Dear Professor [Surname of Professor Inserted Here],
I am writing you because I am a prospective doctoral student with considerable interest in your research. My plan is to apply to doctoral programs this coming fall, and I am eager to learn as much as I can about research opportunities in the meantime.
I will be on campus today/[next Monday], and although I know it is short notice, I was
wondering if you might have 10 minutes when you would be willing to meet with me to briefly talk about your work and any possible opportunities for me to get involved in your research. Any time that would be convenient for you would be fine with me, as meeting with you is my first priority during this campus visit.
Thank you in advance for your consideration.
[Student’s Full Name Inserted Here]
Dear Professor (name in different font)”,
I am writing seeking supervision in [field in different font, or named field far different from anything I research] at [University name in different font].
[Describes work experience tangentially related to proposed field of study, or a research project coming from his/her undergraduate study. Or suggests willingness to write a thesis in anything, if I have scholarship money. Generally reveals no understanding of what I’m interested in, no particular interest in Canterbury over other places, and provides no expectation that an answer’s really expected – zero investment in this application over others. It’s clearly a mass-broadcast distribution.]
There are many many potential students in many countries who seem more interested in getting a student visa out than really in pursuing a thesis. My replying would waste everyone’s time, as, until recently, I had no potential funding for graduate students, and none of these students could go anywhere without funding.
I don’t get dozens of these emails a day; more likely a dozen or more a month. I imagine that if I were at a top US school, I’d be getting rather more of them. I’d definitely reply to a letter like the one they sent out, because very few of the academic spam emails I get ever suggest a personal meeting: if a potential student would take the time to get to Christchurch, why wouldn’t I at least reply?
But then I imagine what it would be like if I were in a city of several million people, with loads of internationals students in town seeking extensions of their undergraduate student visas. Signing up at grad school extends the visa: the prof needs some way of distinguishing emails from people who are actually interested in pursuing study, and those for whom it’s just a way of extending the visa.
Anybody who really had come all the way to my town and wanted desperately to meet with me would find some way of signalling that in the intro email. Like “I liked your work on [fill in the appropriate blank] and want to extend it [proposes some relevant extension].” Not “I have considerable interest in your research.”
Based ONLY on time constraints and visa-seeking behaviour, I would expect the following:
- The greater the number of these solicitations received, by field, the more likely there’ll be no reply;
- Fields more likely to have scholarship money or RA work will get more such solicitations;
- Profs in fields getting more of these kinds of solicitations will use tighter filters in deciding what to delete;
- One not-nice but non-crazy filter is to downweight emails from foreign-sounding names where the correspondent reveals zero real knowledge of the prof’s work or field. The slightest signal that this indicates actual interest in the prof’s work would go a long way. Otherwise, a Bayesian reckons the person sending the email either doesn’t know enough to signal an actual knowledge of the prof’s work (a bad signal in itself), or really is more interested in something other than the prof’s work – like a visa. We should expect then no particular gender effects, no particular difference between Caucasian and Black names, but a difference between those and ones that have a higher probability of being a student on international visa.
- Chinese female at Private School: -29%
- Indian Male, Private School: -21%
- Indian Female, Private School: -19%
- Hispanic Male, Private School: -18%
- Chinese Female, Public School: -17%
- Black Female, Private School: -16%
- Black Male, Private School: -14%
- Indian Male, Public School: -13%
- Chinese Male, Private School: -11%
- Chinese Male, Public School -10%