secure a spot in my laboratory group?
This note is not to discourage you, but I get >100 such requests every year, from among whom I might typically take on only one or two.
So, before you write me, to avoid wasted time and disappointment, be sure you really can meet at least five of these criteria:
You have a proven record of research productivity – a graduate degree and research papers in PubMed-indexed journals. I prefer not to take on undergraduate students seeking a first lab experience, new BSc grads wanting to start an MSc, or MDs with no cancer research experience. Ultimately, you need to have sufficient skills and ability to actively determine your research direction and to independently design experiments that yield clearly positive or negative answers.
You have real cancer research training & experience – not just undergraduate coursework. Breast cancer, sarcomas, molecular oncogenesis, epigenetics, proteomics, targeted therapy, immunooncology, biomarker development, bioinformatics, clinical statistics – these are some particularly relevant backgrounds.
You can bring a new skill, method or approach to my laboratory, and better yet can independently think of a way that it could be applied to build on my published research.
You have excellent English language skills – written and spoken. This means you write at a very high level, and are truly fluent (able to grasp complex concepts during rapid conversations, and avidly read and understand the scientific literature).
You have a track record of winning awards for academics and/or research. While I do have plenty of funding to support my trainees, if you have already secured your own funding that makes you much easier to take on. If not, you should have a c.v. that suggests you will be competitive in fellowship applications.
You have or will find a way to meet me in person (in Vancouver, at a conference we both attended, or in a visit I made to your institution), or alternatively you have been referred by someone I know – a lab I have collaborated with, or at least one that I have cited in my publications.
You are approaching me with a good idea related to the fields I am working in, based on clinical need or technological innovation. Be specific and show your ability to take the initiative!
What does not work:
A letter that reads like it has been sent out to other researchers in a very similar form. It needs to be personalized and specific. Just quoting the title of a paper I have published and mentioning that you found it interesting is not enough.
A letter that is purely a description of what you have done in the past. What I really need to know is what you would specifically want to do in my lab, in the near future.