How to Approach a Faculty Member

E-mail is often a good way to contact a faculty member to set up a time to talk in person. Be prepared before you approach the faculty member. You should have some idea what kind of research the faculty member does, and some idea of the kind of research that you are interested in yourself. You will need to show that you are motivated and capable of working independently. Introduce yourself and let the faculty member know your interests, relevant classes you have taken, any prior research experiences you have had, and your plans in terms of your current degree or future goals. Courtesy and polite persistence are the keys to success. Remember that it may take you a few attempts – and from a variety of angles – before you are successful in meeting with a faculty. Don’t give up but also be respectful of the ‘no’. If you are turned down, be sure to ask the faculty member for ideas on who to approach next. 

Sample Email

Below is a sample email to use as a template when contacting prospective mentors.

From: (use your account and not any other email address as Yahoo, Gmail, etc.)

Subject: Undergraduate Research Opportunities

Dear Professor/ Dr. LastNameOfTheMentor (advice: in an academic environment professional titles as Dr. and Professor are preferred to formal titles Mr., Mrs,. Ms., etc.)

My name is (__________) and I am (first/second/etc.) year student at the University of Minnesota. I am interested in (mention your general career interests or specific discipline interests.). I hope to complete (UROP/URS/IUROP/Directed Research/volunteer) research opportunity. I would like to set up a meeting to discuss your research interests and possible opportunities for mentorship.

You can continue in this paragraph with any background experience you might have that might be relevant to this research and might attract Mentor’s attention.) I am interested in
because (state main reason(s) that attracted you to this scholar. Be concise.)

I would like to meet with you at your earliest convenience for a half hour conversation. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

[Your Full Name]

Meeting Tips

  1. If you are meeting during a drop-in/office hours appointment, have an introduction and specific inquiry ready before you arrive.
  2. Make arrangements with faculty according to their schedule preference, not your own. Be prepared to arrange the date/time via a support staff person or by email. Alternatively, be prepared to stop in during the professor’s office hours.
  3. Arrive on time (or early). Be prepared for the conversation by having read previous research by the faculty member. Show enthusiasm and interest in what they do. Be familiar with their CV, papers, student projects they have supervised, and have a sense of what you might want/be able to do to contribute to their research or as a mentor to your own (thesis, independent study, etc).

What might potential faculty research advisors request?

  1. curriculum vita or extended academic resume.
  2. An unofficial transcript. Present them with a formal, unofficial pdf or hard copy for review. Some research may require the completion of certain courses in advance.
  3. References from previous faculty, advisor, and/or employer.
  4. Information about previous research experiences you have had, if any, and how you (honestly) assess you skill-level.
  5. A sense of the time (hours per week) you have available. This will measure your committment, to a large degree.
  6. A clear idea about why you are interested in their work and, more generally, engaging in research.

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