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Schools Approaching professors at another university

  1. Dec 29, 2009 #1
    I am an undergraduate student and I started looking for summer research opportunities. There are no opportunities at my own university and only a single REU (one of the most selective ones in the country, no hope of getting in) on the topic I am interested in. That's why I thought I might ask professors at a neighboring university about opportunities. Money is not an issue because I can get a grant from my own university.

    But I am not sure how to approach professors at another university.

    I audited a graduate class at said university this past semester. I cannot claim that I have a particularly close relationship with the professor, but I did talk to him a couple of times. Since this is the only professor I know, I was going to talk to him about opportunities at his university. His area of interest is the general area I am looking for, but I am not interested in the twist of his work. (Well, it's actually not that I am not interested. I am just so weak in the prerequisites for his approach that I doubt I could be productive or even just work semi-independently without someone holding my hand 24/7.)

    I am not sure about the best way to approach this conversation. Can I ask him for suggestions for other professors I might talk to, or would it be offensive if I did not ask him about a position first? Would it be more polite if I asked him first, and then asked about other professors only in case he declines? Or should I bypass him completely and talk to other professors directly?

    I do not want to offend him and close doors unnecessarily. On the other hand, I feel awkward just e-mailing professors at another university out of the blue.

    I will probably have to contact this professor (or others) via e-mail during winter break. The deadline to apply for an off-campus grant is two weeks after the break, so I should probably start getting in touch with professors before I get back to campus.

    I would appreciate your thoughts and suggestions!
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 29, 2009 #2
    Start off by saying you don't think your skills are up to par to work with him (possibly not even really true), then ask him if someone else in his department is more open to undergrad research students. He'll probably be happy that you're trying to not waste his time, and he's also likely to know the other guys at the school doing similar research (and will therefore often know if they take research/undergrad students). You want a 1st point of contact, 'cause lots of professors don't even check their emails, much less respond to every random kid asking for a research placement.
  4. Dec 30, 2009 #3


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    Go ahead and contact him for advice. But keep in mind you're an undergraduate - you don't need know right now what you're going to do with your life as far as a PhD thesis topic, and chances are good you don't know that. Pretty much any research experience will come in useful, be a valuable learning experience, and help you apply for grad school, even if it's not the exact field you wanted. I did REUs in galactic astrophysics, two in solar physics, and one project in stellar astronomy, and now I'm doing something else again for my PhD. But all those projects came in useful in some way, and they all helped by grad school application. Don't limit yourself - just apply to a bunch of REUs. If you're in astronomy, you don't have to look for ones on any particular topic - the professor reading applications will know they have to train you. That's how it works.
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