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Strategies for Communicating with Faculty

For the past three years, Core Programs has hosted a communication skills workshop with the goal of sharing effective strategies international graduate students can use when communicating with faculty. Below are a just a few of these communication best practices. These tips are useful not only for international graduate students but also all graduate students across the University of Washington.

Be proactive. Faculty panelists at our workshops have stated that despite their busy schedules, they truly appreciate hearing from their graduate students who need guidance or mentoring. As such, it’s important to take initiative if you need to connect with a faculty member. Whether you need feedback on a project or paper, are in the process of searching for a thesis or dissertation advisor, or are seeking letters of recommendation for an internship or job, taking steps to communicate your needs to faculty in advance are steps towards success in graduate school.

Email etiquette. Just like with every mode of communication, there are general guidelines for writing that very first (or fortieth) email to faculty. Some of these tips may seem like common sense to some, but it’s always helpful to remember that all of us start at the beginning, no matter the task. First, have a clear subject line like “Request to Schedule Meeting to Discuss My Research Progress.” Include a professional greeting, and keep your message short and to the point. If you want to convey updates about your work, include an attachment (or ask what the faculty you are contacting prefers) rather than including long updates in the message body. Finally, include a closing statement that thanks the faculty for their time, followed by a closing phrase and your signature. Then proofread your email (with a peer or co-worker if needed) at least one time before sending.

When you are in doubt, clarify. Making a point to clarify what you are discussing in meetings with your faculty advisor is important to being successful in graduate school, whether or not you are an international graduate student. For example, you can use the repeat or rephrase strategy by saying, “I’d like to make sure that I heard you correctly…” If you’re still unclear, you could ask, “Do you mind clarifying what you mean by…?” Finally, it’s always a good idea to take meeting notes and email them to your advisor soon after the meeting, “This is what we discussed… Here is how we are moving forward…” Emailing your notes allows you and your professor to document your meetings and progress.

Letters of Recommendation. Asking for letters of recommendation from faculty can be intimidating, and it’s something that just takes practice. Whether you are seeking a letter of recommendation for an internship, job, or fellowship application, try out these tips. In the body of your email, include a very brief description of the job or fellowship you are applying for. Mention aspects of the job description or fellowship that are relevant to you. Include a bulleted list of the skills or experiences that make you a strong applicant. Make sure to include the deadline for the faculty’s letter of recommendation, the submission link or mailing address, and thank them for their time and efforts. Finally, attach the most recent, updated copy of your resume or CV, proofread your email, and send!

We hope you find these tips useful, and let us know what has worked for you!

Best Regards,

Core Programs Team

Many thanks to Ziyan Bai, graduate staff assistant for Core Programs and PhD Candidate in Education for doing an outstanding job of organizing these workshops. We also extend gratitude to the following faculty who have offered their time and insights as panelists and guests at these workshops over the past three years (in no particular order): Liz Sanders (Education), Sara Goering (Philosophy), Mari Ostendorf (Electrical Engineering), Wendy Thomas (Bioengineering), Xiasong Li (Chemistry), Kelly Edwards (Bioethics), Gino Aisenberg (Social Work), Gojko Lalic (Chemistry), and John Sahr (Electrical Engineering).