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Asking a professor for a research position

  1. Apr 20, 2008 #1
    I am a freshman undergrad in physics and want to apply for a summer research scholarship which is given to one or two physics undergraduates in the university. The catch is that you need to have a "proposed faculty supervisor." Tomorrow, I plan to ask my physics professor from last quarter if he would be willing. Do you guys have any suggestions for how I should ask? Should I just knock on his office door with no warning, or should I email him in advance? What kinds of questions should I be prepared to answer? Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 20, 2008 #2
    Send him an email to setup an appointment. Inform him you'd like to talk about your academic career. Be prepared to answer why you deserve that scholarship. Finally, arrive early and dress as if you were interviewing to become CEO.

    Jordan Joab.
  4. Apr 20, 2008 #3
    It would also be good to have some knowledge of his research, and show an interest. At the very least check out his webpage, and see what he's working on.
  5. Apr 20, 2008 #4
    I appreciate the suggestions. The one thing that concerns me still is the idea of writing an email that is unclear as to what my intentions are. To just say that I would like to meet to discuss my academic future seems cryptic at best and deceptive at worst. Would it be okay to mention my intention of applying for the prize in the email?
  6. Apr 20, 2008 #5
    What I did to get some undergraduate research under both professors I have worked for is just walk up to their office, knock, ask if they have a minute to talk, and ask about any undergrad positions available. I've found -- and my professor even acknowledged -- that anybody you will work with will blow off your emails until you bug them too much to ignore you.

    They'll give you some BS excuse or just ignore you. Go to their office and just ask. I did this again during autumn quarter, and spent like 10 minutes in a professor's office. He concluded that they didn't have the funds to pay me for research, so I thanked him for his time and left. He did tell me to try again during spring.

    That's it. 10 minutes is all it took. No waiting for days for an email reply.
  7. Apr 21, 2008 #6

    Andy Resnick

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    Yes- the email should be short and to the point.
  8. Apr 21, 2008 #7
    Yep, I agree... keep it simple, most professors will appreciate that.
  9. Apr 30, 2008 #8
    I still think that u seem more serious if u e-mail first, its like a compay, u dont just show up at the door, u e-mail human resources and introduce yourself 1st before u know on the door
  10. Apr 30, 2008 #9
    If you do email first (probably a good idea), absolutely make sure that you use proper English and not net-speak. Write politely and formally.
  11. May 1, 2008 #10


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    No, it is NOT like a company. Universities are much more informal. There is nothing wrong with just showing up at his office, although if you know he is often busy you can always send him an e-mail first.
    The most important thing is to show an interest in the research and preferably know a thing or two about it (i.e. look at their web page, maybe even look up a paper of two).
    Also, do you have any skills that are not directly related to what you have learned in your courses? Sometimes things you've learned outside school can be almost as important. One of the students that will be working with me this summer was hired partly because his hobby was to build amplifiers (hifi) meaning the he has at least some experience with practical electronics (soldering etc); this is a valuable hands-on skill in the lab and frankly makes him more useful to us than some of the other applicants.
  12. May 1, 2008 #11
    Just showing up at his/her office is an extremely bad idea. Most professors I know would find this annoying and a disruption to their research -- even if the disruptee had good intentions.
  13. May 1, 2008 #12
    Then you have silly professors. If you are that worried about annoying someone, show up during their scheduled office hours. I am not sure why some people seem so afraid of their professors. Just go in and ask, it's that simple!
  14. May 1, 2008 #13
    Because its irritating and multiple people showing up = multiple interruptions. Not to mention, the average disruption takes about 15 minutes to recover from after it is over.
  15. May 1, 2008 #14
    Professors have office hours for a reason. If they do not want to see students, they are free to give up their professorship and take a research position or an industry job somewhere else. However, it seems like you've really over thought this situation.
  16. May 1, 2008 #15
    U will look more serious and interested if u write them an e-mail and show up 2 office hours, chances are they probably wont even look at that e-mail cuz they get so much junk anyway. Yes u can still get a job if u just show up, but i think u got better chances with an e-ail first.

    Some professors are chil but a lot are not, and dont like wasted time or unwarranted interruptions.
  17. May 1, 2008 #16
    Most of your professors are jerks, then. Mine are always glad to talk to me if I have questions about class or otherwise. If they aren't, they just say they can't right now and that's the end of that.

    Office "hours" are usually a single hour once per week in my experience, so I just go whenever I need to. I gamble with it, since there's no guarantee that my prof will be there or agree to talk to me, but it's hardly stabbing them in the face or something. They are there to help me. I pay their salary.
  18. May 2, 2008 #17
    Pick someone whose research interests you, even if you've never taken a class from them. Read up a bit on some of their recent projects and then you can stop by their office and say something like "hi, I'm an undergrad and am interested in your research on ____". It's a good way to just get the ball rolling.
  19. May 2, 2008 #18
    with regards to everyone freaking out about interrupting professors, I don't see what the big deal is, either. If they don't want to see students who come by they can always just not answer the door... thus the point of an office?

    At my university everyone welcomes drop in visits, and if they are really just too busy, they shoo us out of their offices politely - it's not as if we're ruining their entire day or something...
  20. May 2, 2008 #19
    I agree with everyone else that professors generally are not at all bothered by students dropping by. Office doors can close if they're too busy. It's really not a big deal to just stop by; it's not rude nor disruptive. One of the primary duties of a professor is to talk to students.

    The reason why I think emailing ahead of time is a good idea is to make sure the professor is actually present and available when you drop by, and to give the professor time to think about the student's request.
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