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How to land yourself an assistantship
With departure dates rapidly approaching, Indian students are preparing to leave for international universities.
To ease their concerns and answer their questions, we asked students who are already abroad to share their experiences. Here a student of Texas A&M University, USA, Sarun shares his advice on how to establish contact with university faculty.
Almost all Indian students applying for graduate degree programmes to American universities contact several professors via email. This is a fundamental step in securing admission, financial assistance and research opportunities and must be treated with due respect and seriousness. This article briefly lists a few important things to be kept in mind in this context.
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Expert CV advice: Be as specific as possible
~ Never a blanket email
The greatest and oft repeated mistake is to create a standard email and then send it as blank carbon copy (bcc) to many professors at once. This is a sure way to tell the professors that you are a lazy person who has done no research into that professor's area of work.
Invariably such emails are immediately deleted. Though you may create a standard body for an email with most of the details remaining the same, make sure that every single email you send to a faculty member is personalised and individually sent.
~ Addressing the faculty
The safest way to address a prospective advisor is to call him or her 'Dr Surname'. It is up to you whether you like to use 'Dear'. In the first email avoid calling the professor by their first name. Avoid using overly formal words like "Respected", "Honorable" etc.
~ The language
Always be to the point. The email should convey what you have in mind, not your proficiency in English. Many Indian students have the habit of using phrases like "humbly request you to kindly consider" etc. These just appear funny and fake. Both "humbly" and "kindly" are unnecessary there. Use simple language and be straightforward.
~ The structure
Keep the email short. Faculty members are busy people. They don't have the time to read the epic saga of your achievements. Invariably you will be attaching your resume with the email, so treat the email as a cover letter. Break the email into two or three paragraphs.
In the first couple of sentences say who you are and why you are emailing. The "why" part is extremely important. This is where you mention what you know about the professor through the Internet or other sources and why you are interested in working with him or her. Please take care not to come across as a fake flatterer while doing this. You can appreciate their work but there is no need to start worshipping them.
Without mentioning that you have done some background work on the professor and his or her work, there is a high chance that your email will go straight to the "Trash" folder. If you manage to convince the faculty that you've done your homework, gone through their work, chances are high that they will give your email a few more minutes.
In a second paragraph you can briefly mention your own work in the area and how you envision your future.
Finally, thank them for their time and mention that you will be glad to furnish any further information they need.
~ The resume
Attach a one-page resume which has information about your educational background, work experiences, projects and internships and relevant honors and achievements.
~ Follow up
Avoid sending emails during the weekends or Mondays. Professors very rarely check their work email during weekends and will not spend any time on any email that is not of crucial importance to their work (which means your email). On Monday mornings chances are high that their inbox will be full and your email might get skipped.
After emailing during a weekday, if you do not receive a response within seven days, you must send a polite follow-up email asking about the status of your earlier email. This is just to make sure that the previous email was not lost or forgotten. If you don't get a response to the follow up, you can forget about that faculty and move on to others. But if there is a response, even if it is not a positive one, thank them for their consideration and time. Chances are they will remember you when new projects open up.
Also it is a good idea to have a neat email ID from which you send out these emails. It is better to have something with your first name and last name instead of potentially damaging nicks like "lazyass84" or "superstud82".
These are a few rudimentary things to be kept in mind during this very important process. All the best!
Have you studied abroad? Do you have advice for students heading abroad? Helpful tips on how to tackle the visa interview or applications process? Did you encounter unexpected roadblocks when you applied to a foreign university but managed to overcome them? Are there paperwork issues that students should know about but don't? Write in to firstname.lastname@example.org with your advice and we'll publish your tips right here on rediff.com.
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