Similar to most academics, I get lots of unsolicited emails from potential PhD students asking me whether I would be willing to supervise them. Hence, I thought I should put together the Dos and Don'ts of doing this.
|Email only potential supervisors in your area of research.
||Email everybody in the department or school. Start your email with "Dear Sir or Madam".
|Specify a topic that is of interest to you. Be as specific as possible. Ideally, you should attach a detailed research proposal to your email.
||State that you want to do a PhD in an area as large and vague as e.g. finance. Write that, since the age of 5, it has been your dream to do a PhD. (I didn't know what a PhD was at that age!) This is not a great start.
|The choice of the university is an important consideration. So is identifying a suitable supervisor. Do your research by consulting staff profiles. Choose a supervisor who is research active in your field of interest.
||Email a potential supervisor without consulting their staff profile first. Email somebody praising them for being a specialist in e.g. management accounting when in actual fact they specialise in corporate governance.
|Attach a research proposal with a comprehensive and up-to-date literature review to your email.
||Send out a literature review which fails to cover the most recent literature or – worse even – the addressee's own research in the area (OUCH!).
|Ensure your research proposal is free of typographical, grammatical, punctuation and stylistic errors.
||Send out a research proposal that is difficult to read, badly presented and riddled with errors.
|Attach a list of references (bibliography) which is in a consistent style (e.g. Harvard referencing style).
||Include a bibliography that is messy, incomplete and inconsistent. Often potential supervisor first look at your list of references to get a quick impression about your profile! A big part of doing PhD research is being able to get the details rights and to be conscientious.
|Spell check your email.
||Send an email full of spelling and grammatical errors. Misspell the addressee's name.
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