by Franziska Boenisch and Adam Dziedzic
But how on earth should I reach out to my future advisor? It’s great that you have narrowed down whom you would like to work with. But now comes a difficult step: how to draw their attention to you. We’ll share some tricks on how to stick out of the mass.
To be fair, faculties get A LOT of emails. So even if you send them a message expressing your desire to work with them, you might not get a reply. There are some obvious solutions and some more subtle ones.
Let’s start with the obvious: advisors want to hire outstanding students who really want to work with them. So make your email personal. Address them by their name, express your desire to work in their group, and most importantly the reasons why you want to work with them. You can reference past work of theirs, a talk they gave that inspired you, or whatnot. Just be sure it addresses personally why you think they are a good match for you.
Then, you want to make sure to highlight that you are also a good match for them. You basically want to stick out of the mass of students who apply. You can do so with good grades, with competitions won, with a podcast or a blog on the latest greatest topics from their field that you are running. But the best is probably always to show that you’ll be an independent researcher. How to do so? With publications! So turn your undergrad or grad thesis in a paper and push it to a renowned conference, or do some research internship in a lab that will yield a paper. You also want to adapt your application to fit the field you are aiming to work in. For example, if you work in theory, then point to your thesis or directly the proofs that you have worked on recently. If you are more on the applied side, such as applied machine learning or systems, then add a link to your github. Finally, you want to make it easy for your future advisor to look you up and see all your achievements, so far. Therefore, it is really helpful if you have a professional website.
Of course, all of this assumes that your hopefully future advisor will read your email. Some might not, due to the sheer mass of applications they receive. We have a few hacks for these situations: if you are at the same university as they are, take their class and get the chance to meet them. If you are not, try to meet them at conferences or when they give invited talks somewhere. And if this still does not work: our secret tip is to reach out to their students or postdocs. Be polite, be friendly, express interest in their research, and maybe try to initialize a collaboration with them. Thereby, you might get the chance to be introduced to their advisor eventually. Good luck!