The Art of Emailing Professors to Secure a Foreign Internship

Email is the most under-rated, under-used tool for grabbing an internship abroad. Read all about how to utilize it effectively!

There are two definitive ways to bag an internship-

1. Apply to various internship programs such as MITACS, DAAD-WISE, etc. Fill up your application form in the fanciest way possible and leave the rest up to fate.


2. Write an email to a professor as a prospective intern/student.

The latter might sound easier than it reads. Yet most people say this method almost never works. A few days ago, Mr. Shivpal Yadav, a Civil Engineering student at IIT (BHU) shared his summer internship experience at Federal University of Rio De Janerio, Brazil with us. What made his story stand-out was that he achieved this funded internship (yes, you read it right) via a simple email correspondence. He is an email application veteran, having sent out mails by the dozen to professors all over the world. Some of the useful tips he provided are worth a read:

  1. Being resilient: Professors are busy people. Do not lose hope if your first, second or even third email goes unanswered. You have to be resilient while contacting professors.
  1. Timing matters: The time you send out your mail matters more than you think. Never email a professor during the weekends or Friday night; that might be a convenient time for you to email the professor but it is also the professor’s day off and your mail will get buried under the numerous other student’s applications. Professors tend to check their mail during their office hours thus increasing chances of a reply if sent out at such a time.
  1. Whom not to contact: It is advisable not to contact more than one professor from the same department as, if found out, it will dampen your credibility in the eyes of both professors.
  1. Be specific: I cannot stress on this point enough. In the subject heading of email, be sure to include the specific area you want to intern in. The professor shouldn’t have to scour through the email to search for what you want . If you want to do a research project under him/her, a subject line such as ‘2015 Prospective Research Intern for xyz subject area’ would be ideal.
  1. Funding: Most professors are reluctant to provide funding and understandably so; you are an unknown candidate with only words to prove your credibility. Typing out a politely worded, technical email will help your chances. Make sure there are no grammatical errors. If you are good at academia with prior work experience pertaining to their field, then getting funded becomes much easier.

The email is all about you being a student that the professor absolutely HAS to offer a position. The real question you should ask yourself is: What can I do to make the professor respond to my mail instead of ten dozen others lying in his/her inbox? Here’s what-

  • Start Early: Consider this. You contact professors in October for an internship that starts in January. Provided one responds, confirmation of a project takes time. There are official procedures to be considered, especially if it’s a funded project. Then there might be a matter of VISA which needs a few weeks at the least. In the end, you might find yourself racing against time to get the confirmation.

TIP: If you want an internship offer by January of next year, you should start with your research six months ahead. Keep in mind the vacation timings for the countries you are targeting because most professors will have their automatic vacation responders on during these months. By the time they read their mail, yours will be more than twenty thousand leagues under all other emails.

  • Target the right country: If you desire an international internship, you have to be smart while choosing universities. Some professors just don’t have the funds to admit you. So what’s the point in setting up base camp there?

TIP: At the outset, select countries which are known to provide funding to students. For example, news and statistics show that of late, Canada is an emerging tycoon in the education sector and is allocating massive funds to projects. So it could very well be your next destination.

  • Spam emails: Most emails from unknown addresses are flagged as spam and don’t even reach the inbox. Professors also can’t be sure whether you are truly a student or a fake.

TIP: One smart preventive measure would be to use your university email ID which identifies your first and last name and also has something like ‘@iitg’ or some such credible ending. This validates both points at once.

  • Bulk emails: A lot of students have a huge list of professors and play chance with their emails. Writing a bulk email with a set format to all professors will only result in immediate deletion from inbox.

TIP: Spell the professor’s name correctly. Get the honorifics right- Professors are usually ‘Dr.’. Salutations such as ‘Dear Dr.X’ or simply ‘Dr.X’ should be used. Write about what interests you in their body of work.

  • Do your homework: Professing interest in someone’s work by saying ‘I would be really enthused to work under you’ has absolutely no bearing unless you give evidence to support it.

TIP: Run through the body of work the professor has done, select one publication or project that overlaps with your interest and READ IT. Come up with some interesting insight or query about it. Don’t be vague, use technical words. Try to add your own ideas. Nothing proves your interest more than actually doing your homework.

To elucidate the impact of a well-written email better, let us show you a comparison between two emails, written for the same purpose-

Better email

We leave it upon you to decide which of these is more likely to get a response.
Really, writing an email is an art. It can be gruelling but when you get that acceptance, you realize with marvel that you basically got offered a position on the basis of a mere email!

Author’s Note: I would like to thank Mr. Shivpal Yadav for sharing with me the valuable tips and knowledge he gained from his experience. For queries and doubts, feel free to contact him on his LinkedIn account or drop an email to He has a wealth of knowledge that he would be happy to share!

About author : Sohini Bagchi is a 4th Year Biotechnology student at VIT, Vellore.

If you’re looking for further tips on how to score a foreign internship, then let us enlighten you through this article.

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