Faculty scoop: What are the best approaches when reaching out to departments?

We’ve reached out to faculty members across disciplines and asked them to recommend the best approaches for prospects when reaching out to departments they are interested in applying to. Here’s what they had to say: 

Target specific individuals and tailor your reasons for doing so. Never send out blanket emails—these are easily recognized and immediately ignored. – Professor in Forestry

When writing to potential mentors be careful to spell correctly and apply correct rules of grammar, as this reflects a student's maturity, professionalism and capacity for attention to detail. Poor writing and poor communication skills are a significant barrier to success. – Professor in Psychiatry

Know the professor's field! Many students email me before they understand what my department is. They email me before they know my research interests. Students need to do enough research about the program, and the professor before they apply. – Professor in Education

Speak to potential supervisors. Ideally plan a visit. Speak to current and previous students from that lab! – Professor in Land and Food Systems

Be sure and look through the department's website to learn as much as possible about the program of interest and the faculty. It's frustrating to read an application that indicates that the applicant didn't bother to look at the website—to determine a fit between their learning goals and our program and faculty. Be informed with information already available to you—that shows initiative! – Professor in Nursing

Be clear, polite, organized and memorable. Ask for help when you need it. Provide exactly what is asked for and offer to provide more information (i.e., don't send three publications when one is asked for!) – Professor in Population and Public Health 

Look up what faculty members in a department you are applying to are interested in, working on, and publishing on. Find one, two or three [faculty] whose interests resonate with you and indicate in your application how your interests and skills match well with those faculty members. Do not be afraid to contact a faculty member directly to express interest in being a grad student in that person's lab. – Professor in Medicine