How can I email a CS professor looking for Phd. students?


This is kind of a tough question. As a faculty member, I get tons and tons of these emails and frankly ignore most of them. I feel kind of bad about it, but the main problem is that these emails usually don't give me any (positive) information that isn't already available from the Ph.D. application. If I'm on the committee that year, I'll probably see the application. And if not, well, either someone will bring it to my attention and ask me to have a quick look at the folder or not, but an email isn't going to change that.

I can at least tell you what not to do. Don't write more than 2-3 short paragraphs. Don't use more than 70 characters per line. Don't include attachments. Don't tell me how much you want to work with me. Don't tell me how hard you work. Don't brag about how great you are. Don't prostrate yourself before me ("Respected professor, it would be the highest honor to work with such a great scientific mind..."). Don't try to impress me. Don't use a script to try to make a mass email look like I'm the only professor receiving it (believe me, it's obvious the content wasn't written just for me).

Do include a link to your home page, especially if it contains papers and software. Do try to engage me about something other than the admissions process, but this is tricky because if it's just a transparent effort to try to improve your admissions prospects, I'll get annoyed, and if it's a dumb question about one of my papers, well then I might not be impressed.

Frankly, the thing that works the best is when it's not the candidate but somebody whose judgment I trust who emails me and suggests that I look out for the person. I don't like this because A) it tends to favor people in the US, and B) I have this feeling that I'm missing out on loads of talent for the simple reason that it's much harder to identify and evaluate good people who aren't compared to people I already know. (I will say is that if I'm on the admissions committee, you are in my area, and you have a great statement of purpose, I will read whichever publication you make sound the most interesting. That's a big time investment, but it has definitely paid off for me as I've found some great students that way. I could go on about the admissions process, but that's not your question.)

I guess basically the more genuine contact I or my group has had with someone not about admissions, the easier it will be to realize that I might have good chemistry with the student and read the papers. In one recent case, one of my Ph.D. students had previously interacted with a candidate and told me that the guy was a great hacker. I looked at the application and quickly put the candidate at the very top of my list.


Obviously what I wrote is just one professor's perspective, and faculty members are all different. As the OP points out, some faculty actively want potential Ph.D. students to contact them and advertise that on their web pages. And maybe for more junior faculty, or schools below the top 10, or people who just have better email habits than I do, email is a useful recruiting tool.


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Updated on August 14, 2022


  • student
    student about 1 year

    This year I will submit about 16 aplications to different universities for graduate studies at the US. However, I found that there are new professors looking for Phd. students. So as a foregin student with only a bachelor of science in computer science, how should I approach to a professor looking for students?. My background is the following:

    1. CS major at the first university of my country
    2. A research thesis
    3. 3 research papers in the field of the professor's interest. (not ground breaking, the first one is in a local congress the second is in an international conference indexed by springer's LNCS and IEEE, the third is also indexed in springer.)
    4. 3.0 GPA
    5. I will take the GRE and TOEFL the nexts weeks

    After all, I read 2 papers of this professor an I would like to be his Phd. student. If he would like to know me I will take a trip to the USA just to talk with him. How can I email to this professor and let him know I am an international enthusiastic stundent that wants to extend his work.

    • student
      student about 8 years
      @jakebeal Im not asking about the process of applying to a Phd program. I am asking how to email a professor.
    • DCTLib
      DCTLib about 8 years
      One smallish thing: please avoid using the word "indexed" if you actually published in LNCS proceedings or IEEE conferences/journals. The word "indexed" got a very bad reputation since organizers of some conference started sending out spam mails that mention where their proceedings will be indexed. It also sounds a bit like if your paper(s) have merely been cited by other papers that are LNCS or IEEE proceedings.
    • aparente001
      aparente001 about 8 years
  • student
    student about 8 years
    Thanks for the feedback. Even so if the professor explicitly says in his personal web page that he wants students, also he says email me if you are interested?
  • user3188445
    user3188445 about 8 years
    Well, if a professor's web page says to email, I guess that's a different story. In that case you probably should mention that you will be applying. I still think it's better if you can get the person engaged in a technical discussion, because if the two of you start talking about research then it will be more obvious if the person wants to work with you. But I guess there's a higher-level point that all professors are different, so what I offered is one perspective from the other side, not a universal recipe for initiating contact.