Initiating a conversation about a research opportunity can feel daunting, as a whirlwind of uncertainties may come into your mind. Should you approach the subject directly, or is there a more subtle way to express your interest? How do you bring up how many hours you can work? Do they have a paid position? It i essential to remember that each question you ask is a key to unlocking the door to potential experiences and personal development. Inquiring about research positions is not just about seeking answers; it’s about seizing opportunities to learn, collaborate, and contribute to meaningful projects. For communicating with faculty members, here are our five tips that can be useful for your research journey.
Know Your Mission
Before reaching out to professors or research supervisors, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of why you are interested in their specific research opportunity. Consider how it aligns with your academic and career goals, as well as why you’re enthusiastic about their work. Being able to articulate your motivation and passion will make a strong impression. It’s important to keep in mind the type of opportunity you are wanting. Are you wanting a summer or regular semester position? A paid position? Course-Credit? Knowing these answers will support your mission and let the faculty member know exactly what you want. Use either a notebook or your phone to write down your specific questions and goals. If you are drafting an email to a faculty member or visiting them during drop-in hours, these notes will serve as a reminder of what you need to talk about.
Write a Professional Email
When sending an initial email, you want to make sure you craft a well-composed and professional message. Address the recipient respectfully, introduce yourself, express your interest in their research, and mention your relevant background or coursework. Be concise, proofread your message, and ensure it conveys your enthusiasm for the opportunity. We have a resource on what we recommend including in emails to faculty members and a great example of what an email may look like on our website!
Speak to Professors After Class
Building a personal connection can be highly beneficial. After attending a class, take a moment to approach the professor and express your interest in their research. Ask for more information and express your eagerness to learn more. Let them know why their research interests you and that you would love an opportunity to work on a project with them. If you are short on time, let them know you are interested in this work and ask to set up a meeting for a later time. Keep your interactions respectful and professional. Remember to “know your mission,” for meeting in person! It’s okay to practice and have notes so you do not forget to ask something. If you want help formulating a conversation or support practicing, you can make a 1:1 appointment with an Undergraduate Research Ambassador and we can help you!
Visit Office Hours
Professors often hold office hours for students to discuss academic matters. This is an excellent opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation about research opportunities for a longer time. Be prepared to discuss your interests, ask relevant questions, and inquire about any openings in their research group. You might also want to bring your resume! Some faculty members will appreciate getting to read more about your professional/academic experiences and skills so they can see what you will be bringing to their research team if they have an opportunity available. Similarly to above, you can visit a URA for support in preparing questions and practicing a conversation through role play!
After your initial contact, whether it’s through email or an in-person conversation, don’t forget to follow up with your prospective mentor. A well-timed follow-up message expressing your continued interest and thanking them for their time can help keep your name fresh in their mind. It also demonstrates your commitment to the opportunity. If you have sent an email to a faculty member and they did not respond, you can use a follow-up email as a way to move your email back to the top of their inbox. Faculty members are busy and sometimes emails can get lost. Sending a follow-up email can be useful as a reminder for them to respond. If a faculty member hasn’t responded to your initial email, we recommend sending a follow-up email about a week after the original one and suggesting a time to meet.
Remember that the key to successfully securing a research opportunity is to demonstrate genuine interest, respect for the professor’s work, and your readiness to contribute to their research project. By following these tips, you’ll increase your chances of making a positive impression that can support you in finding a research opportunity. You do not have to do this alone! The Undergraduate Research Ambassadors are here to support you through this process. From drafting and reviewing emails, practicing conversations, or creating specific questions, we can help you in communicating with faculty members. You can meet with an Undergraduate Research Ambassador either virtual or in-person through a 1:1 appointment or email us at email@example.com to get more support!