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Email to professors for research position

  1. Aug 12, 2014 #1
    Hello PF!

    I wish to do research as an undergrad, so I am thinking of sending emails to professors to ask for any available positions.

    What would be the most professional way to do this?

    Thanks in advance,
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 12, 2014 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    I think you need to find out what profs are doing what research by contacting the physics department and to then do some background research on what they are doing in more detail.

    Next you to bring something to the table in the form of some skill you may have that could help their research and then you can write them a letter or go visit the department.

    The best way to start this process is to talk with them about going to the school as a student not as someone who wants to jump right into research.

    Line up some interviews with profs that are doing interesting research and ask them about it then do some research on the problem they are trying to solve and keep in contact with them asking questions about what you've read and thought about. Then you can begin to ask about working with them on the research.

    As an example, if some prof is doing research in galaxy formation. You might read about the issues in the journals or ask the prof about he/she recommends you read to learn more. Then you could ask more intelligent questions and you might find he/she is doing computer simulations. From there you could offer your help in doing the programming or in analyzing the data...
  4. Aug 12, 2014 #3


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    I wouldn't sweat too much over the details. A polite professional email that introduces you, explains what level you're at (second year, third year undergraduate, etc.) and states that you're looking for opportunities to get involved in research is generally sufficient.

    Don't expect everyone you email to get back to you.

    One of the best ways to actually find out about these things is simply to start talking with your professors. Ask if they know of anyone who is looking for help. Other resouces to try are senior undergraduates who currently have research positions and graduate students. They'll let you know who are good people to talk to.

    It helps to have some background knowledge, but I wouldn't worry too much about doing background reading in each potential professor's field of interest or trying to impress them with your depth of knowledge in a five minute conversation. You can impress them with your performance once you have something to work on.
  5. Aug 12, 2014 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    1. Keep the email short.

    "I am interested in any research opportunities you may have. I am especially interested in learning more about X. If you have any openings, can we arrange a time to discuss this?"

    2. Don't spam the department. I would send email to, at most, three professors, none from the same research group. If one says "no", only then would I send out another one.
  6. Aug 16, 2014 #5
    Ok, thanks everyone! I just emailed my first professor, and totally ready for a rejection.
  7. Aug 16, 2014 #6


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    Staff: Mentor

    You're presumably going to be on campus soon if you aren't there already. I think in general, personal contact would make more of an impression than an e-mail, if you can catch the prof in his/her office or lab, or right after a class (unless of couse he's in a hurry to get to his next class!).

    I see from one of your other posts that you're an incoming freshman. I wouldn't get my hopes up too high about starting research so early. You're probably going to be busy enough with your classes anyway.
  8. Aug 16, 2014 #7


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    Before writing to someone cold, i.e., just like a cold call, it would be helpful if one was familiar with the research of the professor one wishes to contact. In other words, be proactive, and do some upfront independent study. At least be familiar with the field.

    I've interviewed students looking for summer jobs, and I've been taken aback by the lack of knowledge on the part of some. I want to hire someone who has spent the effort to develop some basic understanding of the field rather than hire someone who 'wants a job'.
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