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Tips for Contacting Faculty

Most faculty enjoy having undergraduates involved in their research. Don’t be afraid to approach them!

Having said that, the key to finding the right mentor is to be thoughtful.  Do not send 50 identical messages to every faculty member in your field of interest.  Take the time to identify those individuals who are doing work that genuinely interests you.  The process of  thinking through what really fascinates you and finding a mentor is valuable in its own right—it is not simply a means to an end. 

Emails to Faculty Members

  • Do your research!  Read their website, find out about recent publications, and have a good understanding of what their work entails.
  • Think about why do you want to do research—and why you want to work with this particular faculty member.  Be sure you can articulate the answers to these questions.
  • Be professional, formal and respectful.  Address the faculty member as Dear. Prof X or Dr. Y. 
  • Briefly outline your interests and the topics you would like to explore.  These should fall under the general umbrella of work that the faculty member is doing.
  • Remember that faculty members are generally happy to teach you the technical skills required to be involved in their work.  What they don’t want to spend time on is worrying about whether you’re reliable, committed, can show up on time or are going to take this responsibility seriously.  Show them that you will!
  • Don’t be afraid to express your enthusiasm about their work!

If you’re unsure, attend one of our information sessions, speak with an Research Peer Advisor or make an individual advising appointment.

Meeting with Faculty Members

  • Review what made you interested in this topic (a topic discussed in class, an article you read, etc.).
  • Look over the faculty member’s curriculum vitae and publications--read at least one article or abstract they have written.
  • Be confident, excited and relaxed—and look presentable.
  • Remember that the interview is the time for you to learn more about your potential mentor—not only for them to learn more about you.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions!  These are just suggestions, but can help if you are feeling nervous: 
  1. How did you develop your research interest?
  2. Are there courses I should be thinking about taking to complement the work I might be doing in your group?
  3. What kind of work will I be doing and with whom (faculty member, graduate student, etc.)?
  4. How much time each week do you think will be required for me to make a positive contribution to this work?
  5. I understand that I might need to start “at the bottom,” but if I show initiative and drive, what are the opportunities for me to become more independent?
  6. Can I meet with you in the future to talk more about possible research opportunities?
  • Don’t get discouraged.  If one faculty member does not have a position available, they might be able to recommend another project or faculty member for you.

Follow Up

  • After your interview, send a thank-you note expressing both your appreciation for their time and your continued interest should there be an available position.
  • If you have options, consider not only your enthusiasm for the research itself but your feeling about the intangibles of the mentor and his/her group.  You want to enjoy your time doing research—and the people around you are a big factor!
  • After you make your decision, contact all potential mentors with whom you met.  Thank them again and let them know your plans.