Each year several Indian candidates look for fully-funded PhD programs abroad. Finding and securing a fully-funded PhD abroad is a long process. One of the critical steps is emailing potential PhD supervisors, especially if you are looking for a fully-funded PhD in Europe, to increase your odds of getting a response. In this post, Sanya Jain, recipient of the prestigious Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship (Sanya also received PhD admit from the University of Wisconsin-Madison), shares her journey of securing a fully-funded PhD in Europe along with her tips on how to email potential supervisors.
How to Email Potential Supervisors to Get Fully-Funded PhD Abroad
By Sanya Jain
I am living my dream life and so can you…– Sanya
High School Days
I have had a love-hate relationship with education. My academic journey has been interspersed with cycles of anxiety and mania, primarily because I was always fixated on being at the top. While I managed to secure the coveted place of being the topper almost every year, I could hardly embrace the bigger picture that the apex of a hill has to offer.
Basically, I tied my self-esteem to my academic achievements, and as you might relate, it is not the healthiest take towards one’s mental hygiene.
My decision to pursue psychology was driven by my quest for understanding what really matters in life. Is a “good” achieved through the pursuit of peace, or does it entail the glitz and glamor of material success?
Undergraduate Years at Delhi University
After studying psychology for two years in my senior secondary, answers started flowing in. I was certain that I had to continue it into my Bachelor’s. I was fortunate enough to secure admission to one of the most prestigious colleges of Delhi University which gave me an opportunity to fall in love with psychology.
I learnt a constellation of topics ranging from personality to attitudes, from disorders to human strengths woven strongly by the thread of statistical reasoning and practical assignments. My favourite star from this constellation was the science of human flourishing (also known as positive psychology).
As I learnt how most human beings adapt to and rise above traumatic experiences (a phenomenon called post-traumatic growth), I was gravitated towards understanding what resources enable us to overcome adversities in the first place. Are we born with such resources or are they gifted to us by our society? While social and community psychology helped me understand this better, the puzzle was not yet fully solved.
Masters Degree Phase at IIT-Gandhinagar
Following my graduation, I embarked on a Master’s degree in Cognitive Science from the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar. This is the place where I investigated the science of human behavior from a bio-psycho-social perspective. From learning about the brain from a neuroscientific perspective to identifying its molecular underpinnings, the interdisciplinary nature of the cognitive science program elegantly nurtured my curiosity.
The program surpassed my expectations. The faculty, curriculum, and collaboration opportunities sparked my interest in pursuing a more research-intensive program after my Master’s. While working on my research thesis and two paper publications, I realised that I have a diverse suite of flowers in the bouquet of my mind. I knew sufficiently about human behavior from a kaleidoscopic lens of psychology, biology, and neuroscience thanks to my Master’s program.
I eventually decided to approach a research question that allowed me to augment my knowledge in persuasion from the vantage points of social psychology and neuroscience.
The Grad School Hunt Begins
The next step was to look for graduate programs that aligned with my research interests. Instead of selecting the programs according to the rank of the universities, I based my decision on how well I resonated with the institute and the department in question. I visited scholarly databases such as Google Scholar, Scopus, Web of Science, Semantic Scholar and thoroughly read papers that matched my interests. Next, I contacted the authors of the papers (most of whom were running a lab in different universities across the world).
After emailing dozens of them, I narrowed them down to two programs: PhD in Communication Science from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the Swiss Government Excellence Fellowship. I received offers from both programs I applied to and I ended up choosing the latter. My research proposal for the Swiss fellowship focused on how identifying core values could help teenagers ward off the peer pressure that forces them to engage in smoking.
How to Email Potential PhD Advisers
This is the email that I sent to the professor from a Swiss university:
Here is what his response looked like:
And that’s how I locked a meeting with him to ensure further discussion of our work.
While I was fortunate enough to receive prompt replies from a lot of professors, I had to send a follow-up email to a couple of them!
That’s how I did it!
As you can see, the professor responded quickly after the reminder!
Need Help with Grad School Applications?
Book a Consultation Call with Sanya Jain
Quick Tips on How to Email Potential Supervisors for PhD Abroad
Here are a few tips that you should keep in mind while cold-emailing professors:
- Don’t be scared to reach out and ask for help. If you are too apprehensive about the content of your email, try to get it assessed by you seniors, current supervisors and other researchers in your university or through social media. Twitter is highly recommended! The response rate for me has been ~ 85%, and the entire credit goes to my supervisor who taught me how to draft such emails.
- Follow the email etiquette religiously:-
- Do not email two professors from the same department at the same time. Wait till you hear from one.
- Don’t write a blanket email that doesn’t show why you are a good fit for that lab in particular. Writing cold emails that are not tailored is a huge turn-off. Personalize as much as you can by reading their papers (or at least the abstract and discussion section of the papers).
- How long should you wait for the response? If you don’t hear from them within 10 days, drop them a gentle reminder. If you still don’t receive a response, it’s best to move on.
- Network a lot, it’s a hidden gem: A lot of people don’t know this, but if you contact the existing graduate students from the professor’s lab (their emails are available on the website), they’ll tell you important tips on how to get the professor to positively respond to your email/application.
- Find more references: If a professor tells you that they do not have funding, gently ask them if they can recommend to you any labs/researchers/professors who are working along similar directions. Reach out to them, they might have funds for you!
- When to email? Now (September) is a great time to start emailing professors if you are looking for an admit in Fall 2022. Professors are relatively more likely to notice your emails now, but will get really busy towards the end of the semester.
- Most importantly, don’t lose courage easily: It will be hard, your emails might not get responses even after a gentle reminder, but this is just the beginning of your journey. Try not to let rejections or negative comments get in the way of your bigger dream. Zoom out, look at the bigger picture, take a deep breath and start afresh.
Need Help with Grad School Applications?
Book a Consultation Call with Sanya Jain
Tips for Psychology Graduates
For those of you who are interested in the science of human behavior, I would recommend you to opt for psychology right from your high school. Learning the fundamentals of the subject helped me tremendously in coping with the curriculum of my undergraduate studies. If you currently do not have that option in your school, you should definitely read these easily comprehensible textbooks on the fundamentals of psychology:
- Introduction to Psychology by Morgan and Kin
- Psychology by Baron and Mishra
- Psychology by Cicarelli and Meyer
If there are any topics that you find difficult to understand, reach out to fellow psychology students and researchers via social media, discussion forums, and email. They would be more than happy to guide you through.
It is through my research and academic experiences that I have internalized the fundamentals of psychology to my core. Thanks to my patience and perseverance in the subject, I am now set to study the science of wisdom: the highest pinnacle of human cognition.
My research team is investigating how we can all learn to be wise – not only from saints, monks, and hermits but from the people belonging to the common corridors of life by learning from their life lessons.
Do you have a life lesson? I am sure you do. Share your learnings with others and grow wiser together!
Readers can connect with Sanya on Twitter!