E-mail to Dissertation Supervisor – How to Approach it

Time to read: 4 Minutes
E-mail-to-Dissertation-Supervisor-Definition

Approaching a dissertation supervisor can seem nerve-wracking, and it may be challenging to know the intricacies of approaching and communicating with them. This guide provides tips on approaching potential supervisors and what you can expect to make the experience less daunting.

E-mail to Dissertation Supervisor – In a Nutshell

  • The first e-mail to dissertation supervisor should have a clear subject title, a formal salutation and closing, and proper error-free language.
  • Keep your e-mail to dissertation supervisor short, relevant and with a clear call to action.
  • If you do not receive a response to your e-mail in, say, a week, you can send a polite follow-up email.

Definition: E-mail to Dissertation Supervisor

There are several instances where you would need to send an e-mail to dissertation supervisor, as highlighted below:

  • Arranging an appointment for an initial appointment of a follow-up meeting.
  • Asking questions on a problem you encounter and getting clarification on a matter you discussed.
  • Confirming agreements for matters you discussed.

It is a good idea to make a summary of what you and your supervisor agree on regarding issues such as deadlines and steps forward. Request your supervisor to verify your notes to ensure you agree and are completely clear on the way forward.

E-mail to Dissertation Supervisor: Style and Tone

Write your e-mail to dissertation supervisor formally and use your school email address to come across as professional (in place of your account). The guide below gives tips on writing the e-mail to dissertation supervisor, the style to use and what to avoid.

Addressing Your Supervisor

It is best to address your supervisor formally in your first email. Since you do not know how they would prefer to be addressed, it is better to err on the side of caution. An initial informal e-mail to dissertation supervisor may send the wrong message and cast doubt your attitude and professionalism.

If your supervisor responds to your email with their first name in the closing, e.g., (‘Sincerely Gabriel’), it may be okay to address them by their first name in the following email. However, we recommend waiting until you have exchanged a few more emails where they have closed informally to be extra safe.

The table below gives examples of closings and salutations you can use in your e-mail to dissertation supervisor on formal and informal occasions.

Formal Informal
Salutation • Dear Sir/Madam
• Dear Prof.
• Dear Dr.
• Dear Ms./Mr.,
• Dear Michael,
Closing • Sincerely, • Regards,

Email Signature

Using an email signature is at your discretion, although it is not necessary. However, you can model it as below if you do choose to use it or if your program requires it:

  • First name and surname
  • Study program
  • Institution of study
  • Telephone number
  • Email address

Grammar

The e-mail to dissertation supervisor must be well-written with good grammar and correct English (or any appropriate language). We strongly recommend that you proofread your e-mail to dissertation supervisor carefully for any mistakes before sending it or ask another person to read it to get a fresh set of eyes on it.

A concise e-mail to dissertation supervisor will display your professionalism and seriousness about your project.

E-mail to Dissertation Supervisor: Tips

Below are some valuable tips for writing an e-mail to dissertation supervisor.1

Concise subject line: The purpose of a subject line is to summarize the email and get the reader interested. Use a short, clear summary to reinforce your call to action.
Connections: Make sure you mention any connection you may have with the supervisor. Did you hear the professor speak at an event, or were you referred to them by a former student or their colleague?
Keep it relevant: Dissertation supervisors are usually busy, so stick to what is pertinent to the dissertation. For instance, do not add personal anecdotes to your e-mail to dissertation supervisor unless they are essential to the application.
Do not ask long, complex questions in the e-mail to dissertation supervisor: Save any complicated questions for when you can speak to your supervisor more personally. This will allow you to get detailed answers and follow up where you are dissatisfied with a response. You will also save your supervisor the time and effort needed to write replies to your questions.
Have a clear CTA (Call to Action): Your e-mail to dissertation supervisor should be very clear and leave no doubt about what you want from them. Ask your questions as clearly as possible. You are more likely to get a faster response if your supervisor is clear on what you want.
Introduce yourself: After requesting to work with them, introduce yourself briefly. Include your institution of study, research interests and why you are interested in working with them. We also recommend attaching your resume to the email.
Respond as quickly as you can to any responses to your e-mail to dissertation supervisor: Confirm any appointments your supervisor makes, provide any information they request, answer their questions and request clarification on what you don't understand.
Taking the initiative to contact your supervisor shows that you are serious and driven. Contact your supervisor to arrange an appointment instead of waiting for them to set it.

E-mail to Dissertation Supervisor: No Reply

Supervisors will usually always respond to your emails; however, the reply rate may vary. Do not take it personally if they do not respond to your email immediately. Researchers also teach research and travel and may even supervise other students.

If you don’t receive a reply in about a week, you can follow up politely. However, be careful not to look too impatient by not allowing your supervisor sufficient time to reply.

If your supervisor still does not respond after your follow-up, you can contact your program or the department secretary, who can contact you with your supervisor.2

E-mail-to-Dissertation-Supervisor Example

FAQs

Your first e-mail to dissertation supervisor should clearly state who you are and what you would like from them. It is beneficial also to mention how you heard of them, whether by attending their lectures, by recommendation, or another way.

In your first e-mail to dissertation supervisor, address them formally by their title to avoid giving the impression of unprofessionalism. If your supervisor responds with an informal closing severally, you may assume that it is alright to address them as so.

Yes, you can. However, when sending an e-mail to dissertation supervisor, you should make it clear from the beginning that you are also contacting other potential supervisors.

This transparency will help you avoid any misunderstandings in the future.3

The response speed will vary among supervisors, as most are often busy with other commitments. Wait for about a week, then send a polite follow-up e-mail to dissertation supervisor.

Sources

1 Academic Positions. “How to Email a Potential Supervisor.” January 17, 2020. https://academicpositions.com/career-advice/how-to-email-a-potential-supervisor.

2 Banyard, Chris. “Contacting Potential PhD Supervisors.” FindAPhD. November 10, 2022. https://www.findaphd.com/guides/contacting-phd-supervisors.

3 Daniyal, J. Jafree, Katharine Whitehurst and Shivanchan Rajmohan. “How to approach supervisors for research opportunities.” Sciencedirect. Accessed January 4, 2023. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S204908011600025X.