How to cold email for a Ph.D

Close-up of ice on a frozen laptop keyboard

Credit: Dennis Lane/Getty

I run a national graduate program and receive several emails each week from prospective PhD candidates. I value these applicants’ academic background in the discipline of climate science, as well as their interest and understanding of the research my center is doing. When I receive a well-written inquiry that ticks all the boxes, I experience a real sense of joy. I’ve been known to send emails to a colleague like “this student is good!” with the simple addition

The program I lead is part of an Australian Research Council Center of Excellence – a research consortium of national universities and national and international research partners. Our graduate students are enrolled in one of five member universities, but are part of our inter-institutional graduate program, which offers a tailored curriculum of core research and communication skills, professional development, mentoring and leadership opportunities.

I have personal experience of success after sending a cold email. During my PhD at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, I began looking for part-time employment to gain industry experience and complete my scholarship. On the recommendation of one of my supervisors, I sent a cold email to a local air quality consultancy. Within days, I was invited for an interview and offered a part-time role in a field that was well aligned with my research. Not only did I make the money I needed, but I also made connections that I’m still in touch with 20 years later.

Along with PhD applications, cold emailing can also help with post-doctoral opportunities (cold emailing for post-doc roles can work in the right circumstances) or if you want to discuss your research or ask a question to a researcher you have. not working before.

Here are my suggestions for writing an effective cold email that will get you noticed.


Don’t automatically start an email with “Dear…” The number of e-mails I receive is quite depressing. As a woman in science who has lived through the experience of being the only woman in the room, and who advocates for gender equality, these emails break my heart.

Instead of making an assumption about gender, go straight to the email address using the person’s name. Although levels of formality vary by culture and country, it is always best to start with a formal greeting, “Dear Professor/Dr….”. In some countries, academics only use the title of professor after obtaining a professorship, while in others, it is customary to use the term for all university academics. Check the list of researchers on his university website and take your guidance from there.

Note how the researcher concludes; you can use this in future emails. I always sign as “Melissa”, so I invite you to call me Melissa in future communication.


Here you want to give a short introduction about yourself and why you are interested in doing a PhD with this researcher and in this laboratory.

Don’t abbreviate your entire CV. Instead, start by introducing your current situation: “I recently completed a master’s degree in XX at YY university,” before specifying how your background matches the research of the person you’re emailing.

Talk about your recent research experience, and especially about your research interests and how they align with the PhD program you are applying to. Make sure you understand the specific expertise of the person you are contacting in the broader context of their field. For example, avoid saying “I’m contacting you because you’re an expert in climate science.” The field of climate science has thousands of experts. What area of ​​climate science are you interested in? Why did you choose this particular researcher? Provide specific details that refer directly to that person’s and their team’s publications and projects.

Be sure to mention the skills that will make you an ideal PhD candidate in this area of ​​research. For example, we’re interested in hiring people with programming experience in my discipline, so that’s one of the skills I’m looking for. Don’t send a generic email to every academic you contact, tailor your email to each recipient. This is more than just entering the title of one of their posts. You want to demonstrate that you’ve read their work and explain why you’re interested.

An example of this might look something like:

Dear ideal teacher-doctor-supervisor,

I am a master’s student in the Department of Fine Arts at Random University. I read with great interest your article on the application of sophisticated research method to advance excellent science and was particularly interested in the refinements to sophisticated research method.

My master’s thesis focused on using a very impressive data set to inform a sophisticated research method. This work has been done under the direction of the supervisor of the master’s degree. We have found that highly visible datasets significantly improve the performance of sophisticated research methods, and I intend to submit this research. Journal of Excellent Sciences. My thesis, along with my CV and academic records, are attached to this email.

I am looking for PhD opportunities in the fine sciences and am writing to ask if you are currently accepting new students? I am interested in exploring research opportunities that use an even more sophisticated research method to discover new knowledge in excellent science. In addition to my skills in this area, I have a background in the aligned discipline through my undergraduate degree, and have also completed postgraduate courses in the following discipline.

Your research group is a good fit for my background and interests, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss possible PhD options with you.


Who can be a Ph.D


To properly evaluate a PhD applicant, I need to see a CV and copies of academic transcripts, preferably in PDF format. Universities differ widely in the grading systems they use and how they assign grades. A mark of 70% means near the top of the class in one country, and close to failure in another. Therefore, it is helpful to include a copy of your university’s grading criteria.

Your CV should list your relevant education and work experience, details of independent research components from previous degrees, any publications you may have and a list of contact details for referees.

A cold email may seem like a scary prospect with little chance of success, but if it’s carefully written and personalized, it can open doors you might not have known existed.

Related Articles

Sorry, delete AdBlocks

Add Ban ads I wish to close them