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How to ask a professor about research?

  1. May 23, 2009 #1
    Hey everyone. I was wondering if anyone here could help me please?

    I've been struggling for several months now trying to find an opportunity to do research with a professor.

    I've sent emails to several professors. In the email I would ask directly if they had any positions available for undergrads. I have not gotten a single response yet.

    I went directly to a professor's office once, only to receive a VERY rude "NO!" Need I say that it scared me from going to another professor's office?

    Now I am thinking that it may just have been a rude professor. Since I am getting no responses to my emails, can I just go into their office and ask them? Isn't it kind of rude? I do not know these professor's office hours because on their web site they have office hours for Spring 2009.

    Anyway, does anyone have any suggestions? I am going to be a senior next year and I don't exactly have a lot of time left to do research. I want to get into Master's program but they all want research experience of course. :(
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 23, 2009 #2

    cristo

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    It depends whether you know these professors or not. If not, then I wouldn't just turn up at their doors without first either emailing or phoning to make an appointment. The "very rude no" that you received could either be becuase that professor is rude or, more likely, because s/he was busy doing something else, and you interrupted them in the middle of their train of thought. It's also exam time, at least in my part of the world, so professors have a lot more work to do than usual!

    So, to reiterate, I would either email or phone to arrange a meeting, or ask at your department office for the office hours of the professors you are interested in talking to.
     
  4. May 23, 2009 #3
    Hey cristo, thanks for replying!:)

    But that's what I did, I emailed them. But no reply :(. Can I just email and ask what their office hours are?

    I asked that one professor like a month before exams (which ended a week ago), but he might have been busy with something else you're right. I did email that professor before showing up but no reply of course.

    I think I will just go to the department and ask about office hours then.
     
  5. May 23, 2009 #4

    eri

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    Have you tried talking to your academic adviser in your dept, or a professor you know well? Even if they don't have anything for an undergrad to do, they might be able to recommend someone who does and the best way to approach them about it. It would help if you didn't need to be paid for doing the work, and you mentioned that to them - most paid positions would have been taken months ago. My university offers REUs, so all the undergrad summer research positions went to students mostly from other universities, and were all taken by Feb.
     
  6. May 23, 2009 #5
    I never actually thought about getting paid. I hope that is not what the professors I emailed to thought I was after. I don't want to get paid, I want experience :)

    I think I might talk to a professor I know well. He's not doing research but you're right he might know someone.
     
  7. May 23, 2009 #6
    Doing research involves being independent. The burden is on you to find out what a professors research is about and think of what you could do to assist before contacting that professor. Also if you are willing to volunteer you should say so explicitly.
     
  8. May 23, 2009 #7

    Pengwuino

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    This, along with the entire situation to be honest, is university/department dependent. At my department, we can barge in (ok not literally knock down the door) and ask what research they're doing and if they have any available spots, they're usually glad to tell us what they're doing and how we could start research with them. Professors are kinda people too! Sometimes they're really busy, sometimes they'll actually go out of their way to help someone really interested in research, some will actually ask you if you want to do research with them, it all depends on the department and people. Until a massive bout of laziness seemingly came over our department, we would have a pizza party every year or semester where faculty talked about their research a bit. I guess sometimes it pays to have a small department. The best part is that when you do research with professors at my university, some of them really treat you like a colleague instead of slave labor.

    The person to see if you're having problems is the undergraduate adviser. They should know what people are doing and how you can go about getting research done in the department and with whom.
     
  9. May 23, 2009 #8
    I am curious. How can every undergrad out there who wants to get into graduate program get research experience? There are only so many professors in one's department.

    If I will not be able to find a professor who will let me do research with them, am I doomed from master's programs?

    Pengwuino, thanks!:) Actually my current advisor is an a***. I'm not joking. The guy is some kind of grad student who does not give a damn about anyone and never helped me. I will see about getting a new advisor. I think I will go on Tuesday. yep.
     
  10. May 23, 2009 #9

    Pengwuino

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    Well remember, not every undergrad wants to go to a graduate program. Also not ever undergrad who wants to go to a graduate program feels research is necessary or wants to do it (not that it's advised obviously...). Of course, there's always other departments that you could work with. Universities love interdisciplinary research. I was actually toying with working with our chemistry department for a while but decided against it.

    You're not doomed from a masters program if you don't do research. To be honest, if you're simply looking at a masters program, they aren't going to go overboard that you have no research experience because they won't expect much research out of you. In a PHD program, it's a different story.

    Also, I didn't really think students would be allowed to be actual official advisers. There should be an actual professor who is in charge of undergraduate advising. Maybe not though, who knows... snoop around.
     
  11. May 23, 2009 #10
    I don't "not" want to do it nor do I feel that it is not necessary. I am just terrified that I will not be able to get it.
     
  12. May 23, 2009 #11

    turbo

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    You might want to approach the prof on neutral ground and see if you can make an appointment to talk to him or her when they have a break in their schedule. "Needy" students are a plague to profs who want to continue their professional careers and continue to publish. I once asked a professor if I could audit a seminar-type course (3 hours late Friday every week) that he was offering to grad-students and advanced seniors, and he gave me 15 minutes of his lunch-break to plead my case. 3 hours later, he apologized for ending the meeting and told me that I could take his course for full credit. Since he was the head of his department, I never had to take a 1xx or 2xx course in that department - I could ask for any course that interested me and the profs and instructors always accepted me. BTW, emails are cold and easy to ignore, and unscheduled personal visits are a sure way to get blown off.
     
  13. May 23, 2009 #12
    So what you are saying is, go to a professor and ask to make an appointment and do not say a word about research? Isn't that still an unscheduled personal visit? What if they ask what the appointment is for? :D
     
  14. May 23, 2009 #13

    turbo

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    The point is to make the meeting non-confrontational and plead your case. You may have to take a course in sales to see why this might work.

    Edit: Let's try a bit of personal engineering. You find out that your prof's wife is a big fan of opera and he attends to "be nice". Great time to schmooze up and give him a chance to think about his specialty for a bit. You find out that your prof is interested in white-water kayaking or fly-fishing, or something that you already know something about.... good chance to be buddies.
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2009
  15. May 24, 2009 #14

    Choppy

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    Just keep trying.

    One professor was rude about it - that's fine. Personally, I don't think there's any excuse to be rude about such things, and as a person coming forward to volunteer your time, you have a right to be treated with a little courtesy.

    If you're not getting anywhere with emailing the professors, you may want to try talking with graduate students. They often have the inside scoop on who to approach and how to approach them.

    If you don't get involved with a project, it's not the end of the world. Lots of graduate students are accepted without any prior research experience.
     
  16. May 24, 2009 #15

    malawi_glenn

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    I would just wait 2-3 weeks til exams etc. are over.
     
  17. May 24, 2009 #16
    Use this line:

    "Hey buddy, you need a no-pay winged monkey to do your research dirty work?"

    That should get you a response. Your more easy-going professors will probably appreciate the frankness or may mistake it for humor.
     
  18. May 24, 2009 #17

    Vanadium 50

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    Let me see if I understand this correctly. You say you have been "truggling for several months now trying to find an opportunity to do research". In that time you have sent one round of email around, and made one unannounced visit to a professor's office, where he was rude to you. You are not interested in any specific research for its own sake, but you want to use this to pad your resume to get into graduate school. Is that it?

    Does this sound like the sort of self-starting go-getter that a professor simply has to have on his or her research team? If not, you might think about how to project a different image - one specific thing would be to show an interest in the specific research that is being done rather than just research in general.
     
  19. May 24, 2009 #18
    Agreed, but it is also important for him to start somewhere so he can figure out what he wants to do when he graduates.
     
  20. May 25, 2009 #19

    j93

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    Seconded.
    Is it reasonable to expect him to know what field he is interested in as a early undergrad when many seniors and some entering graduate students arent sure.
     
  21. May 25, 2009 #20

    Vanadium 50

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    That's fine; he's not making a decision that's binding for the rest of his life: but he should show some interest.
     
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