Emailing your Academic Supervisor; DO and DON’T: PART I

Have you ever had a moment when you emailed your supervisor, especially your academic supervisor, but soon after, regret starts to hit and you start thinking “should I have used this word here?” or “God! Is this even appropriate?”

Did you receive a very short and rude reply? Do you think you should write more or less? Or maybe you are conflicted on what type of language you should be using. Should you write in a formal or semi-formal style?



We are with you! Let us go through this hassle together with real-life examples that I have acquired after many trials and errors during my research journey.

I presume you have settled your mind and chosen the potential advisor you want to work with. However, have you thought about how to approach him or her? I believe that is the first challenge and it could be the first step toward your future work with those academicians.

Usually, professors are busy as they have piles of tasks to accomplish in a very short time. Frankly speaking, over time, you will be the one handling all the work one way or the other (you have been warned!). Professors need to deal with publications (books, articles, conferences) as well as giving lectures. On top of that, they also need to secure a research fund to continue their research. The path is not as easy as you may think.

So, your first step is to give an introduction about yourself. You want to be clear, concise and polite. I would prefer a formal email at the beginning as it will show respect. However, it depends on the country and the culture as some do not really grasp formal emails, and they find it heavy to digest. I suggest you familiarize yourself with the culture of the intended location which would give you the advantage of being somewhat acquainted with the recipient of your email.

How to start?

If you know the name of the advisor, it is good to directly email him/her. However, sometimes, you might need to email the head of the department or the head of the research unit as the information might not be disclosed.

The more information you can obtain, the better it will be. At the minimum, you should know the title, name, and background of the publications and research interests.

Start with:

Dear Professor/ Dr [NAME],

Do not assume that the professors or the assistant professors are all married, so avoid starting with Mrs. and Ms as it might be improper and inconvenient.

Again, do not greet them the usual way, such as: good morning, good afternoon, good evening. There is a chance they are not reading your email in the morning or in that specified time, therefore, skip that phrase.

What is next?

You did your research, and you are now selling yourself and your skills.

Introduce yourself briefly inferring where you graduated from and your major.  After that, make a clear statement of your purpose of writing.

For example,

Dear Professor Smith,

I am writing in regard to the announced Ph.D. positions in [Microbiology], announced on your web page. I graduated from [Sunway University], with an MSc degree in Biochemistry.  My research’s focus was on the production of microbial lipases from agricultural wastes.

That should be enough for the introduction.

What is next?

Show the professor that you have done some research on the background of his/her interest. You could read a few of his/her recent publications (3 or 4 will do) and mention that in your email. This would give an indication that you have a similar research interest and you have made an effort to look into it.

For example,

I have read your articles [mention them as references at the end] on purification of lipases using new technology. I have published two review articles on enzyme purification methods, and I would like to continue exploring this area. Your recent article [XXX] regarding the green approach of purification grabbed my attention, and I have a few ideas to expand this work in many aspects.

Now comes the core

Explain exactly what you want to do.

For example,

Thus, I am quite interested to join the research center at your institute. I would like to know if there is any chance for me to pursue my Ph.D. under your supervision.


As you are coming to an end, you need to mention what you have attached with your email and any other remarks. Thank the professor for the time taken to read and consider your application and sign out.

For example:

As you are approaching the end, you need to mention what you have attached with your email and any other remarks. Thank the professor for the time taken to read and consider your application and sign out.

I look forward to your response.

Sincerely yours,

[Eyma GH]

I hope your inbox will have a positive reply with the next post date.

Good Luck!



Dr. Amal A. M. &  Ms. Asmaa A.

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