TOTW: Keep it Brief – Email Script for Getting Experience

Tip of the Week (TOTW): Whether you are already in your graduate program, or organizing information to get into that top program, the ‘Tip of the Week’ is designed to help make you work more efficiently.

This week: How to get experience.

 

Since the most important part of your graduation application is your experience, students are often unsure how to go about getting that experience. Let’s take the two most common paths for graduate school: 1) research or 2) applied.

paths

For research experience most folks will be looking for either volunteer or paid positions in a laboratory. But, how do you find these experiences? In many cases, all you need to do is ask. Scour the web for labs in your area (note that most places do not require that you are a student at the university you’d be volunteering – at any given point more than half of my lab is staffed by students from other universities or recent post-bacc students). Be sure to check all universities in your area – larger and smaller institutions – be creative (interested in neuroscience? Why not try medical school campuses?).

In my experience, the biggest problem that students have in getting research experience is that they don’t know how to ask for a volunteer position in a lab. Here is how you do this – and what to include in an email:

1) Most important: Be brief and concise. Your email should be about a paragraph 3-4 sentences, max.
2) Include your interest in the topic (in a way that shows you have done your homework). Do not write to an organization, or worse ‘to whom it may concern’, write to a specific person.
3) Why you are looking for experience (what path in grad school/career you are planning for)
4) Your time availability and whether you are looking for a paid or volunteer position.

An example email should look something like this:

Dear Dr. Jones,
I am writing you to see if you have any volunteer opportunities in your laboratory. I am very interested in your work on bipolar disorder and emotion regulation and would love to gain some expertise in this area. I am a post-baccalaureate student from XY university and have my degree in ZZ. My plan is to apply to doctoral programs in the fall of 2015 and so I am working on developing my research experience. I could commit 10 hours of work per week and have a fairly flexible schedule. Please let me know if there are any openings that I may apply for. I have attached my CV for your review.
Best Regards,

Remember, don’t offer something that you can’t follow up on … only agree to the amount of time that you can stick with. If you have any special skills that you know would be useful in the lab (work with a complicated software program, technology, or if you have programming experience) you can mention that in a brief sentence. However, do not include experience with MS Word/Excel or other common software (these are assumed). If you have a very high GPA, you can include that as well, “I have been successful in my academic work (GPA of 3.8) and I have a good attention to detail” although this is not required. Note that you may need to send this email more than once to get a response. In general, send the email, then wait a week or two, and then send it again.

For applied experience, the email should look similar:

Dear Dr. Jones,
I am writing you to see if you have any volunteer opportunities at PLACEMENT. I am very interested in developing my skills in XYZ area, and believe the work that you are doing at PLACEMENT would be an ideal fit for me. I am a post-baccalaureate student from XY university and have my degree in ZZ. My plan is to apply to doctoral programs in the fall of 2015 and so I am working on developing my applied experience. I could commit 10 hours of work per week and have a fairly flexible schedule. Please let me know if there are any openings that I may apply for. I have attached my CV for your review.
Best Regards,

Note that in the case of applied settings, people often find that a phone call is a better bet. Call, and explain your situation and see who would be the best person to speak to about volunteering. Be persistent! If you get a vague answer, wait a couple of days, call and speak to someone else.

Photo by hockadilly

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