All academics receive a blinding number of requests for supervision from prospective students, particularly from overseas, but most of these are immediately deleted because it is so clear that the sender has no idea who they’re writing to. They’ve never looked at your work, and have likely sent the same email to hundreds if not thousands of academics who happen to have published a paper with a related keyword, or be employed in a related Faculty.

If you don’t compose your letter to distinguish yourself from one of these, your email may also be binned, and that is a loss for everyone. Research students are critical to the advancement of my research program. I absolutely welcome genuine approaches from potential future research trainees who share my interests. So here are a few tips for getting through the filter:

  • Don’t start with a generic greeting like “Dear professor” that would aid batch emailers – try Dear Dr Sherren.
  • Attach a c.v. and a set of transcripts; these do not have to be ‘official’, but enough for me to assess your background and GPA.
  • Make it clear that you have read some of my work and use that to show where overlaps in our interests might lie. It could be in the methods, or issue, or something more surprising, but making that link to my scholarship is a great cue that you’ve done your homework.
  • Provide details about the kind of methods that you are attracted to, in broad strokes: I work across a wide range, but there are some areas (i.e. field ecology) I am simply not qualified to supervise.
  • If you really want to blow my mind, look at the end of one of my papers where I usually indicate what kind of work needs to happen next, and position yourself as the right person to do that work. That is not to say that I only welcome work that follows directly from my past work; feel free to pitch something new if you feel it is aligned.
  • Finally, show me you’ve read this by putting the word ‘Nackawic’ in your email’s subject line.

I look forward to hearing from you.