Composing Tactful E-mails


E-mailI have learned many things since I decided to pursue my dream of graduate school but one of the most important skills that I have polished is writing tactful e-mails.  There are many reasons why one might contact a graduate program via e-mail but the most important reason is to seek advise from faculty as well as to request advisement from particular professors.

While not all of your graduate school choices will recommend that you contact the faculty that you wish to work with, they will all request that you include in your Statement of Purpose whom you seek to work with or who you feel is compatible with your area of study. This past week I have spent in e-mail contact with two of my six graduate school choices – UNR and UCR. My biggest fear besides being rejected by these professors was that I would confuse the two extremely similar names but so far *knock on wood* this hasn’t happened.

When contacting staff at UNR I was told that there was a faculty member who would serve as a very good match for my field of research and boy were they right! After contacting this particular faculty member via e-mail I received an e-mail back stating that if I thought we were a good match he would be happy to serve as my advisor and he even offered to meet with me when I make my trek out to NV! I can’t tell you how excited I was to read this e-mail and I will admit to having read it a few more times since receiving it early this past week.

When contacting staff at UCR I have found myself caught up in a little more of an e-mail chain, following recommendation to recommendation but keeping positive about the process I continue to contact each referred faculty member. The first individual I contacted with whom I was extremely excited to work, is unfortunately focusing research elsewhere this coming year. I also contacted another amazingly knowledgeable professor well known for research in the area of nonverbal communication; however, he does not take new advisees anymore but recommended two other faculty members – so it has been a long time spent composing e-mails but I have ‘met’ some wonderful and influential people on that path. Now I await responses from the two faculty I contacted today to see where that leads me. I am keeping my fingers crossed because failing these two UCR may be off the list for lack of advisement.

I can’t tell you how important it is to at least contact a couple of the programs and professors that interest you to make sure that you would be a good fit for the particular program as well as to find out whether the professor is accepting new advisees for your application year. After all what would you do were you to apply only to find out that your professor was not able to take new advisees for that year? Would you be okay working with another or are there even any others to work with? I highly recommend composing a well worded and tactful e-mail to find out pertinent information prior to application time and if possible prior to this point in the application process as well! I fear that I did leave it a little too long before e-mailing professors; however, had I known that this was acceptable practice I would most certainly have done it months ago as I decided on my schools.

My advice on e-mailing professors? E-mails should be short and to the point, tell them why you are writing (seeking advisement), what your intended research area is, why you feel you would be well matched to them and include references to their research but ONLY if you are familiar enough with it. Keep the e-mail as brief as possible while giving the faculty member enough information about your desired field of study for them to determine if they would be interested in working with you. Remember that you aren’t going to be the only one seeking advisement so stand out from the crowd, know what you want, be polite and courteous and show that you are a good match.

Now back to crossing these fingers!

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2 Responses to “Composing Tactful E-mails”

  1. 1
    DG says:

    it’s so funny you write this because I saw a play today where they poked fun at email “etiquette” – you know – how people begin it off with So sorry to bother you! Hahah that’s a number one no no for professor emails. seems like you have things under control though!

  2. 2
    yefi says:

    I suuuuck at emails but i always get right to the point because my professors will hate me then (or this is what i believe)


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