasm, making myself an excellent candidate for working with his team. Second… I need to convince him to hire me.
    Do you think this is feasible? And, in that case, do you have any specific tip in order to capture his interest in the first (and, hopefully not-sole) email I am going to send him?
    I thank you for you time.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      April 16, 2015 at 5:07 pm

      It really difficult to say – especially since I know nothing about your science. If he truly has no open positions, then it may not be possible. If it is a matter of funding then one possibility would be to seek out and apply for any post-doc fellowship funding you might be eligible for. Most academics could/would find work for a post-doc that comes with their own funding. You may even find something out there that the two of you could apply for together – even if you don’t get it, the application process might help you to get a foot on the door. Good luck!

    giulia said:
    April 17, 2015 at 4:18 am

    thank you very much for your suggestion. I’ll do my best and definitely use this post as a guide through this tough job-search process.

    okpalaonwuka chinelo said:
    May 5, 2015 at 2:53 am

    thank you so much prof. i think i am good to go now.

    raaga said:
    May 13, 2015 at 6:27 am

    dear mam,
    recently I gave an interview for Phd. There another professor showed interest to take me as a PhD though he didn’t said directly but he was helping me in giving answers during interview. As I had written another professor’s name but during interview he was showing that he is not interested. I thought there is only one vacancy as they advertised so I didn’t proceed.Result has already come of that interview and they selected three candidates. Now when i read whole profile of the professor I found myself intersted in her research.Should I contact that professor atleast once or should I leave here and move ahead. Please guide me.

      raaga said:
      May 15, 2015 at 12:32 am

      please mam, I would highly appreciate yours suggestions in this perspective.
      Thanking you

        Faye Hicks responded:
        May 15, 2015 at 5:05 am

        Sorry for the delay – see my response posted below our original query.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      May 15, 2015 at 5:04 am

      Sorry – your account is confusing – I cannot really follow it. If you have interviewed for a position, been offered it, and have decided to decline, the important thing is to let them know as soon as possible. If, during that process you found another, better prospect, you could contact the new professor to see if they are interested, but they may be reluctant if a colleague wants you. That’s a tricky situation and it’s important to be open and honest with everyone involved.

    raaga said:
    May 15, 2015 at 7:29 am

    Thanks mam for your concrete suggestion. I will surely try to contact another professor and will try to remain honest and open during this period.

    Zahra said:
    June 12, 2015 at 12:41 am

    Dear Prof Hicks,

    Thanks a lot for your useful post.
    But I have a question. In master, it was mandatory for me to choose a subject. but now for phd I want to select another subject. therefore my background is not relevant to what I want to do in the future and to my interest (although its not totally irrelevant!). You mentioned that the relevance between your background and future program is important, now what should I do?
    I mean should I continue my study with the subject I don’t like?

    Thank you

      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 13, 2015 at 6:48 am

      Lots of people change their subject area slightly between the two – it helps to broaden your knowledge. In writing about your background, you can make note of the skills and knowledge you bring forward from that experience that will help you in the next phase of your education.

    Vin said:
    July 8, 2015 at 2:51 am

    Dear Prof. Hicks,

    I am a prospective MEng applicant to a University in Canada. I have been asked to find a supervisor for application to go through. I have a bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering and look forward to doing my MEng in Mechanical Engineering specialize in Hydraulic Systems, Fluid Power and Thermal.
    In my past applications (which I couldn’t join due to my work schedule) to Universities I never had to seek a supervisor for the MEng program where I received straight offers of Admission. This time I applied to a different University and they want me to find a supervisor. I’m seriously at a loss here and I do not know how do I go about getting this done. What do I have to cite when I approach a Supervisor/Professor other than points like research interests (despite my Program of choice being Non-research coursework). I’m not looking for any funding either and I’m confident that I can support myself throughout the program financially.

    Kindly advise.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 13, 2015 at 2:40 am

      The advice posted here applies to that situation, as well. Keep it short and be sure to mention that you don’t need funding.
      If you are not sure who to approach, then I would email all of the professors in that group (individually). Good luck!

    August 9, 2015 at 7:14 am


      Faye Hicks responded:
      August 10, 2015 at 4:09 am

      Thank-you! I’m so glad you found it useful – good luck! 🙂

    Nazim Uddin said:
    August 12, 2015 at 8:07 pm

    Hi Faye, Thanks a lot for the very interesting, excellent and useful post! Recently me and one of my professors got a funding for continuing my Post-Doctoral Research. Do I need any IELTS/TOEFL score to get formally admission at the Canadian university? What is the common scenario in Canada?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      August 20, 2015 at 4:53 am

      Hi Nazim – I can’t tell you anything specific, as each university has its own protocols. However, you typically need to demonstrate English or French (depending on the province and university) language competency to gain admission. It is best to check each university individually – most have the specific requirement (e.g. a specific TOEFL score) posted on one of their web pages.

        Nazim Uddin said:
        August 26, 2015 at 8:20 pm

        Thanks a lot Faye for your response and suggestion. I will check with the university.

    Odetola Tony said:
    November 12, 2015 at 6:41 am

    The article is quite insightful and inspiring. Thanks for the effort put into writing this and sharing your personal experience. Cheers

      Faye Hicks responded:
      November 12, 2015 at 3:07 pm

      Thanks! I am so glad you found it useful. 🙂

    Bodeh said:
    December 24, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    Dear Prof Kicks, I am glad to have come across this interesting and useful article. I can now see why many professors have not been replying my emails. The impression from Africa is that most of the professors are not interested in recruiting applicants from this continent so to say.I will go back and follow your advise, and I will contact you again if I eventually have any difficulties. Once again, thanks for this article!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      December 26, 2015 at 8:00 pm

      Glad to hear you found it useful – best of luck! 🙂

    Isaac said:
    January 27, 2016 at 8:51 am

    Thanks for the guidelines, Prof. Hicks. I’m glad to have come across it.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 27, 2016 at 10:00 am

      Thanks Isaac – I’m happy you found it useful!

    Nandhinni chowdary said:
    February 14, 2016 at 10:55 pm

    Hello hicks.., I am very thankful to this useful article about research, can you please help me out how do I start my process for phd in germany

      Faye Hicks responded:
      February 17, 2016 at 10:26 am

      Sorry – I am in Canada – no idea about the specifics for Germany.

    antibunga said:
    March 6, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    Reblogged this on antibunga and commented:
    Superb. Nice advice to begin. Thank You..

    Khairul said:
    March 18, 2016 at 11:26 pm

    Hi Prof,

    Should i write the subject line “Request for PhD Supervision”. or “Application for PhD Supervision”. Which one is the most suitable subject line to approach the potential SV?.


      Faye Hicks responded:
      March 20, 2016 at 5:08 pm

      I would suggest, “Prospective PhD student interested in …” with “…” being replaced with the general research interest area of the professor (based on your research of his/her work). Of course the research area should be of interest to you, too – or you’re writing to the wrong professor. 🙂
      Good luck!

    Shakti Chandra Mondal said:
    May 22, 2016 at 3:50 am

    Hello Professor Hicks,
    Is it necessary to sent research proposal to the professor during sending first email? Even academic transcript is also a huge document (may be professor will be boring to read them) then only CV can be sent or transcript is necessary?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 17, 2016 at 2:18 pm

      Sorry for the delay responding. As I mentioned above, I would hold off on sending big attachments. Maybe make first contact and let them know that you have this info available to send and wait to see if they are interested in looking at it.
      Good luck!

    zia said:
    June 12, 2016 at 2:08 am

    Hello Professor,
    Its immense pleasure to let you know that I followed your guideline in 2013 and wrote to multiple supervisors across the world including UK, Germany, South Korea, Singapore. 90% of the time I got response and got admission in various Universities. I strongly recommend this post to every beginner who is on admission hunt. Every time someone asks me about how to get admission I recommend your post.
    Am really grateful to you for writing this wonderful post and sharing the secrets.
    Many Thanks

      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 17, 2016 at 2:20 pm

      That is wonderful – congratulations! I’m so glad that you found this helpful!

    Faye Hicks responded:
    June 21, 2016 at 5:55 pm

    Thanks! 😀

    Ali Haider Saleem said:
    July 8, 2016 at 11:36 am

    Reblogged this on The world around us.

    Basharat said:
    July 10, 2016 at 5:11 am

    Dear Faye
    Its an informative post for new researchers. I done my M.phil in social science . I have sent many letters for professors to supervise my p.hD.but there was no response still . I almost followed the steps you have mentioned in your blog.kindly guide me if you dont mind

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 13, 2016 at 3:25 pm

      Hi there – in the end, it comes down to your qualifications and how well you might fit with the profs you are contacting. The letter/email is your opportunity to make that case briefly. If you are not getting responses, perhaps you need to search for a better fit or upgrade your qualifications (if possible). Good luck!

    Asad Naqvi said:
    July 19, 2016 at 3:28 am

    Usually I write a short email giving highlights of my academic and research career. In attachments, I provide a detailed cover letter and my resume. Is this a good practice? or should I just improve my email (letter) to profs. and leave an extended cover letter.

    Please help me.

    Many thanks

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 19, 2016 at 3:33 am

      Hi there – if that approach is working for you then that is great. However, if it is not getting you the replies you were hoping for, I suggest you try the approach I have outlined above. Good luck!

    Quddus said:
    July 22, 2016 at 7:56 am

    Thank you professor,very nice article,it will help us..Professor do you have any sample letter for more guidance..

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 26, 2016 at 6:07 am

      Sorry, I don’t at this time but I plan to add some in the coming months.

    Quddus said:
    July 22, 2016 at 8:02 am

    Nice Article..I am seeking for a Master’s program, Professor do you have any sample letter for further guidance..

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 26, 2016 at 6:07 am

      Sorry, I don’t at this time but I plan to add some in the coming months.

    Muxyidin Sayid said:
    October 26, 2016 at 1:13 am

    Amazing advise. A friend asked me about the concept and I could not believe my eyes when I saw this. Thank you

    Anchuz Bourne said:
    December 7, 2016 at 9:15 am
    Njoya Eva said:
    January 8, 2017 at 11:06 pm

    Thanks very much Professor. This is more than a new year gift.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 9, 2017 at 4:45 am

      You’re welcome! So glad you found it useful! 🙂

    Shakti Mondal said:
    January 11, 2017 at 3:56 am

    Some times I am puzzled which one is his/her first name. What should I do then?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 13, 2017 at 8:15 am

      It’s often difficult to tell – in emailing professors in North America (and Europe too, I believe) it is probably safest to use the second name. When in doubt (or always in fact), I suggest you preface the name with Dr. That way, if you get the first name instead of the last name, it still sounds formal and respectful.

    July 9, 2017 at 2:09 am

    Nice one..I am seeking for a PhD program, Professor do you have any sample letter. I choosed my area as wireless networks but i dont have any proposal with me. . how to approach supervisor in abroad without topic?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 11, 2017 at 5:29 pm

      Hi there – as discussed i nthe post, many professors would rather suggest a topic to you, so I wouldn’t worry.
      If you would like to see examples – please click here.

    Mulalo said:
    July 13, 2017 at 4:01 am

    You are the best. Thank you very much.

    Stefania said:
    July 24, 2017 at 11:10 am


    Thank you very much for this post. It has been more than helpful.

    I have actually applied your advise and I have contacted two potential supervisors.

    Indeed one of them answered back and just after the weekend actually. She said she would be more than glad to supervise me if I could find the funding, gave me details about her grant applications and suggested one more possible supervisor, who is actually waiting for a reply to an application for a grant.

    However she did not ask for any information about me or my research proposal- I am actually working on one and I have a very cler idea of what I want to investigate. I made it clear in my first email but just in a couple of lines. How should I consider the fact that she did not ask for additional information?

    Appart from this, in my second email, after thanking her for the reply I explained that I do not have the funding yet, but intend to apply.

    Now I wonder, if she gets a grant will she consider me? If it takes me a year to find the funding will she still be willing to supervise me? Last but not least should I have posed these questions to my second email and if yes how should I express them?

    I would be grateful to your reply.

    Best regards,

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 25, 2017 at 9:58 am

      I can’t really tell you why, as only she knows this. However, as I mentioned in the post, most professors have their own research programs and funding tied to those specific projects – therefore, applicants who have their own projects in mind are less attractive to those professors. It helps if you have your own funding but, if the project you are determined to pursue does not intersect with their interests, they will be unlikely to want to divert their focus as they usually have their hands full with their own projects. In addition, your salary is not the only research expense, so even if you have funding to cover your own salary, considerable monies are required to cover the other costs (e.g. equipment, lab and office supplies, computers, software, travel, lab testing, etc. – depending upon the type of research you do). My guess is that (and keep in mind that this is only a guess), she told you about her grant applications to see if any of those projects would spark you interest.

    Stefania said:
    July 28, 2017 at 2:08 am


    Thank you for your reply! She just mentioned her grant pursue rather than her projects. I guess I did not make it clear that she is one of the two researchers with this research focus so it is rather unlike that I will not be interested in her projects. Do you think I should email her again in September- this is when she wil have the answer for a grant application- or would it be rude and annoying?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      August 3, 2017 at 4:05 am

      I don’t think it would be rude to write a short note asking for more info on her research projects and expressing interest in working on those.

    Stefania Moutevelidi said:
    August 3, 2017 at 2:23 am

    Thanks again, not only for the reply but for the post too. You have been more than helpful. Wish you all the best!

    Dohyup Kim said:
    October 2, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    Dear Dr. Hicks.
    Thank you so much for your great post. It is very helpful and practical.
    I am wondering if I could re-post your article on my blog.
    Actually, I am wondering if I could translate your article into my mother-tongue (Korean) and post it on my blog so that people from my country could get wonderful advice from you.
    I will make sure to reveal the original author and to link the original article.
    Thank you and have a wonderful day!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 15, 2017 at 5:41 am

      Thanks Dohyup – that would be fine with me as long as you include the links and author credit. Best wishes!

    Shekar said:
    October 6, 2017 at 10:51 am

    Hello Professor Hicks. Thank you for this post. It is very helpful for first-timers. I am working as a Lecturer in a medical school and would like to apply for a Ph.D. position. I did research about the lab I am interested in and the people who are working on similar interests as mine. But in the same lab, there are five professors working on the similar topic. I would like to know, whether it would be rude to write to all of them? Will it decrease my chances of getting a reply or a position? Thank you.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 15, 2017 at 5:48 am

      I don’t think it would be rude (as long as you didn’t write to all 5 with one email AND as long as you made it clear to all of them that you were writing the others); however, I don’t think it would necessarily be the most effective approach. You run the big risk of each of them assuming the other will reply and so there is a good chance that none will. If you want the best chance of a reply, I suggest you contact the youngest/most junior of the 5 professors. This person will be the most likely to have room for more students – it isn’t always the case, of course, but it is your best bet if you don’t know for sure that any of these professors are currently looking for grad students. This person will also be most likely to have the fewest grad students already and could, therefore, have more time to spend on each one, compared to the more senior professors.

    Imran Munawar said:
    November 8, 2017 at 10:04 pm

    Thanks a lot for sharing this advice.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      November 10, 2017 at 3:52 am

      You’re welcome – hope you found it useful! 🙂

    Imran Munawar said:
    November 8, 2017 at 10:05 pm

    Thanks a lot for these valuable suggestions.

    justice darko said:
    December 28, 2017 at 3:38 pm

    Hello Professor Hicks, thank you for helping us with your useful comments. I have a question and i really need your advice. I got admission to a PhD program but I had to defer due to financial constraints. I am now planning on starting the program next year and have made contact with one professor and it looks promising that i will get funding. The professor first asked for my academic transcript which I obliged. Then I received a second mail asking for my Gre score. The thing is my score is not that high(303).I Want to know how to communicate this to him without ruining my chances.Please help me out

      Faye Hicks responded:
      December 29, 2017 at 8:36 am

      Hi there – my advice is, as always, that full disclosure is the only option. Of course there is always the possibility that your GRE score might not be high enough to get you admission but I really don’t see that you have any alternative. If you do not provide the requested information, then it’s unlikely you’ll get admitted anyway. It’s difficult, I know, but in academia your most valuable asset is your integrity – and your most essential one as well. Best of luck!

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