Guidelines For Writing an Effective Cold Email to a Professor

by Lawal Jesutofunmi Mary

One of the best ways to approach a professor in a Nigerian school setting is through cold emails.

Cold emails are a means of networking, creating brand awareness, and seeking business opportunities.

Cold emailing is done anytime you are seeking something important from someone you don’t know.

People who don’t have prior knowledge of this concept tend to use inaccurate approaches while writing cold emails. As a result, most cold emails fail.

But they work well once the right approach is put to use. People have built and maintained strong relationships with proper cold emails. 

This article is set to explain and guide students on the right approach to sending a cold email to a professor in Nigeria.

What is a Cold Email?

A cold email is an email sent to a specific person (the recipient) or to a business organization in a bid to build a business relationship, seek employment, or gain favor or opportunities.

The act of sending cold emails is known as cold emailing.  

One type of cold email that appears difficult is the cold email to a professor. 

In Nigeria, professors tend to check their emails rather than grant a physical consultation. 

But, once the content of your email has the right approach and concise presentation of your case, there is a possibility of the professor granting a request for a physical consultation

How to Write Cold Email to a Professor

Below are step-by-step guidelines that will help you put together an effective cold email to a professor. 

  1. A good subject line

The subject line is one of the very important guidelines for cold emails.

The primary goal of your subject line is to get the content of your email read. 

This is what determines whether the recipient will open your email or not.

It is the first thing the recipient sees and should be written with strategy.

For example, if two students send cold emails to a professor to grant an interview for a research paper, with the following subject lines; 

Student 1 – Interview for research paper


Student 2 – Quick question regarding your research thesis (referring to the topic, date, and year of the thesis)

This first one is likely what the professor gets now and then, while the second is catchy.

If your subject line catches your recipient’s attention, it will encourage him or her to open it. Use a catchy subject line, free of slogans and spammy phrases.

  1. Introduction

Before you proceed, introduce yourself, stating your name, university, level, and course of study. 

If available, attach a resume about the line of work you are presenting.

Read also: How to communicate better as a student in Nigeria.

  1. The email body should be concise

Nobody has the time to sit down and read a lengthy email especially when it is not one that they subscribed to.

A professor does not have the luxury of time to read a lengthy email. 

Explain briefly the purpose of your email, and keep your message concise and precise to get a quick response.

There are three parts of a cold email body:

  • Introduction – A section where you introduce yourself
  • Purpose – The reason for contacting the recipient
  • Conclusion– A greeting to thank them for their time.
  1. The tone used should be formal

Since you do not have an existing relationship with the professor, when writing a cold email to a professor, keep it formal. 

Stick to the use of his/her last name. Your email should start with “Dear prof. Ige”, and end with “Looking forward to your response, thank you”.

Do you wish to improve your writing skills and also earn with it? If yes, join the Insight writers’ community. 

  1. Make research on your recipient

Before you proceed to send a cold email to a professor, you must have done research and have detailed knowledge about who they are.

This includes their area of expertise, skills, what they have done, their views on some aspects, what interests them, and even what they want should not be left out.

You should find out what areas of research they specialize in, and what awards they have received on that work or other work and browse through a few of their works — this is termed personalization. 

You can include your knowledge about one of these aspects, commend him and appreciate his contributions. 

With this, you can build a bond with the recipient and further encourage a quick response. 

The details of most professors are included in school or faculty handbooks which you can go through to learn about them. 

  1. The content of your email should relate to your recipient

The content of a cold email should relate to the occupation or area of expertise of the recipient. 

For example, a cold email to request an attestation on a study made on plants can not be sent to a professor who majors in animal science. 

  1. Provide solution to a pain point

One of the most important guidelines for cold emails is to provide a solution to a problem the professor might have. 

Cold emails are not only written to tender your requests.

It is reasonable to have prior knowledge of the area of lack of the recipient and state how you can help in such an area. 

For example, “I know a standard laboratory owned by an American scientist where you can carry out further experiments on your ongoing research”.

Read also: Cold Email Tips for Freelancers (with templates). 

  1. Be confident

This is another important guideline for cold emails. While sending a cold email to a professor, be confident and let the tone of your content be respectful.

Give proven and real solutions if you have any to the problem your professor might be facing. 

For example, “I believe this laboratory meets your standard and you’ll be able to carry out the experiments successfully”.

Suggest a meeting with them in the content of your email.

    1. Show appreciation

Write a thank you at the end of your email and show you are eager to receive their response. 

For example, you can say “Thank you so much, I am grateful” or “Thanking you in anticipation of your response” 

    1. Follow up

If you experience a delay in response to the first cold email you sent, send a follow-up message with regards to the earlier one. 

Read also: How I won a fully funded scholarship for multiple master’s degrees in three universities. 

Samples of cold emails to a professor

Once you’ve mastered the guidelines for cold emails, you can write a variety of requests in the form of cold emails to a professor. 

Samples of cold emails to a professor are given below;

  • Request as a research mentor
  • Request as a project supervisor
  • Request as a Ph.D. student supervisor
  • Interview for a research paper 
  • Request for scholarships.
  • Request to be part of a professor’s project or assignment
  • To give ideas that will further help his research.
  • Request for work as an assistant

Here is a sample of a cold email to a professor: 

Subject line: “I’m greatly interested in your research thesis”

Dear Prof. Ige,

My name is Lara George and I am interested in laboratory research this academic year. 

I am currently a fourth-year student of microbiology at Ladoke Akintola university. 

Going through the list of faculty in Biology, your research description of developing resistance to pain greatly interested me. 

I desire to study how the body builds its resistance to pain. Your lab seems like a good place to study, especially in regards to what areas of the body are responsible for specific kinds of cell information that deal with that.

I have taken some classes and done laboratory work in the past that might benefit me were I to work in your lab. I have taken Biology and anatomy.

Also, I participated in a one-year internship at a physiotherapy clinic. I have attached my resumé for more details.

If possible, I would like to meet with you in person to talk more about your research. 

Even if you cannot accept me, I would still love to hear about your work. Thank you in anticipation of your response.

Yours Sincerely

Lara George.

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About Author

Avatar of Lawal Jesutofunmi Mary
Lawal Jesutofunmi Mary
Lawal Jesutofunmi Mary is a Skin care expert, hair care consultant and content writer communicating helpful information on hair and skin care through writing. She is an avid reader who loves to broaden her horizons through reading. Writing reviews of books on personal growth and self development gives her joy.

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