What I learnt from 700 e-mail applications

By | April 21, 2021

In 2014, through a four-year degree course in mechanical engineering at the Government Engineering College in Thiruvananthapuram, India, I was already desperate to start my career in research, so I started planning early. When I finally graduated I started applying for positions abroad.

I was one of three applicants shortlisted for a research internship on a muon-to-electron-conversion experiment of 2 mu2e ‘in Fermilab, Batavia, Illinois, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Despair pushed me to find a research program in my favorite discipline of fluid dynamics, after which I realized the importance of finding and focusing on a focused area of ​​interest.

I e-mailed individual lab heads, whose work seemed interesting and also applied to specific recruitment programs. In the end, I wrote over 700 e-mail applications, and almost failed several times. Often, I never even got an answer.

But the rejects taught me valuable, career-defining lessons, and developed friendships and I never received my advice from scientists.

Given that epidemic lockdowns result in fewer opportunities for researchers to be face-to-face and network at conferences, I thought that my e-mail-heavy approach to finding research status might help others . Here is what I learned from my failures.

Avoid generic email

At first, I sent a single templated e-mail to several researchers, just changing the address. I quickly realized that people do not respond to generic e-mails. To generate replies, an e-mail needs to be more specific, containing information that is unique to the recipient, they have a certain research area that interests me.

I started optimizing my e-mails more and more, reading the recipient’s publications more closely and what I hoped were creative ideas on their research, suggesting better ways to solve the problem that they were Were working In some cases, I also conducted preliminary experiments based on my ideas at home.

On one occasion, a friend and I made a small working model of a wind tunnel in our living room, studying how to wind around a scale-down model ranging from cars to space shuttles. Flows It was time-intensive and might have been less rigorous than possible in the lab, but I enjoyed it, learned a lot and the pictures attached to the subsequent e-mails helped to attract attention.

My e-mail diagrams were filled with hand-written sketches of experiments, photographs of work done at home, and requests for feedback. It usually took me a few days – sometimes up to a week – before preparation to finally send a carefully prepared e-mail to a lab head. I regularly stayed up late and drafted e-mails over the weekend.

This extra effort meant that lab heads were more likely to respond, appreciating my interest in their work and my dedication to the subject (see Seven years. Sometimes they just wanted to explain why my suggestions were wrong . It was fine for me – it encouraged an answer and started a dialogue. I used that opportunity to ask for suggestions to improve my skills, so that I could connect with them in the future, and often constructive feedback. Was rewarded with.

A researcher suggested that I could pursue a master’s degree at a better university in India to improve my chances of getting a scholarship to do a PhD with him at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

At the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, each other suggested that I join a research lab and produce publications to increase my chances of obtaining a scholarship. This advice may seem obvious to many, but it was not for me at the time: I did not have the experience to offer this advice to anyone in my network in Thiruvananthapuram.

A third researcher challenged me over a period of eight months with a series of problems to evaluate whether I was suitable for his group at Carlton University in Ottawa. I was not successful, but I learned a lot.

And a scientist at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Korn was enough to explain that he had rejected my application despite my “mastery skills and enthusiasm” because another candidate had little more experience in a specific field of research Which was laboratory focused. On.

Importance of publications

I quickly discovered that my bachelor’s degree was not enough to instill confidence in my scientific education.

I did some undergraduate research locally with SS Sunesh and Gopkumar Parameswaran. This resulted in me being listed as a co-author in two conference publications and two peer-review journal publications. By highlighting these achievements, I received more responses to my internship and research master’s applications.

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