Banner Viadrina

Viadrina Center for Graduate Studies

Hints on the form and content of your e-mail or formal letter to your potential doctoral advisor


Every university professor has a strong interest in supervising PhD students. It is not only part of his / her professional duties, but might as well be of interest for him / her from an academic point of view: As your research question is novel, your doctoral advisor might gain new insights into a specific topic within his / her research area. Therefore your application to be accepted as a doctoral student is in principle very welcome.

But please consider that supervising dissertation projects is also quite an effort. Your doctoral advisor has to invest a notable amount of time and work into your project. Thus, he / she is only able to accept a limited number of doctoral students – and he / she is free to choose the most interesting projects.

When contacting your potential doctoral advisor, you should therefore try to present yourself as a serious, well-prepared young scientist who is capable of producing scientific work at the highest standards. The form and content of your e-mail or letter should be composed accordingly.

AudiMax Viadrina ©Heiko Wessely

The following hints on the form and content of your e-mail or letter are mostly due to (bad) experience. Please consider them carefully.

  • When taking up contact with a professor, be polite and courteous.
  • The professor should be written to in person. Avoid impersonal letters (Dear Sir/Madam”), because it is less likely that you´ll receive an answer. Do not send standard e-mails to a larger number of professors. Instead you should rather make clear that you are familiar with the work of the professor, e.g. by pointing out thematic relations between your own research interests and some of the professor´s publications which you read.
  • Make sure your e-mail does not contain grammatical or typing mistakes. This includes minor errors. Be meticulous when correcting your text.
  • Informal or casual phrases are mostly not appreciated in first contacts.
  • Explain to the professor the reason why you contact him / her.
  • Do not approach the professor for funding in your first mail.
  • Give all the information the professor needs to get a comprehensive picture of you, your education, your work and your plans – brief and exact. You may also add a short CV ( in table form).
  • The outline of your dissertation project should be brief and exact. Do not attach a longer description of your project to your first e-mail or letter. The task of your first e-mail or letter is just to establish contact and to find out whether there is general interest or not. If the professor is interested he might ask for more information about you and your work.
  • Do not attach more than a very limited number of files to your e-mail. If possible put all the attached materials in one file (e.g. pdf).