Contacting a Scientist

If you hope that a scientist will take your request for help seriously, you’ll want to ensure that your request appears professional.

  1. Select the first scientist you will reach out to. It is not a good idea to send the same message to every scientist in a department. Instead, choose a specific person and make your message personalized just for them, as described below.
  2. Prior to reaching out, if possible, make sure that you are able to send the email from an account with an appropriate email address (your name and/or initials are ideal). This will also come in handy when putting contact information on job or college applications in the future.
  3. Compose the email in a word document and have a teacher or parent/guardian review your message before you send it.Here are some ideas for what to include in the letter:
    • Subject line: Try to make it something that will standout from the rest of their inbox in a positive way (i.e., “Inspired by your work on ___”)
    • Greeting: Dear (person’s name), – don’t forget a title (i.e. Dr. if the person has a PhD or Ms, Mr, or Mx if no PhD)

    Each of these sections should be a short paragraph of 2-4 sentences:

    • (Introduce yourself) – Name, grade, school, your interest in STEM, relevant past experience
    • (What do you find interesting about their specialty or research) – be specific as possible, you want to demonstrate that you took the time to get to know them and their work. Connect their work to your interests
    • (The ask) – What do you want from this person and why? Start by asking for a smaller interaction, rather than starting with a request for something larger, like an internship. If they are interested and you develop a relationship with them, you can then move on to ask if there is a possibility of an internship or student research program opportunity. Be as specific as possible about what you need. Here are some things you might request:
      • I am having difficulty understanding a specific scientific concept in your research and hope you might explain it to me. (This should be a very specific topic, not a general concept that is explained widely online.)
      • I am looking for some assistance in identifying or developing my central research question, which is in your area of specialization
      • I have found multiple procedures that I could use in my project and I am looking for guidance on which to choose
      • I have an idea for a new concept or procedure related to your research and I would value your feedback on it.

      Ask to speak with them further on the matter – “I would love to set up a time to talk with you further, I can be reached at [email address and/or phone number].” (make sure you have parental permission for any contact information you include)

    • (Closing) “I look forward to hearing from you”, “Thank you”, “Sincerely”, etc.
    • [your full name]
  4. If they do not respond within 1 week, forward your original message to them again, indicating that you wanted to be certain they received your message, reconfirming your interest in their work and connecting with them. If they do not reply to your second message, move on to the next person on your list.
  5. If they respond to your email, but decline to assist you, thank them for their reply and ask if they could recommend a colleague for you to reach out to.