Cold emailing, emailing a request to someone with whom you have no pre-existing relationship, is part science and part art according to the PREDOC partners we asked. Our partners see hundreds of cold emails each year with all sorts of questions and requests, and we’ve asked them to share both their advice and their pet peeves when it comes to cold emails. 

The first step to successful cold emailing is to assess whether an email is needed at all. By and far, the biggest complaint from our partners were emails about open research positions that could have been answered by a more thorough reading of the job description, website, or other relevant resource. “Do the reading,” says Stephen Lamb, an Associate Director at Chicago Booth who manages the pre-doc program there. Lamb also recommends candidates “ask questions of staff before asking questions of faculty.”   Staff contacts often respond faster and will loop in a faculty member if their input is needed to fully answer a question, potentially helping your email be seen faster and answered accurately. 

If a cold email to a faculty member or researcher is called for, be sure to send it in a targeted way, according to Gopi Shah Goda, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of SIEPR at Stanford University. She suggests sending an email “when there is something you wish to share that does not come through in your application materials or when you have a specific question about the research projects that you would be working on.”

Goda also recommends avoiding any sort of form message or mass email, suggesting instead that students focus on a small number of positions they are particularly interested in, writing a personalized message with each email. And when writing that message, be sure to review the faculty member’s research, state why you’re interested in assisting their research, the skills you can apply for that research, and always be professional and courteous. Finally, our partners share that it’s best to be concrete, making sure the email has a clear and specific request, such as a short informational interview or the possibility of researching for a faculty member for a certain number of hours per week.

Finally, our partners shared that their inboxes are overflowing, and they do their best to get to all emails. One unanswered email shouldn’t dissuade you from continuing to reaching out to faculty and staff when you have questions (though don’t continue to email should a request go unanswered after two emails). And think of as a catch-all for questions that you haven’t been able to have answered elsewhere.