Tips for inquiry (“套磁”)

I wrote lots of emails for inquiry when I was a PhD applicant and received lots of emails for inquiry when I started to form my research group. Here I want to share some general tips to make the inquiry more effective. I unfortunately made some mistakes during my application. I hope you can avoid them and wish you all the best for your application.

  • Please customize your email. Do not put experiences that are irrelevant to the professor’s research. First, the professor is likely not interested in those experiences. Second, the professor might not know those fields well so he/she cannot really infer much from those experiences. Third, those experiences may make the email unnecessarily longer, making the information that is truly valuable less visible. Exercise your judgement to determine what information is relevant. For example, I am in general not interested in experiences in CV and NLP, unless you can connect them with RL.
  • Please think from the professor’s perspective. It is important for students that they can benefit from the supervision. But it is equally important that professors can also benefit from the supervision. You might want to show your intent to make this supervision mutually beneficial. For example, you can read the professor’s papers and ask some interesting questions or propose some extensions. I understand paper reading might be time consuming but there are lots of other options as well.

As an extreme example, I once received an email that spelled both my name and my university wrong. But the content is highly customized and is very persuading that I believe I can benefit from this collaboration. So I set up a meeting with the student very quickly.