Posted in Tips
Established scientists receive numerous email messages from people applying for a PhD position in their group. I get a few per week and I am sure some of my colleagues get many more. At first sight this looks a burden, but it is not. More than 95% can be put aside after reading the first few lines. In the following I will give a few tips and I am sure that if you bring them into practice you will get a positive response of the scientist you have sent the application.
Your application should consist of the following:
- body of the email (BODY, size 1 page)
- attached cv (CV)
- attached motivation letter (ML, size less than 1 page)
- attached information about your grades (GRADES, size less than 1 page)
- attached (PowerPoint) presentation (PRESENTATION, duration of presentation about 20 minutes or about six slides)
Here are the guidelines (improved due to comments by Mirjam and Peter):
- Relevant expertise: Only apply to those group leaders whose field of research and your expertise overlap. I get regularly applications form people applying for an “organic chemistry” position, whereas my field of research is optics.
- Show in ML your interest: Study the science record of the group you are applying to. Either by checking them on Google Scholar, Web of Science, or their their own web site. Check their successes in the media. Explain in ML in detail why you chose that group and what you like about the research – and mention some of their recent successes in your own wording. Make a connection between your expertise and interest and the work in the group. Explain why you want to work in that institute and in that country. Add something personal about why you study science and about your ambition in science. Do not iterate your CV in your ML.
- CV : Make your CV very clear. No running text, but more a collection of tables with headings like: ” Education” “Skills” and “Experience”. Do not blow up your cv with trash. No publications “in preparation”. Do not claim skills that you obviously Do not hide your weak points and discuss obvious weak points in your CV or in your ML like “During my study I switched from experiment to theory and that caused a delay”. The scientist reading your cv should be able to get the main points in 30 seconds.
- GRADES: If you have all your grades readily available on official university certificates you can send a copy. But this is not really necessary. In any way summarize your grades in half a page or so. What the scientist who is receiving your application really wants to know is: are you in the top 10%, or top 20% or top 30%. If you grades are lower you do not need to apply, unless you have a very good explanation.
- PRESENTATION: Prepare a 20 minute presentation (pdf file, Open Office or PowerPoint) in which you present research you have been doing as a master student. Prepare it carefully and spend time on it. Do not make a mess out of the presentation.
- BODY: Summarize in the body the main parts of CV, ML and GRADES
- Make the email personal. Do not start with: “Dear professor” or “Dear doctor”. But start with “Dear Dr. Johnson”.
- Spelling and grammatical errors: Avoid these errors. Have a colleague student read and correct your application. Do not claim to be fluent in English if your application obviously shows you are not.
If you follow this advice each application will cost time, a few hours, but the success rate is much higher than sending a hailshot, that is sending hundreds of identical emails to different group leaders. In the latter case your chance of success is zero.