Finding a supervisor is an important step in the grad school application process. Many programs require that a student is supported by a Professor before they can be admitted to the program. So finding a supervisor can be the tipping point that gets you into a grad program.
So how do you find a grad supervisor?
Well, you should already have a few suggestions from the Professors that you’ve talked to about your interests in grad school. Start by doing a bit of research on those Professors. Look at their website and learn about their research.
But sometimes Professors are slow to update their webpages so you have to do a bit more work. In my field, neuroscience, you can go onto the Society for Neuroscience website and look at the abstracts from the Professor’s lab that were presented at the annual meeting. This will give you information about current projects in the lab.
You can also use Pubmed to look at their publications.
Now that you’ve done some reading about the Professor’s research you are ready to contact them. Write a short, but informative email to enquire about graduate opportunities in the Professor’s lab.
The email needs to convey a range of information. Such as:
- who recommended that you contact them,
- your name
- where you are doing your undergrad degree,
- your undergrad major,
- your research experience
- your goals for grad studies
- why you are interested in their research,
All of this needs to be written in 8-12 sentences. If it is too long the Professor may not have time to read it. If it is too short it might not have enough information to catch the Professor’s attention. You are trying to engage their attention and start a communication with the Professor.
You’ll notice that the first thing I listed is who recommended the Professor and last is why you are interested in their research. These are very important to Professors’ decisions to take a look at an applicant.
What do you do if no one recommended the Professor? In this situation you’ll need to convey why you are contacting the Professor. It may because you’ve read one of their papers, you know a student in their lab, you heard them give a talk, etc. Whatever it is be sure to say it in your email.
By now you’ve probably figured out that you’ll need to write personalized emails to each Professor. I strong discourage the bulk email method. I immediately delete emails that are generic enquires about if I have space in my lab. Those emails look like the student is taking the fishing trip approach to finding a grad supervisor. This will not get you into the best labs with the best supervisors.
Finally, you need to be both patient and persistent. Professors are often busy and may not respond right away to your email. Wait a week and then contact them again. If you still get no response don’t give up just yet. Contact the program and ask them for help, indicate who you are trying to contact and ask if they have any suggestions. Some Professors prefer to wait until the complete application package is in before they respond to students.
The next post will talk more about finding the right supervisor, lab, and program for you.