I get many emails from potential trainees inquiring about a job. This ranges from high school students to people that have already completed a few postdocs to retirees. We love working with many different people, from all walks of life and at all stages of education (we are in many of them ourselves). This blog post explains our thought process in terms of how we choose who to be on our team. We hope it is useful to you, and look forward to your feedback and working with you!

Firstly, if you are a visiting or exchange student, see JHU’s official exchange program overview. If you are interested in working with us, go through the official process in this overview; after you do this, email me to say you applied, and tell me a little about yourself.

Secondly, We have a few basic requirements for being on the team:

  1. You are more excited about working on the stuff we work on than anything else in the world. We believe maximally thrive/flourish their zone of genius, and we desire to support people to maximally thrive.
  2. You are excited to specifically work with and hang out with us, and we feel the same way about you. We care deeply about the quality of our lives, which, for us, is typically largely determined by our relationships with the people around us.
  3. You agree to all our agreements. We collectively generated these agreements, and frequently update them, to reflect our core values. If they are not cool with you, it is unlikely that you will be a good cultural fit on our team.

If you meet all the above requirements, than there is a pretty good chance we’ll get to do something awesome together :) However, there are some actual skills and background knowledge that are quite useful. These are not quite required, because we often work with high school students, for example, who lack these skills, but they are suggested. For college and post-college students, some background in either theoretical mathematics/statistics and/or numerical programming is essentially required to contribute.

Something else that is required, but is basically impossible to assess without ever talking to us, is an ability to communicate technical content to us effectively. This is important because we work on teams, and the efficiency of our team is partially determined by our ability to communicate effectively with one another. We acknoweldge that this is highly subjective, a given individual might be able to communicate effectively with some people, and not others.

One last thing: the longer you are interested in working on our team, the better. For example, PhD students stick around for five years, we can train you and do a whole bunch of amazing things together in that time. Postdocs can stick around for 2 years, which is nice if they already are up to speed on crucial data science skills. Master’s students are more complicated, as they have so little time and so much to learn. Though we often take summer students, they are the most difficult to do right by. We want them to learn and have an awesome experience, but we are a small team, and summer is not long enough to contribute, just long enough to get some basic training in. So, summer positions are particularly selective. In any case, we hope to work with you soon, and if only for a short time now, we hope a much longer time in the future.

OK, now we are in good shape, and we’re actually looking forward to an email from you! I try to respond to every single request I receive, but some I judge as spam (or my spam filter does), and are therefore ignored. If you have not received a response from me within a week, please email again (probably change the text because the first one I thought was spam)! Below is a template of an email that gets me excited to respond, mostly probably because it caters to my ego. Nonetheless, it is effective, and potentially helpful, so I thought I’d share. I’ve written it as if this person is finishing grad school, so make appropriate changes if you are finishing something else.

Dear Prof. X,

I have been studying [something quite relevant to your research] for the last several years, and I expect to graduate in [expected month]. During my PhD, I became familiar with your work, specifically, the article “[some article from our group]”.
I am particularly intrigued by this work because of [X], which is one of the things I am most excited about studying next. I would therefore be thrilled to do [X] long [Y] in your group. For your convenience, I have attached my CV, and the contact info for three potential recommenders.

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Best, [Some Awesome Person.]

In conclusion, a brief checklist that may help you of what to include in your email to faculty:

  1. Excitement about working on something specific relevant to the individual you are contacting
  2. Relevant background experience
  3. Desired duration and title of position
  4. Up to date cv
  5. Remember, the shorter the better, this is just to get your foot in the door.

Good luck!