Dos and don’ts of contacting professors

As I’ve said in the PhD application timeline, one should contact the professors of interest beginning in August. Now, it might be a little early to some, but, at this point, you are likely to have identified a subfield of interest in your field, as well as professors that do what you want to do. And you might think about contacting the professors of interest in order to get an initial contact. Sometimes it can make a difference, sometimes it won’t. But you have to do so carefully.


  • Write thoughtfully and proofread.
  • Introduce yourself before any mention of research.
  • Mention what skills and research experiences/interests you might have that are relevant to the professor’s work.
  • Pay attention to whether the program you’re applying to requires you to have secured an advisor prior to matriculation.
  • If you suspect, from the latest publications written by the one you’re contacting, that s/he may not do the research it says s/he does on the departmental website, ask for clarifications.


  • Send emails too often.
  • Mention credentials other than research experience-related ones, unless specifically asked to do so in a reply.
  • Ask questions that the website or the department secretary can answer.
  • Ask questions that require a complete application package to answer.

Sometimes professors will be helpful, sometimes professors will only encourage you to apply, some others still will not answer, and most likely because they are busy. But that shouldn’t stop you from emailing the prof you seek…


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