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Emailing Prof's 101

Updated: Feb 5, 2021

Are you looking to get involved in research? Are you looking to learn more about research at McMaster? Were you unable to attend our MIREx workshop for emailing professors? Well no need to worry, just continue to read ahead and hopefully this article can help answer some of your questions.

Reaching out to professors and trying to become involved in research can be an intimidating and frustrating process with no perfect formula for success which can be nerve wracking. Luckily though there are measures you can take that may help to increase your chances of securing a research position such as tailoring and critiquing your CV and sending an engaging and exciting email to the professor who you want to work with, which is what we’ll talk about today.

The first step in conducting a research email is finding a professor (or several) to email. The best place to identify different professors you may be interested in working with is to look at the list of professors in the departments you’re interested in doing research in. In each department website is a page of people from the department, including professors, it’s here where you’ll be able to check out each professor's bio and learn about their research interests and some of their latest publications. Other ways that can learn more about research at McMaster is by looking at the universities website as this often features exciting research currently being undertaken or by attending events such as MIREx hosted by different McMaster societies, these events are unique as they give you the chance to chat one on one with a professor and make that first initial contact.

When exploring different websites and research projects you should keep a running list of professors whose work interests you and a couple points about what their current research is. Once you have a list created you should start to refine it and rank the professors you are most interested in connecting with, this will help you to stay focused and organized. To help you with this process I recommend going through the professors website (if they have one) and reading some of their previous publications, this will help you get a sense of what their current projects and research interests are, what their research team is like, and if you would make a good fit. I would also suggest dot jotting some notes on each professor in your list so that way when it’s time to write your email you have some points on them and their research that you can talk about and hopefully connect with.

Now once you’ve done your homework, it’s finally time to reach out and (hopefully) secure a research placement. The best way to make a good impression is to be your authentic and genuine self, professors receive so many emails inquiring about research positions so many of them can tell if you are genuinely interested and have taken time to learn about their research or not. Many professors hire undergrads not because of their previous experiences, which for many isn’t a lot, but for their interest in their research and their desire to learn more, it is an investment for the professor to hire you as they are investing in your research potential. The best way to showcase your potential in an email is to market yourself and you can do this by…

  • Discussing any awards you may have received or plan to apply for

  • Any relevant experiences you may have whether that be from

- Course work

- Lab work

- Or, professional work

  • Your ability to learn quickly and keep up with their work

  • Why you want this position and would make a good fit

  • What makes you interested in their work and any personal connections you may have

  • Skills that you possess that will help make you stand out, such skill may include but are not limited to…

- Organization

- Time management

- Critical thinking and creative problem solving

- Communication skills

- Ability to work well in a team

- Driven and strong work ethic

Once you’ve identified what it is you want to include in your email to showcase who you are and why they should invest in you it’s time to start drafting that email. When writing to professors it’s best to keep the email short and punchy and broken up into several paragraphs, professors are busy and receive a lot of emails so the easier and quicker it is to read your email the better your chances are of them looking at it.

Your email should compose of at least these three paragraphs…

  • Introduction, tell the professor who you are and a little bit about your academic background and previous experiences, if you know the professor or they taught one of your classes you can mention that here.

  • Your research inquiry, here you can talk about your research interests and how they may align with the professors. This is also a good place to discuss why you’re interested in their work, any of their publications you may have read, and any personal connections you may have to their work. Here is the place to show them that you’ve done your homework and would appreciate the opportunity to learn more.

  • This last paragraph, like any good conclusion, should wrap it all up in a nice summary clarifying why you are contacting them, why you’re interested, and what makes you qualified. It is also here where you extend the invite to the professor to review your attached CV and transcript and invite them to meet and further discuss their work and how you could contribute. And finally, if you intend to apply for any awards you may mention that here as well.

If you’re contacting more than one professor, a big time saver is to write an email template that you use for all the professors and slightly modify and personalize for each professor. Your introductory and closing paragraphs should be able to stay relatively the same for all professors you contact, with maybe some minor adjustments depending on the professor. The main paragraph you’ll need to personalize for each professor is when discussing your research inquiry and their specific research projects as you want to show that you know in depth what you’re talking about instead of providing general blanket statements.

And that’s it, congratulations on writing a professional (and hopefully successful) email! Remember to take your time with this process and don’t rush through it, when it comes to email writing it’s quality over quantity and interest and authenticity goes a long way. Remember that professors are busy and may not see or get a chance to reply to your email and sending a follow up email or two is perfectly fine as long as you respect the professors boundaries and time.

I hope that this article has proven helpful and insightful and good luck with all your future endeavours with research, you’ve got this!

If you’d like more in depth information on the email writing process be sure to watch the recording from our MIREx Emailing Professors 101: a guided exercise workshop featuring Andrew D’Elia here:


By Sophie Johnston LSS VP Communications 2020 - 2021


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