How to approach potential supervisors for the PhD application process
Identifying and approaching potential supervisors might be a condition of the PhD application procedure. Even if that is not the case, it is a valuable way to explore whether you have shared interests and compatible working styles, and to gain insights that can enhance your application.
Many academics receive many approaches from prospective PhD students. Craft a personalised email following the guidelines below to maximise your chances of a positive response while being respectful of their limited capacity.
Research and identify potential supervisors: To identify who to approach, begin by researching academics whose research interests align with your own. Consult departmental and research group websites and academic staff for leads, and review the authors of academic publications and speakers at conferences to identify suitable supervisors.
Tailor your email to each supervisor: Use their correct title (Professor/ Dr) and name, and avoid sending out generic approaches – read on for more on this!
State your intention clearly: State your current degree subject and stage, that you are hoping to pursue a PhD and would like to approach them as a potential PhD supervisor. Make sure to mention the subject area and/or specific PhD programme you have identified.
Demonstrate your interests and enthusiasm: Clearly state your research interests and how they align with the supervisor's expertise. Familiarise yourself with the supervisor's research and publications so you can highlight specific aspects of their work that resonate with your interests.
Showcase your suitability: You may wish to briefly highlight evidence of your relevant interests e.g. through academic achievements, research experiences, and relevant skills. Consider attaching your CV for more detail.
Highlight specific opportunities: Be clear if there are specific PhD programmes or funding options you have identified. Some PhD programmes may require a confirmed supervisor, whilst others may only require initial contact, so make it clear to them what you require and are seeking.
Make your request clear: Politely ask if they would be interested in exploring PhD supervision with you further, offer to send additional information they may need, and propose a meeting to discuss your research interests in more detail if they are willing. Remember to be mindful of their time rather than demanding a follow up meeting.
Be patient and persistent: Understand that supervisors may be busy, so email well in advance of any deadlines, and allow ample time for a response. If you don't hear back, consider following up politely after a reasonable period. Adhere to any university guidelines on approaching potential supervisors. Respect their time and avoid excessive emails or calls.
Show appreciation: Thank them for their time and potential feedback and insights.