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How to request for a research position?

  1. Jul 2, 2012 #1
    Before going off to college, I'd really like to do some physics-related research at a local university. I'm really excited about the idea of physics, and I can do math very proficiently. The problem is, I have no prior experience in research other than labs done in high school science classes.
    What kind of experience do you need for professors to accept you as an assistant? I heard that you need an undergraduate degree to really do anything.

    Here is my letter that I'm emailing to some professors. Please critique.


    "Hello Dr. _____,

    My name is _______, and I am a recent graduate of ____ High School. I will be attending ______ University, majoring in materials science engineering. Your work in ____________ greatly interests me.

    I would really like to acquire more lab experience in this area. I will learn any background knowledge required of me to help contribute to your research. I would like to help you as a volunteer.

    Attached is my transcript and a recommendation letter.
    Please let me know if you would consider meeting me and accepting my offer.

    Thank you,
    ________"
     
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 2, 2012 #2
    I'm not a professor and I don't know the US education system. That said, my spontaneous comments are:

    1) The (imho) most important rule when applying for jobs or anything remotely professional: don't send spam. Writing this one-size-fits-all mail to "some professors" is spam.
    2) I'd address a professor with "Dear Prof. ...", not "Hello Dr. ...".
    3) You don't say where you live, not when you are going to start with university.
    4) Related, you don't bother mentioning WHEN you want to work in the lab.
    5) Also, you don't mention WHY.
    6) Skip "I will learn the background knowledge". I don't see a professor working out a detailed plan which skills you still need to acquire so that you can help with sample preparation.
    7) I like the sentence "I would really like to acquire more lab experience in this area", except for "really" and "more" (I'd drop both words). Add a sentence why you want that (ideally one that's not a lie).
    8) The final sentence seems to direct. I'd write it more in the lines of "...if there is a possibility for me to perform an internship in your group". Not necessarily word-by-word (I don't even know what "internship" exactly means in the US), but in that spirit.
    9) I'd add who the recommendation letter is from.
    10) Write each mail separately and put thoughts into them individually. In other words: Don't send spam.

    I'm not sure how realistic your idea is. But I like it. Good luck!
     
  4. Jul 10, 2012 #3
    This was some very detailed and helpful advice! Thank you!

    On a side note, I wasn't planning on sending 'spam'. I was going to elaborate on why I'm interested in what they're researching.
     
  5. Jul 10, 2012 #4
    I applaud your enthusiasm.

    The 1st thing you need to understand is you are not applying for research or assistant position. What you want to do is "shadow" a senior technician in your field of interest. This would allow you to see how the lab functions. Professors tend to be busy people who delegate work to their TA's (teaching assistants-US). These are the ones you would probably be "observing" during your jump start lab experience.

    If I was in your position, I would address the situation as follows:


    1) Contact the school via guidance counselors or public relations department and ask them how you can achieve this "ambition".

    2) Do as much of this as you can in person. Know what you are there for and what your objectives are.

    3) Do not accept no for an answer (though you have to at a point). Learn to dig within the institution. Example: One office says no, go to the next.

    4) Be honest. Ask if anyone there can help you understand where you will be going.

    5) Speak directly with the professor. E-mail him saying "I would like a glimpse of what I will be doing in the future" or something of the like. Ask him if you can schedule a meeting to discuss xy and z. Then see if the professor has any projects that you would be good for you to shadow.

    6) Do not come off as wanting to work. You do not have the experience (yet). Instead, come off as wanting to learn of your future environments.
     
  6. Jul 10, 2012 #5
    I think it would be better for you to do research at the actual university you're attending, for two reasons:

    1) The professor will be much more willing to train you and help you learn if he/she knows that you will be there for the next 4 years. It's a much better investment of the professor's resources, than if you were to disappear entirely after the summer.

    2) You actually get to continue working on something for a longer period of time. The first month you'll likely spend just learning background and practicing techniques (likely moreso for a high schooler), so you can't really accomplish too much in one summer.


    Also most experimental physics labs don't really require extensive prior knowledge. I know many freshman who were working in such labs without any more than physics knowledge from high school.
     
  7. Jul 10, 2012 #6
    YKnot

    You sound a lot like me! My story may help and it may not.

    I was determined to find a research opportunity the summer before my freshman year. I would agree with what others have said about looking for research at the university you will be attending in the fall, and if nothing is open there, then start looking elsewhere. I applied and got accepted to a research academy (basically an REU for high school seniors) but eventually turned it down because I found a biomedical optics faculty member from my prospective university that was willing to work with me. I was extra careful to make it ABSOLUTELY clear that I simply wanted to explore my interests in optics and see if I truly liked research, and tried to come off as very humble. I told him that could simply be an "extra set of hands" to help out in the lab, and I just wanted to get some experience and see what goes on in the lab. I made sure that the e-mail sounded personal and told him that the research he was doing was very interesting and I would like to learn more. I ended up setting up a meeting with him at the university where he gave me tour of the lab, introduced me to some grad students, and told me about different projects that were going on. The only difference is that I did all of this in about April of my senior year of HS so I had a little more time. Come to find out, he only accepted upper level undergrads and grad students to work in his lab so I was EXTREMELY lucky for him to invite me as an incoming freshman.

    BUT... I ended up getting accepted to a one month conservation crew in the back woods of the upper peninsula in Michigan, and I was torn between the two. When telling the professor about my dilemma, he was very supportive and told me to take the other opportunity and that I would have plenty of time for research as an undergrad. When the fall semester started, I contacted the professor again but the spot had already been taken so I was out of luck. I then spent the fall semester looking for a lab which was great because I had many more options and I was able to actually talk to the professors face to face. I ended up in a neurobiology lab which I am still in and absolutely love! I'm now planning on going to graduate school for neural engineering. I do not regret my decision for one second, as Michigan was a very important, life changing experience for me and I met some great people. Not to mention, the lab I am in now is great and I love what I'm doing!

    I know that this may not have been very helpful to you but the moral of the story is that it isn't a big deal if you can't find a research position before your freshman year... you will have much more freedom in choosing a lab when you are actually on campus!
     
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