Writing Inquiry emails to Potential Supervisors (Undergraduate perspective)

First, a lot of this advice has been compiled from resources that refer to universities in Canada in the science/humanities field. Therefore, the advice may not be applicable if you are in a different country or different field.

I’ve broken down this post into 6 sections:

  1. Sample Inquiry Letter
  2. Greetings and goodbyes
  3. First Paragraph
  4. Second Paragraph
  5. Third Paragraph
  6. Contradictory Advice
Sample Inquiry letter

Dear Dr. Last Name:

I recently read your paper, Snails are way cooler than slugs, and am very interested in your work on the importance of shells in determining awesomeness in invertebrates. I am a senior a the University of Science, where I am working with Dr. Advisor on a senior thesis about how beetles are also very cool, using tools our lab has developed linking wing shininess to coolness. Until recently, my background was in plants, and I was wondering if you’ve considered testing whether the plant the snail is on affects how awesome it is? (First paragraph)

I’ll be graduating this fall with a BS in Biology, and I was wondering if you have any graduate opportunities available in your lab? In graduate school, I’d like to apply my research to conservation, particularly in relation to climate change and other threats. My goal is to be a research professor working at the interface of conservation biology and landscape coolness, with a strong policy relevance. (Second paragraph)

I have attached a copy of my CV for your consideration, and would be very interested in discussing possibilities with your lab. (Third paragraph)

Sincerely,
First Name Last Name
Greetings & Goodbye:

The general consensus is to keep these formal. This means “Dear Dr.” and “Sincerely” or “Yours sincerely”

First paragraph:

Here you want to state:

  1. State your year of study, degree, school, and current relevant research experience.
  2. You also want to include that you are interested in the working for the professor. The sources I’ve read have suggested to say:

I am curious about [so and so on x], [so and so on y], and [so and so on z].

instead of:

I have an interest in joining you lab.

I think for the younger professors, you can have a “hook” paragraph where you draw in your reader slightly informally by not immediately introducing yourself, but referring to the research first. This may not be as popular for the older professors, who prefer formality.

Second Paragraph:

Here you should state your interest in the lab. There’s a difference between:

I would like to join your lab.

vs.

…if there will be any available opportunities in your lab.

The professor probably has cued in the intent of the email, so being indirect (option 2) may be better.

Further, you should state why you want to attend graduate school, and career goals. Again, these goals are related to research. General answers “I want to make the world a better place” are not advised.

Third Paragraph:

Express your interest in continuing to discuss research interests (not opportunities). You an also add a quick gracious message for the professor reading through the email if they got that far. “Thank you for taking the time…”

Contradicting advice:

Some contradicting advice in the resources were the following:

Include your transcript as an attachment

50/50 on this. Some professors want to see it, some don’t. The resources I looked at don’t really explain why that is.

Include your contact information

Some resources say to include contact information. Some say your email is sufficient, and that you can.

Include your GPA in the email body

No response from the professor

Some say to email back after 1 week of no response. Others say 3 weeks. The latter says 3 weeks because any earlier may be seen as a nuisance.

Well, I hope this post was useful to those applying! Leave in the comments what school you’re applying to and what program!


Resources:
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Old psychology practices test + Study aid

While studying for my Psychology GRE, I believe that I needed to see what exactly the test was going to be like. The 2017 Psychology GRE test on the ETS website was great, but I needed another reference to see what other questions would be on the test. After some digging, I found an older copy, that I believe was published after 2013 (DSM-5).

There were older copies floating around, but I didn’t download them, as I believe some of the information may have changed. I decided to use the two tests (circa 2013-2016, 2017) for my study regime.

When I took the first psychology practice test before studying (late july), my score was 500. After studying for a month (Intro, GRE-specific text, practice tests), I retook the test and now have a score of 720, which puts me above the 80th percentile (good enough for grad. school).

Still, my goal is to improve.  I have three more weeks left before my GRE. I think that I can score in the 90th percentile if I put my heart into it!

Additionally, I uploaded a 70 page psychology cheat sheet that you may find help you study. I only got one look at it, but it seems to be good quality!

Signal detection theory, terrorist detection, base rate fallacy

Hi everyone. As I’m studying right now for my Psyc. GRE, the question of detecting dangerous items with a scanner came up. You may recognize this problem as the “terrorist problem”, “base rate fallacy”, etc.

I think for the Psyc. GRE, we really only need to know the most basic relationship between statistics, hits, and misses.

Screen Shot 2017-08-26 at 9.08.28 PM.png

First, an explanation of what the terms are:

In detection tasks involving yes/no decisions, there are two ways to be right and two ways to be wrong. In searching for a bomb among airline luggage, for example, a security person responding “yes, I’ve detected a bomb,” can result either in a “hit” (the correct detection of a bomb), or a “false alarm” (saying “yes” when no bomb is present). As with “yes,” the decision of “no” also carries dual consequences, one right and one wrong. An inspector deciding “no” can either correctly deny the presence of a bomb (a “correct rejection”), or produce the dreaded “miss,” the failure to detect a bomb when one is present.

After some searching, I came across a really good explanation for this question:

As in the task of bomb detection, the only way of increasing “hits” (e.g., terrorist detection) is to lower the criterion for saying “yes,” an act that necessarily yields more false accusations. No method of improving detection rates magically escapes the costs of more false alarms.

So essentially, the only way to not let any bombs in, is to increase the # of hits, which will in turn increase the # of false alarms.

Though there are questions to ask: What happens if we say “yes” (in other words, lower the threshold for a hit) over a period of trials?… I think that for the GRE, understanding the relationship above is sufficient.

Source: https://www.edge.org/response-detail/11525

GRE study tips and materials

As an undergraduate entering their senior year, I am stressing over GREs!

I have to write both my Psychology and General GRE within the next few months.

I will be posting some tips regarding both these GREs.

One thing I have for certain is audio tapes for the GRE Vocabulary. I’m currently using the Magoosh GRE Vocabulary Flashcard App to study, and I record audio words I don’t know. I will be uploading these by the deck, once I complete them.

Another thing I want to do is to get over my perfectionism in my blog posts. Screw being professional. This is my blog, and I’ll share what I want!