There are four components to a professional email: introduction, connection, explanation of what you’re seeking, and next steps.
Begin by stating who you are and why you are writing to them. Make a connection by mentioning shared interests and goals.
Be specific and explain your interests. What aspects of their research fascinate you? What sparked your interest in their topic or area of focus? What motivates your interest in the topic or problem that their research focuses on?
If you’ve been referred by someone, you can mention that as well. State what it is you’re seeking, such as a conversation to discuss their research on ________, or to inquire about opportunities to get involved or assist with their work on ________.
End your email with next steps, such as letting them know what days and times you are typically available and asking if they may be able to meet during those times, or asking if it would be alright if you dropped by their office hours to talk with them further. In the case of professionals outside of the University, you can ask if they would be available for a brief, 20-30 minute phone conversation to discuss their work, which is oftentimes referred to as an informational interview.
- Keep it concise – Limit your email to essential information only, ideally no more than four to six sentences. Busy faculty members and professionals read emails quickly; a long, detailed email, no matter how well written, will often get ignored. Save the details for follow-up emails and/or conversations.
- Make your “ask” reasonable – When reaching out to a prospective mentor you do not yet know, asking for a meeting to discuss their research is a reasonable request. Asking whether you can join his/her lab or become his/her research assistant is a big request that should wait until after you’ve had a conversation, which gives both of you the opportunity to assess whether this is a good fit.
- Maintain formality – Even if you have spoken with this person before, it’s important to always maintain a formal tone and use formal language in an initial email to faculty or professionals. You never know whether your email might be shared or forwarded, so err on the side of formality.
- Be sincere and genuine – False flattery will not get you far. Only reach out to faculty or other contacts that you have a genuine interest in working with, and never exaggerate or misrepresent your interests.
- Begin emails with appropriate salutation – This goes back to maintaining formality. Though you may begin your everyday emails with “Hey” or “Hi,” using these informal salutations with faculty or professionals may be off-putting or prevent them from taking you seriously. Always begin with “Dear Dr. [Last Name],” “Dear Professor [Last Name],” or “Dear Mr./Ms. [Last Name].”
- Professional contact information – At the end of an email, always provide your email address and phone number. The email address you provide should be professional (email@example.com instead of firstname.lastname@example.org). Your voicemail message should also be professional, clearly stating your name and asking callers to please leave a message. Avoid music playing in the background, slang, and informal language in your voicemail message, as these can ruin the professional impression you are trying to make.
- Referrals – Only give the name of a referral if the person who referred you has instructed you to do so. Providing the name of a referral without their permission is frowned upon. Avoid exaggerating or overstating your connections. For example, stating in your email that “Professor Z recommended I contact you” when in reality Professor Z, in passing, recommended you reach out to faculty members in a particular department to inquire about opportunities, will not get you far in the networking process.
- Be patient – Don’t expect an instant response. Not everyone maintains a constant connection to their email. If you don’t receive a response within 10 business days (weekends don’t count!) you can send a second email. For the second email, simply resend the same email content, and avoid stating that you’re emailing a second time because you did not receive a response to your first email, as some people may find this offensive. If you don’t receive a response to your second email, either stop in during the faculty member’s office hours to ask your question(s) and begin establishing a relationship, or move on.
For additional guidance from the OUR Peer Research Ambassadors, check out the following Student Research Blog posts:
Dear Professor _____,
I am a (class year) majoring in (indicate your major, and minor, if applicable). I read your journal article on (article topic) and am very interested in your current research on (research topic). I am greatly interested in (topic) and was excited to learn of the connection to your work. In particular, I am drawn to (specific aspect of research). I would appreciate the opportunity to talk with you further about your research and would welcome any advice you would have for me as an aspiring (field/topic) researcher.
I am available for a virtual conversation on Tuesday or Thursday afternoons, any time after 1pm, though I can be flexible to accommodate your schedule. I look forward to hearing from you.
Dear Dr. _____,
I am a (class year) majoring in (major/minor). I am writing to express interest in your research on (research topic). I was excited to read about your latest advance in (topic) in UConn Today.
As an aspiring (career or academic goal), I have focused my coursework on (specific topics). Previous research experiences in (research background) have given me a background in (topic), but I’ve continued to be drawn towards (topic connected to their research). In particular, I was excited by your focus on (specific topic).
I would appreciate an opportunity to meet with you (virtually or in person) to learn more about your research. My schedule is flexible and I am able to meet at a time that is convenient for you. I look forward to hearing from you.
Dear Dr. _____,
My name is Jonathan and I am a first-year undergraduate majoring in _____ and minoring in _____. I’m very interested in your research on _____. I was first introduced to this topic in my senior year of high school when I completed a project on _____ in my _____ class. This semester I’m taking _____ with Dr. _____ and have had a chance to explore this topic from a different angle. Through my readings, I came across your study on _____ and was intrigued by the focus on _____.
I would appreciate the chance to have a conversation with you to learn more about your research on _____. Can I stop by your office hours on Thursdays or is there a better time for us to meet? I look forward to hearing from you.
Dear Professor _____,
I am a sophomore majoring in Allied Health Sciences and minoring in Spanish. I am interested in _____ and have focused my studies on _____ and _____. I recently read your paper on _____ and became intrigued by your study of _____. In particular, I am fascinated by _____ and its implications for the treatment of _____. If possible, I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss your research and learn more about research on _____. I am typically available on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and I can be available on other days to fit with your schedule. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.
Major: Allied Health Sciences
Class of 20XX
Dear Professor _____,
I am a junior majoring in _____. Last year I had the pleasure of studying _____ with Professor _____ in her _____ class. I was particularly drawn to the intersection of _____ and _____, and exploring the relationships between _____ and _____. While exploring these areas further, I came upon your paper on _____ and was excited to learn about your current research on _____, as this aligns with the direction I want to go with my honors thesis next year.
Would it be possible to set up a meeting to further discuss your research? Below I have included my availability for the coming weeks, though I can be flexible to fit with your schedule. I appreciate your consideration. Also, I look forward to taking your course next semester on _____ and gaining additional insight into _____.
University of Connecticut, Class of 20XX
Dear Mr. Jones,
I’m a junior at the University of Connecticut, double majoring in History and Spanish. Your name was given to me by Professor ______, who is serving as my mentor on an independent research project I’m completing on _____. If possible, I would like to talk with you more about your research on _____. I am especially curious about the study you conducted to examine the impact of _____ on _____. I would also appreciate learning more about the work that ABC Nonprofit is doing to educate the public on _____. Would you be available for a brief phone conversation next Thursday or Friday afternoon? Thank you in advance for your consideration and I hope to speak with you soon.