How to Cold Email Professor (About Your STEM lab research interests)

By Sarah Bhattacharjee

Bioengineering Major, OURS Peer Advisor, Class of 2018


The semester is officially in full swing, and even though classes are holding their first midterms and URAP is officially closed for this semester…you may still be looking for a lab based research position. Cold emails, or introductory emails to professors you’ve never met, are one route to getting a research position. While they are not as ideal as a situation where you have already come to know a professor, they do sometimes open the door to great experiences. Here’s some tips on how to write such an email:

Step 0. Research Professors!

Most professors will have a faculty website that you can go through to learn a little more about them. You should figure out what areas of research they specialize in, and browse through a few of their abstracts if possible! (Tip: Google Scholar is definitely a lifesaver at this stage!!!)



Step 1. Introduce Yourself:

Address the Professor “Dear Professor So-and-so”.  In just a sentence or two, you should mention your name, year, and major. Keep it simple!

“My name is Oski Bear, and I’m a freshman majoring in ____.”


Step 2. Explain why you’re emailing them about THEIR research:

Here, you need to show that this isn’t just-another-research-email. You should use the work you did in Step 0 to provide some good evidence that you’ve at least looked them up!

“I was looking at your website and found the idea behind your ongoing project on [x] to be very [x].”

You don’t need to be CRAZY specific — you just need to show them that you have a genuine interest in what they do.


Step 3. What do you want from them?

Here, it’ll usually just be “any available position in your lab.” Modify it as necessary. You’ll also need to touch on the timing of this position. Are you looking for a fall position? A spring position? If you’re already thinking about the summer, you can mention that here too!


Step 4. What is your availability?

•General availability for working in the lab: A general rule of thumb is to have 8-10 hours free in your schedule if you want to add on a research position. You should let the professor know how many hours you’re willing to dedicate to the position, and sometimes they’ll actually ask to see your semester schedule.

•Availability to meet:  If the professor has office hours, say you plan to come to their office hours on X day. If they don’t have office hours, request a meeting, and describe your availability for the next week or so, e.g. “I’m generally free Tuesday and Thursday afternoons as well as Friday mornings”. That way the professor, with a single email, can give you an appointment time.  


Step 5. Why should they pick you?

This is a little tricky, since you might not necessarily have prior research experience. That’s okay though! Think about what you’ve done that could demonstrate that you are a strong candidate. Challenging coursework? Genuine curiosity?

You can also rephrase a lack of experience as motivation to learn, telling the professor that regardless of your lack of experience, your deep motivation to grow and learn would make you a dedicated and hardworking member of their team.


Step 6. Resume and CalCentral transcript

Just attach the resume and transcript to the email, and mention you’ve included them: “I’ve attached my resume and transcript…”. If you are unsure how to write a resume, a great tool is the Career Center Guide, located on their website.  Format your resume to the research position.


Step 7. Review

Review your email before sending it out. Is the tone professional? Is the closing appropriate? Ask a friend to look it over, or maybe save it as a draft and come back to it later-sometimes you can be surprised at the small mistakes you overlooked!


Step 8. Follow-up

So now what? You should have a little game plan for what they should do following this email if they’re interested in you. Perhaps suggest meeting for coffee to discuss their research further, or just end the email saying that you look forward to hearing from them soon.

Cold emails are definitely a bit weird to send out the first few times, but if you spend some time on them, they can be a very effective manner of getting research positions. Though many professors might not even respond as they are extremely busy, all it takes is one yes!

See the Resources tab of for many more hints on finding a lab or a sponsoring professor.  The powerpoint presentation for the “How to write an email to a professor” workshop is posted online, and contains some successful sample student emails to professors.  


We hope this helps you with the process of applying to research positions! Good luck!