09 September, 2009

E-mail Quandary

I find myself facing a bit of a quandary.

I need to send out emails to professors at places I would like to attend graduate school, but I am not sure how to write these emails. I want to write:


When I know that it wouldn't do to do so. I know that perhaps 3 professors might appreciate getting such an email, but in the vast majority of cases I am aware that to do this would be folly and most likely leave an irreparably bad impression. So I'm left with:

[Banal Salutations],

[Bland Statement 1] [Who I Am] [Something Vaguely Intelligent] [I Read Your Paper, By Which I Really Mean I Read the Abstract] [Bland Statement 2] [Something Trying To Be Intelligent] [Bland Statement 3] [Might There Be Room In Your Lab For Me?]


And this just seems so damn contrived and passionless that I don't know what to really do with it. It's so boring and flat and it communicates none of the enthusiasm or intelligence I may be able to bring to bear on their research focus. But it's what's right, kinda. If I try to inject personality by dressing up words just a little, I'm liable to come across as a sophist jackass or, as is more likely in my case, as a crazy person not to be trusted with pencils.

So this is my quandary, and I don't really see any good ways around it. How do I balance my enthusiasm with the need for propriety/formality? Suggestions!?


Genomic Repairman said...

I went through this, you have balance the ass kissing enthusiastic tone of the letter with the justifying that you would bring something worthwhile to their lab. Dressing up the words isn't too bad, some profs find it refreshing that you can read/write/hopefully speak the King's English to some extent.

Ambivalent Academic said...

Dude, right now it's the *Queen's* English.

Otherwise, Toaster, GR is right. Be able to say something intelligent about their work that demonstrates that you've read more than just the abstract, and why you're particularly interested.

Ass-kiss - check!

Then tell them why they want you. This will probably be more interesting to them.

Hook - check!

quietandsmalladventures said...

first write bland email (and i agree with both AA and GR). second visit and impress them with your earnestness and interest. if that fails, blink the bambi eyes and they'll be putty :)

Anonymous said...

If you actually open your emails with the words "Banal Salutations", you might not get a lot of positive responses, but it'll be fucking awesome.

Real advice (take with several grains of salt, since I'm still a lowly undergrad and much crazier than you are): Inject as much personality as you think you can get away with. Your enthusiasm is refreshing, and the kind of person who'll like it is probably the kind of person you'll like working with.

Science Bear said...

I agree with the statements above, but having a lot of professor friends now, I would not overlook addressing them as DOCTOR.

I believe several months ago the Goddess Isis even wrote a post about how irksome it is to get an email addressing her as "Mrs" or even worse "Isis". You can always go less formal if they reply with Bob instead of Dr Smith, but it is hard to take back the reception of informality after you press send.

Jason said...

Thankfully Ambivalent caught that before I did, but dude! Why do you want to go into academia if you don't want to read whole articles?

Ktbug Ladydid said...

Set yourself apart; instead of going on about yourself (I've seen people do this in interviews), ask about their research. Say you've read one of their RECENT papers, and were wondering what they were working on now. Had they solved their unanswered question? Then, tell them a bit about you. You're interests in research, how you're looking at grad schools and labs you could rotate/work in, and feel them out about a lab relationship. Remember, just because you love the research, doesn't mean you'll love them. And vice versa. I think grad school's a bit more about the enthusiasm and learning new techniques than settling your career avenue in stone. And don't forget to actually send in the application!