Friday, January 13, 2012

Contacting North American Academicians for Admission

In the admission process of North American University, the best way to contact a faculty member is writing an email.  Previously I have been requested so many times to answer questions and suggestions regarding this issue. I tried to write a very brief and very casual  writeup which eventually some of the suggestions regarding writing email to academic professors.

Before start writing an email, you need to do some homework:

What should be your area of specialization?

In a Masters of PhD study in North America there are two parts: first, course work, which is typically 6-8 graduate level courses, and second, a thesis. Course works typically covers almost every aspects of a division. For example in a masters of doctoral level study typical course works includes: Hydrology, Fluid Mechanics (Engineering, Experimental, Environmental),  Hydraulics ( Experimental, Environmental, Numerical), Hydraulic Structures, Application of Remote Sensing and GIS, River Engineering, Groundwater Engineering, Water Resources Management, Wave Hydraulics, Coastal Engineering, etc.  However, for your thesis work you should  concentrate on one of those areas to come up with an innovative idea. So, before start to do anything, first decide in which area you are going to do your thesis research which eventually will be considered as your area of specialization.

To whom you should work?

After deciding your area of specialization, you should search for the faculty members who are currently working on that area  at the university where you intend to get admitted. If you have interest in multiple areas you should come up with multiple options as well. However, don't take so many options in hand, you might be confused in that case.

What should you read before write?

After deciding to whom you intend to work with, please attain an in depth knowledge on his/her research interest and past and previous works. Now a days, almost every faculty members in North America maintain an updated information on his academic webpage. Please browse through his/her website to get an idea on his works, take some notes on his recent publications. These will help you to have an idea about his/her research interest. Also some faculty members posted the research student opportunities on their website too.

What should you write?

Note that, typically university professors are quite busy with their classes and research. So your email should be very brief and informative as well.  A typical structure as follows:
  • Subject: Subject of an email is very important. Please specify very brief and informative subject rather than just introducing yourself. You can address the field you want to work and your interest (e.g. 'Seeking research assistantship in Hydrology'; 'Seeking admission and research assistantship in Hydrology';  or more specifically, 'Seeking assistantship in Climate Change Study')
  • First Paragraph: Start with very short greetings and then introduce yourself  in one or two sentences. Also mention that you are seeking admission in this department under his/her supervision. Note that, a typical way to address as Professor or Dr. . For example to write an email to Professor Robert Smith you can address Professor Smith or Dr. Smith.
  • Second Paragraph: Explain what sort of research you intend to do and mention the relationships with your tentative study with the area of interest of the professor.  Note that, try to explain briefly rather just stating, for example, 'You did this and I want to do this'. Some advises to write a separate 'Letter of Intention' and send them as a attachment in email.
  • Third Paragraph: If you have any scientific publications (Journal papers, Conference proceeding), nevertheless that is related to your intended study or not, try to mention that in this paragraph very briefly. This will give him/her an idea on your research capability. If you don't have any publication at least mention your thesis work.
  • Ending:You should ended up your thanking greeting at the end. Mention you name, degree, current position, email address at the signature.
When should you write?

In North America September-December is considered as Fall Term and January-April is the Winter Term. Most of the professor are busy with classes during those periods. So the best time to write an email is May-August. The probability of getting a response at this time is higher ( from experience).  You can also write emails in early September or in early January. Writing an email in late November to early December or in late March to early April is not a good idea as these period considered as the busiest time.

What's Next?

After writing an email there may be three conditions:
  1. You will receive a reply: either positive or negative response
  2. You will receive a reply: requesting more information
  3. You will not receive a reply
You should wait one week to receive a reply.  If you don't receive a reply within one week , there might be two reasons: either he is not interested or he is busy and forget to send you a reply. Be advised that, you should send another email after one week that you sent him an email on and the subject and you can ask whether he/she got a chance to look at that.


1. These guidelines are based personal experience and should not considered as formal document.
2. The blog was originally published on WRE Forum
3. Image Copyright: CharlieHuang 

1 comment:

  1. Very useful information for oversees study. Thank you very much for sharing this.