Jun 30, 2022

Communicating with faculty and staff during your graduate school application process and beyond

Overview: Faculty and staff typically work at universities because they adore working with students and helping those students each their goals.   However, these same faculty and staff have a myriad of constraints on their time. By carefully crafting your emails with them, you will be able to get better support through your graduate application process and beyond. 


Post Contributor(s): Marian Kennedy




Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash
I chose to be a faculty member because I love seeing students grow and evolve into engineers and scientists.  I get to interact with hundreds of students each year in a variety of roles-as their instructors in a class, academic advisor, research mentor, guest speaker for their club, etc.  That interaction includes both face-to-face meetings as well as email. 


Email has become a significant portion of my day, sometimes taking up to 15% of my time.  I am reluctant to spend any more time on email because it competes with my ability to leave the office and get to spend time on the other things that matter (my friends, family and hobbies). 


When students request help during their graduate school process, I want to help.  I can respond faster and more thoughtfully when a student does the following: 


(1)   Keeps the length of the emails short by being concise.  When the student identifies what they would like from me within the first or second sentence, it makes my life easier because I can more quickly identify if I can commit to the request and the date by which I can meet it.  Emails that begin with sentences like “I am writing to ask for a reference letter for my coop application,” are ideal.  


(2)   Includes an email signature with key information such as:

a.     Full name

b.     Role or affiliation

c.     Current degree program and projected graduation date

d.     Email

e.     Cell phone number 

The cell phone number is crucial, as this allows me to pick up the phone and call them with any last-minute clarification questions. 


(3)   Reaches back out to me know the results of their application process.  This allows me either to celebrate with the student’s acceptance or to help that student know of emergent opportunities they might like to consider.  I also appreciate their perspective on their application process and try to use their insight to better serve subsequent cohorts.  Finally, by reaching back out to me, I can stay connected with the student and continue to be a reference.  This allows me to write letters for them while in graduate school as they apply for travel grants, fellowships, etc.  In addition, I often serve as a reference for the post graduate school positions. If you really want a faculty member to remember you, you can send them a handwritten note or postcard to let me know where they are.  The few I received are cherished and kept on my desk or in a keepsake box on my bookshelf.  I rarely get physical mail at work anymore and there is something special about opening a note that has been dropped in my mailbox.  If you want someone to know how much you appreciate them, this is the way to do it.


Acknowledgements:  This blog post was edited by Kate Epstein of EpsteinWords.  She specializes in editing and coaching for academics, and she can be reached at kate at epsteinwords.com.