Finding a Mentor
Possibly the most important step in beginning your career as an undergraduate researcher is to find a faculty mentor. Your faculty mentor will be a source of support and guidance for you, both in the research setting and in terms of future endeavors, providing advice on graduate school or potential career paths.
Identifying potential faculty mentors
There are a number of ways to identify potential faculty members. You can:
- Search through faculty profiles on departmental websites. College and departmental websites list faculty members that are associated with that specific college and/or department. These profiles often times will include the faculty member’s research interests, areas of expertise, lists of publications, and – if available – the faculty member’s website.
- Network with the faculty members you already know. While the professors you have had in class may not have research opportunities available, they will be a source of knowledge about other faculty members in their department. Speak with them about your research interests, and they may be able to direct you to faculty members in their (and possibly other) departments with similar research interests.
- Search through postings on Discover. The Discover website allows faculty members to post open research positions for undergraduate students – which means that these faculty members are actively looking for undergraduate research assistants. If you find a research project that seems interesting, but you have questions about the research or do not meet the qualifications listed on the Discover website, submit an application and contact the faculty member directly.
Contacting potential faculty mentors
What do you do once you’ve identified faculty members you would like to work with? There are a number of steps you can and should take to contact these faculty members.
Contact the faculty member via email. In doing so, be sure to:
- Be specific and concise. Again, professors receive a lot of email throughout the day, so your best bet is to keep it short and sweet – while including important details.
- Include your resume. This is particularly important when you are contacting faculty members you have not yet met or haven’t had in class. Your resume will give you the opportunity to tell the faculty member a little bit more about yourself without adding to the length of the email itself.
- Research the faculty member before emailing them. When you reach out to a faculty member, you should know who they are and what their areas of expertise are. Making note of this and how your research interests align with theirs will indicate to the professor that you are serious about potentially working with them.
- Proofread! This is professional communication and should be treated as such, so be sure to be respectful in tone by carefully considering the language and phrasing you include in your email and respectful in form by proofreading for any grammatical errors.
Schedule to meet the faculty member in person. In doing so, be sure to:
- Research the faculty member before you meet with them.
- Prepare informed questions for the meeting. This signals to the faculty member that you are genuinely interested in their work and that you have taken the time to prepare for their meeting.
Faculty members are often busy and wear many hats at the university, but they are very often excited to speak with and supportive of students who are enthusiastic and take the initiative when it comes to their education.