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E-mailing professor about research opportunities

  1. Oct 14, 2014 #1
    I'm an EE undergrad senior here, and I want to get some work in at a research lab here on campus. I have a solid GPA and decent relationship with professors, and now I want to do some work. I've been trolling the faculty profiles (reading their research interests) to decide who I might want to work with. My particular problems are:

    • How should I ask for work? Should I mention the work I'm interested in specifically? Should I ask about paid/unpaid?
    • In other fields outside of EE (biology, chemistry, physics, etc), how should I approach those professors not being as experienced in that field?
    Any advice at all would be appreciated!

    Thanks in advance!
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 14, 2014 #2
    Say you're interested in their research and ask if there are any opportunities to work with their team.

    I would fish for opportunities first. Then find out if the opportunities are paid and decide if they're worth working on.

    I would use the same tactic.

    The ability to craft a short, concise email that shows interest and provokes a response - and have the bravery to send it - is a powerful tool you'll find useful later in life. Get started learning it now.
  4. Oct 14, 2014 #3


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    I agree with Locrian.

    Another potential resource is your school's undergraduate physics (or whatever) society - if it has one. These organizations can help you to network with other students who may have research jobs and can give you the inside track on what might be good positions.

    It can also help to talk to your professors and ask if they know of anyone who is looking to take on an undergraduate helper. Quite often lecturers will know who in the department typically takes on undergraduates. If you have an undergraduate advisor, this person may also know a few things in this respect. Attending departmental social functions can be goldmines for this kind of thing.
  5. Oct 15, 2014 #4
    I have had good luck showing up at office hours and asking them in person if they are currently doing any research projects and if there is anything I could help out with. Some are paid and some are unpaid, unfortunately that is something you typically find out later, and depends on their budget (which varies for each professor).

    At the very least they should be happy to tell you about their research, and if you are (or at least appear) interested and ask to lend a hand, then you have a good chance of finding something.

    fyi another good thing to ask if you want a stronger resume is for a teaching assistant position. Lots of professors use them. They are paid positions, and you grade hw and tests, assist with lectures/labs, etc. I really wish I had taken advantage of that when I was in school.
  6. Oct 15, 2014 #5
    Haha yes, obviously. I was more concerned if there were things that I MUST include when asking for things like this as an undergraduate. I figure our professors get a large volume of emails from other stars-in-their-eyes undergraduates, and I wanted to sort of know what they find "annoying" when being asked for something like this.

    Thank you to everyone who responded. All great ideas and advice.
  7. Oct 15, 2014 #6
    If it's anything like my undergrad, you will be surprised as to how few students actually approach them concerning research.
  8. Oct 15, 2014 #7
    Before emailing them, read up on some of their recent publications...if you find it interesting then contact them. Perhaps read 1 or 2 of their papers and then go to their office hours and try to start a discussion relating to the paper topic. If you play it right, then they'll be asking you if you'd like to be involved with research. Professors like to see ambition and a thirst for knowledge.

    Shoot for an unpaid position at first...not many professors will want to pay an undergrad before seeing their work quality first hand. I had to work unpaid for 3 months before I got a paid position (EE undergrad).

    You're a senior so I'm sure you have this part down...make sure you're good with the typical lab tools (scopes and func generators) and you can code decently.

    What sub-field are you looking into as far as this research?
  9. Oct 15, 2014 #8


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    I have to disagree with Snowman a little. It's a good idea to read up on what they're doing - if you can. But if you are interested in a research position, it's best to just ask about it up front rather than trying to impress someone with your knowledge first. There's a high probability for that kind of stunt to backfire, and if the professor simply thinks you're interested in his or her research the professor may leave it at that rather than immediately conclude this would be a good person to hire.

    When I've worked with undergraduates in the past, I simply assume that they are capable of operating at the level of an undergraduate student.
  10. Oct 15, 2014 #9
    It would only be a "stunt" if you were faking an interest, I wouldn't say one is trying to impress the professor, just showing a genuine interest. I should have clarified that if they don't straight away offer you a position to then ask if they have any available.

    I was only speaking from my own experience, which is very limited.
  11. Oct 20, 2014 #10
    Honestly, I really just want to be part of anything. I'm interested in a bit of everything. It doesn't necessarily have to be engineering. The only thing that's missing is exposure, so I can find out what I would truly like to pursue after my undergraduate.
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