How NOT to write an e-mail when seeking an internship position in the lab?

There can be no worse moment to start or end your day when you get a rejection mail on your manuscript submitted to a journal. Even if the moment is recurring, one can never get used to it. The sting and the "love letter" from the journal office bear the usual tone and content. You feel discouraged, sad, angry, and irritated. It takes a while before the anger subsides when you tell yourself, well, "this is not the end of the world", and spend the night re-formatting the manuscript for submission to another journal. The whole cycle is repeated when this happens again for the next manuscript. One never gets used to it but learns to live with it.


Why am I speaking about the feeling after a journal rejects manuscripts when I want to talk about e-mails requesting internship positions in the lab!!!! There is an uncanny similarity between the two. Like a rejection letter, an e-mail with a request for an internship in the lab that is worded incorrectly and vague makes me equally angry, irritated, and frustrated.


I shall explain below.


First, if you are applying for an internship, read the scientist's website to who you are applying for heaven's sake. My website ( clearly states what I want, what I expect and what I don't. Despite being clear on what I am looking for and what not to write, I get e-mails that are so wild that I have started not opening those e-mails first thing in the morning or before I go to bed. 


Below are a few examples taken from actual e-mails that I have received.


  • Sir, please take me in your lab. I really want to be in your esteemed organization.
  • Respected Authority, This is to bring to your kind notice that I am….
  • It will be my pleasure to work as an intern position and you will appreciate my presence.
  • Kindly consider this cover letter as a wishful request and bless me by providing me the opportunity to work under your guidance. 


This is just a trailer of what follows in the main body of the e-mails. I usually don't read the entire mail as I lose interest when I see something like that. 


Here are some cardinal rules for writing a request letter for an internship.


  1. Visit the scientist's website and do some research on what the person is working on. 
  2. Be genuine when you say, "I'm really interested". There are so many scientists; you will find someone where you are genuinely interested in the work. Don't fake and say that you are interested when you are just fishing.
  3. Read the section that says, "Openings", "Internship", "Positions". Usually, the terms of application or what a Professor is looking for is clearly mentioned there. If it is not, write to know whether an Internship is position is available in the lab.
  4. Don't say you are interested in "your esteemed organization". That is just a bunch of baloney. No organization is esteemed. Don't lie and don't embellish. 
  5. Be genuine, even if you don't get the internship.
  6. I realize that the internship requests come as a wolf pack, meaning I get at least 4, 5 or 6 e-mails from different students from the same university/institution. This means that they are talking/discussing among each other, which is good but what is not is that they never acknowledge or say that this is usually when a lot of students apply for an internship, and we are interested in getting one as well.
  7. I am afraid most students from our universities/colleges don't write well. This is not a reflection of English not being our native language. It is more to do with the fact that we are not taught how to write professional letters/e-mails. Therefore, learn how to write. If you want to be a scientist, there is no escape from the fact that you will spend a major part of your life in writing research papers, grant proposals, review articles, general science articles and others.
  8. Ask if it is possible to speak with the Professor or even visit his/her lab.
  9. Develop an idea on which you want to work with. This has to be in line with what the lab is already working on. For example, you will get very little support/help in a genomics lab if you want to study stars and galaxies. Therefore, use common sense.


Bottom line: Be genuine, truthful and straightforward. Avoid jargon and absolutely don't say anything about the esteemed university /institution/ organization. 



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