Tag Archives: correspondence

The Winning Email

The other day,  I finally got up the nerve to email the first (and most important) scientist on my list about my project. I combed through the email for what felt like hours (it was probably only 2.5 total–including my drafting from the other day), and I anxiously bounced around my living room awaiting a reply. (To be honest, I figured that no one would reply to my email. After all, most traditional scientists aren’t interested in humanistic research methods or ways of knowing and thinking–at least from what I know). HOWEVER, this scientist emailed me back within four minutes (!!!!), and within an hour, we scheduled a meeting for when I am in Baltimore next week. WHAT?! I mean, I do consider myself to be a professional writer (and a skilled scientific writer and reader at that), but it was still scary to try to articulate my dissertation project ideas in such a scientific way. Here is a copy of the winning email:


Dear _____,

My name is Sarah Singer, and I am a PhD student at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I am beginning a dissertation project in which I plan to conduct a case study about the experience of living with Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS) using visual ethnography. Since there is not yet an FDA-approved clinical treatment for PTLDS, I aim to investigate if a mixed methods, arts-based intervention will improve the quality of life in patients with persistent Lyme symptoms.

I am writing to ask if you would be willing to briefly consult with me about this project. I am especially eager to get your advice about conducting research with the PTLDS patient population as well as how I might frame this project to better support the goals of the broader Lyme Disease research community. I anticipate that my results will contribute to the JHU Lyme Disease Clinical Research Center’s long-term effort to develop interdisciplinary models for understanding all aspects of Lyme Disease.

I will be in the Baltimore area from December 15th-22nd, and if you are available, I would be happy to meet with you at Greenspring Station, the Bayview Campus, or another location. Alternatively, if it would be easier, we could connect over the phone or Skype at your convenience.

Thank you for your consideration. 


Sarah Singer


At this moment, you are probably thinking, “Wow, Sarah–your project seems so ‘together’!” HAHAHA. No. Definitely not. This is probably one of the clearest iterations of the project thus far, but it could be interpreted in so many ways. (I tried to leave things as vague as possible so that…well, frankly, because I’m not really sure what’s going to happen. Which is why I want to consult with some other Lyme experts to see what they think).

In any case, this is a key moment for me: I talked about my project in a way that made someone else want to hear more about it! What’s hard, though, is that this is one of many ways I could talk about my project, I and I will need to get good at talking about it for different audiences. For example, I recently applied to the Rhetoric Society of America Works-in-Progress event, which matches young and up-and-coming scholars with senior scholars in their field to discuss an article, book chapter, etc. that they are writing. This was a useful activity for me because I had to provide a 200 word summary…of a dissertation chapter that I have not yet written. Yesterday afternoon, I got an email saying that I was accepted! YAY! But now I need to get started on my chapter AND figure out how I am going to prioritize the disability studies perspective, which is the focus of this Works-in-Progress group. Now, it’s not that my project doesn’t and shouldn’t have a disability studies perspective–this is very important to me. However, I will need to shift from thinking about my project as a “case study” about Lyme Disease and visual ethnography to thinking about my project as a direct link to the current conversations in disability studies.

 Time to get crackin’! (And prep for this meeting next week. And read for my exams in February. AHHHHHH!)

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Reaching Out

With Jen’s help, I picked a description to start out with for my email to clinicians/scientists: A project about the rhetoric of Lyme Disease in which I am hoping to do a case study with a group of PTLDS people using visual ethnography. However, this still needs significant revising…and I need to start drafting the email that I’ll send with it. I’m staring with the XYZ Research Center,* since I am most interested in speaking with the researchers there. Here goes!



Dear ____,

My name is Sarah Singer, and I am a PhD student at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I am beginning a dissertation project about Lyme Disease in which I plan to do conduct a case study [[Does one “conduct” a case study? Quick Google Scholar search: lyme disease case study…no dice]] with a group of individuals with Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome using visual ethnography. [[Are my research questions really about PTLDS people or Lyme Disease in general? Lyme diagnosis? Hmmm…]]. I am writing to ask if you would be willing to speak/consult with me for 20 minutes to/about…

–> seek guidance about my research questions (is this research relevant to the center?

–> ask about working with this particular patient population (special  needs or things to be aware of?) accessing the population? (maybe I could recruit from their database?)

–> ???????

Ultimately, the question I am hoping to answer/investigate/explore is…

I believe that this research complements/will support the center’s long-term effort to develop interdisciplinary models for understanding Lyme Disease.


Sarah Singer


I guess this marks a time for confronting another significant problem with my project: I have not completely narrowed down my research questions. In the humanities, research questions evolve as we start doing the research. However, I’m not sure that it works this way in the sciences, and I don’t want anyone to not take me seriously because I seem to be wishy-washy.

Also: what do I want from these people? BM suggested that I have a gentle, open-ended ask, so maybe that’s why I’m so concerned about trying to make decisions about research questions and demands (so to speak).Hmmm….

*Note: At this point, I have chosen not to reveal which researchers I am reaching out to or consulting with. Although I believe that this kind of deliberate avoidance contributes to the contested nature of Lyme, maintaining anonymity seems to be important to clinicians and researchers who treat Lyme patients, and I do not want to compromise the work they are doing to help suffering health seekers.

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