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Emailing professors for research positions

  1. Jan 11, 2013 #1
    So my engineering adviser, let me know I should be talking to professors about research spots.

    However, I am having a hard time coming up with a plan on how to do this without seeming pushy or intrusive.

    What I started doing is reading one of their papers that have been published, and emailing them letting them know I found there paper interesting, and wanted to know if it was possible if I could meet up with them in there office hours some time to discuss some curious questions I have regarding their field, and research endeavors.

    Is this the correct way to approach the situation?

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 12, 2013 #2


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    You don't have to go through a song and dance. Be upfront, but polite. Ask if they have or know of anyone who has research positions available. Many will likely say no.

    Another approach is to speak with senior undergrads to find out who has hired in the past so you can approach professors who are reasonably likely to hire again.
  4. Jan 12, 2013 #3


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    Start with profs from whom you've taken a course. Show up in their office hours, in person. Come prepared with some general idea of what their research is about (reading a paper is good), but don't try to pretend that you know all about what they do.
  5. Jan 12, 2013 #4
    Agreed with Choppy's comment. It's certainly fine to show enthusiasm about their work, but don't say you want to meet because you just have questions to satisfy your general curiosity when your main intention is to ask for a job. It's dishonest, they will see through it, and they will be probably be annoyed. Seeing as how your real question—could you work for them at some point—could have been just easily answered in replying to your original email, you can expect some of them to feel like you've wasted their office hour time (which you will have) and, on the whole, this is just not a good way to start off a potential professional relationship.

    You don't need to employ a "stealth" approach. There's nothing pushy about saying you're an undergraduate looking to get some research experience, you've looked into their work on so-and-so and it seems and interesting, and you were wondering if they have any upcoming student research positions in this or similar work. If you have done well in relevant classes—perhaps even one he or she taught—it certainly wouldn't hurt to mention it.

    I do remember what it was like to be a timid undergrad looking for a research job, but ultimately you do at some point have to get past the 'professorial intimidation factor' and worry that any errant word will bring down the wrath of the academical gods. Generally speaking, any extended amount of electronic communication with grammatically-challenged physics faculty will do this automatically—but then there's no time like the present to push through it. Seriously, if you feel like you're being a pain in their *** now, just wait till you're emailing them for the eleventh time to send another copy of their reference letter with your latest graduate school application. Best get used to treating them like people now. Busy people, mind you, but people.
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