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  • Writer's pictureBethann Garramon Merkle

Advice: Your grad school inquiry email better relate directly to the person you’re emailing

Updated: Jan 14

NOTE TO COLLEAGUES: Feel free to share this post with folks who email you ineffective queries.

Photo of three people looking at a long table full of marine specimens

Approaching prospective faculty advisers can feel daunting (and random). But it doesn’t have to. (Image ©2018, BGMerkle)

I field a fair number of grad student inquiry emails.

I say no to every inquiry email I receive.

For most of these prospective students, I wouldn’t be the right adviser anyway: they write me with interest in animal behavior, reproductive physiology, and wildlife biology to name a few. These emails are fairly straightforward to reply to. I don’t do that kind of science.

The trickier ones are the emails from people who clearly took time to read my bio/webpage on our department website. These folks tend to be interested in intersections of the same things I am.

Their inquiries are harder to decline, in part because I know there aren’t that many grad school opportunities at these intersections. And, in part because it would be so fun (and yes, hard work!) to jam out with a lab full of people working together on these topics.

In every case, though, I say no.

I do not maintain a lab/students. My appointment in our department is a capacity-building one which does not involve direct supervision of graduate students pursuing degrees.

But, I try not to just say no.*

Why do I take this time? I tend to get a lot of inquiries from students who aren’t totally sure how the application process works for graduate school. And, I’m a first-generation college student myself. I’m still feeling my way through the academic labyrinth, and I didn’t know an academic career was even an option until 2015 (nearly 10 years after my undergrad). So, I err on the side of lots of information when I respond to prospective students, in the hopes of demystifying some aspects of the hidden curriculum.

In case it’s useful to you**, keep reading for what I generally tell folks to consider about emailing other faculty. (And, if you're not sure how to email faculty you're already connected to, this is a great resource.)

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