I’ve written before my advice on how to be a successful graduate student. But to even get to be a graduate student in the first place, you may need a graduate teaching or research assistantship – especially if you’re an international student not eligible for loans in the U.S.
I get it, I understand how important an assistantship is to you (the ticket to graduate education in the U.S.!) and how much you need it. I’ve been an international graduate student myself. Granted, I didn’t have to ask for assistantships – I always got them, maybe because I was lucky, maybe because my file spoke for itself.
But here you are, you got admitted to Purdue (congratulations!) yet you don’t have funding. What do you do??
The first thing NOT to do is to type (or copy from some website) a letter along the lines of the one below and send it to ALL professors in several departments:
I’ve been admitted to Purdue… I’ve read about your research and I’m very interested… I am highly qualified in… (areas usually not related to the professor’s research). My resume is attached… Will you please consider me for a research assistantship?”
You know what happens to these emails? DELETE. Most of us don’t even bother to answer. Hey, you didn’t bother to look up my research interests – or even spell my name in the opening of the email.
Whoever advised you that you get ahead in life by sending template letters to lots of people was WRONG.
If you want to get my attention and have a chance at being considered for funding, here’s how to go about it:
- Write a clear, specific subject line that refers to something I do or I’ve worked on (I=me, the professor, not you). This will get my attention and will tell me the email is relevant to me personally.
- Use my name in the opening of the email. Copy and paste it from my website, to make sure you spell it correctly.
- DO actually read about my research interests, peruse my list of publications, read one or more of them – or at least spend a few minutes reading my blog.
- Convince me you are ACTUALLY interested in the research I do. Be specific about what you’re interested in and why. Show me you’ve done the work to learn about my research. A strong interest in my research is the #1 qualification I look for in students. I can teach you the rest.
- Argue how your skills will actually be applicable to the research I’m doing. Give me some ideas about what you would like to work on.
Yes, this type of letter is more work. You won’t be able to write 500 of them. But the 10 you will be able to write are more likely to get you an assistantship than the other 500.
You should know a few more things about how this process works. If you are admitted as a graduate student in my department, chances are I saw your file. I might have even voted on your admission. If I wanted to offer you an assistantship, I would have done so by now. If you are in another department on campus, I have not seen your file. Although I am more motivated to fund students in my own department, I will consider you if you are a very good fit.
If you’ve applied for admission in my department, don’t send me the form letter above the week before classes start – or ever. If you were REALLY interested in my research, you would have mentioned that on your application to graduate school, and you would have been in touch with me a LONG time ago.
And here’s the last part. Not all my faculty colleagues will work this way, but it may work with me: If you’re just applying to graduate school and you’re VERY interested in working with me, contact me as early as possible – even before you send in your file. Be prepared to explain what about my research you’re interested in and why.
Research is the most valuable skill you need (and will learn) as a graduate student. Show you have potential for it by DOING YOUR RESEARCH before approaching professors and asking them to invest in you.
[Photo credit: http://academicregaliaforpurchase.com]