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How to prepare for a research meeting with a professor?

  1. Sep 6, 2014 #1
    Hi everyone,

    Next week I will be meeting one-on-one with a professor to discuss physics research, in hopes of getting involved in some capacity. I have never had this experience before and I am bit unsure of what I should expect, what I should prepare for, what I should bring etc.

    Despite my excitement for potentially engaging in research, I am very nervous. Will the professor ask me in-depth questions about the materiel to gauge my abilities? Probe my resumé? Or will the questions be more along the lines of "why are you interested in research" and "what fascinates you about this topic"? Will he do most of the talking/explaining, or will I? Should I even bring a CV and transcript if he has not requested them? How long will the session last? What should I wear? How formal will the atmosphere be? etc

    If anyone who was met with a prof (or, even better, anyone who is a prof who has met with students) in a similar context could share some insight, I would appreciate it extremely.

    Thank you!
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 6, 2014 #2

    Choppy

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    When I've met with undergraduate students with an interest in working for me in the past for these kinds of interviews it has been very informal. In my case I tend to do a lot of talking because usually I'll have a project in mind and so I'll try to give some background information on it and explain what I hope to get out of it. I try to keep the window open for the student to ask questions too, because I want the student to have input into the direction. (That said my student projects have not had extremely specific goals.)

    I expect the students to be knowledgeable up to the level they are at, but not beyond.

    I tend to ask questions along the lines of how comfortable they are doing certain tasks. For example in the past my student projects have involved programming in MATLAB so I would ask how comfortable they are in working with MATLAB, what projects they have done, that kind of thing. I personally don't challenge them with problems to solve on the spot, although I wouldn't put that past some of my colleagues. If you encounter this, don't worry too much about it. Often their purpose is to probe what level of understanding you're at.

    With respect to attire, as I said, it's always been informal for me, so I don't expect the student to show up in a suit. Dressing professionally never hurts though (khaki pants, dress shirt, tie optional for women... whatever business or business casual means). And if you've seen this professor before, what he or she wears might give you a clue at to what's appropriate. If the guy wears ripped acid-wash jeans and a Megadeath T-shirt to his lectures, he likely won't care too much about you dressing professionally.

    Bringing a clipboard and a copy or two of your CV is never a bad idea.
     
  4. Sep 6, 2014 #3
    Yes, don't make the easy mistake of not bringing something to jot down some notes :)
     
  5. Sep 8, 2014 #4

    Andy Resnick

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    From personal experience, students (undergrad and grad) randomly show up at my door and say something like "Hey Dr. Resnick, I want to do research!"

    This isn't necessarily a bad thing to start a conversation with, but since my response is (nearly) always: "Great! What do you want to do?" and the student typically answers "I dunno, I just want to do research.", it's difficult for me to take the student seriously.

    Sometimes the student will say "I dunno, but I like string theory and black holes and theoretical astrophysics, I want to research that?" and when I respond "Great! I don't do any of that, though." the student typically gets confused and annoyed (!). In those cases, I simply send the student away.

    So, what are my expectations? I expect the student to have a rudimentary knowledge of what my lab does- especially since we keep copies of our papers tacked up on the wall next to the lab. I hope but do not expect the student to have any relevant skills (especially undergrads).

    Ideally, a student will either stop by or send an email telling me who they are/major/etc, tell me they are interested in some particular aspect of the ongoing research- a technique or concept- and attach their resume. If the student does that, then >90% of the time I make every effort to schedule a face-to-face meeting, the purpose of which is to get a sense of how serious the student is. Taking on a new student is a big time commitment for me, especially at the beginning.

    During the meeting the student and I start to map out a strategy- what are the *specifically* interested in doing, what do they need to do in order to function in my lab (any skills/safety training), how much time can they commit to working in my lab, how much money I have available to pay them, etc. etc. The outcome of that meeting is highly variable, so I can't say much more about my process.

    Good luck with your meeting!
     
  6. Sep 8, 2014 #5

    symbolipoint

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    Andy Resnick,
    You pointed-out the problem that a few students, not many, might have:
    That some few know they are interested in a subject in general but they are not yet ready to identify a specific interest. They do not have enough education, they do not have enough experience, and maybe although generally interested, are not sophisticated enough to know any more specific interest - they just want to know their chosen subject, and (according to or depending on the major program), they must fullfill a research requirement. The student being nearly finished with their undergraduate studies may yet not be enough for them to be ready for the research advisor to accept the student.
     
  7. Sep 8, 2014 #6
    Thank you to everyone for replying. I appreciate all of your wisdom, tips, and experiences immensely. I am familiar with the professor's field of research and his prior projects in this field- as for the particular research I would like to embark on, I have an idea but have not yet winnowed out a specific hypothesis or something of that nature. Will this be a sufficient foundation?
     
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