Contacting faculty about research
Identifying a Faculty Mentor
Finding a faculty mentor who is committed to your development as a scholar is perhaps the most critical component of a research experience. A good faculty mentor will introduce you to the culture of research, guiding you through the research process, exposing you to current work in the field, and connecting you to other scholars in the field. Finding a faculty mentor may involve responding or applying directly to a posted position or it may involve a cold call. Finding a faculty mentor also takes time. Start your search a semester in advance. The following are suggestions for identifying a faculty mentor:
- Talk to the professors teaching your classes. They already know you and have a good sense of your strengths and level of preparation. Attend office hours or send an email expressing your interest in learning more about undergraduate research opportunities in your areas of interest.
- Research faculty interests by reading bios on departmental websites. Read an article or a book chapter to get a sense of the faculty’s work. Even if you do not fully understand the content, doing so will give you a sense of their interests and approach and provide a starting point for a conversation.
- Search the Student Opportunity Center for opportunities posted by faculty.
- Talk to upperclass students who have been engaged in research to learn about their experiences. Attend student research panels hosted by OURI and the academic schools, or set up a meeting with an OURI Peer Research Ambassador. You can also read about Rice undergraduate research experiences on the research profiles page.
- Talk to graduate students. Most of them participated in undergraduate research and can offer important perspectives on the value of this experience.
Contacting a Faculty Mentor
Once you identify some faculty whose work is interesting to you, email them from your rice.edu address. The email should be short (6-8 sentences) and to the point. The following are some suggestions for the content of your email:
- Be polite. Address the faculty member by their title (Dear Dr. Smith). At the conclusion thank them for their time and consideration and sign off with “Sincerely.”
- Introduce yourself and your interest in conducting research with them. Be specific about why their research interests you, and indicate how you learned about it.
- Explain why you are interested in conducting research. How does it relate to your academic and career plans? What do you hope to gain from the experience?
- Provide a brief statement of your experience, whether you are new to research or have had several experiences. You might mention relevant courses, your GPA, and past research activities. If you are new to research, note that faculty are often willing to invest time in undergraduates who are interested in a multi-semester commitment.
- Suggest your interest in a meeting to discuss your interests further, and provide windows of availability.
- Close by acknowledging that you understand that there may not be an available opportunity but you welcome recommendations for other faculty you might contact.
For students interested in conducting research in natural sciences, the Weiss School of Natural Sciences provides more specific recommendations for identifying and contacting a faculty mentor in those fields: https://naturalsciences.rice.edu/research/undergraduate-research/getting-started
Preparing for a Response
Be prepared for a yes. Thank them for the opportunity and request a meeting to discuss details and expectations before finalizing your commitment. Arrive at your meeting on time. Be prepared to discuss your interests and your understanding of the faculty’s work. Ask questions about the faculty’s work as well as that of other undergraduates they have mentored. Discuss expectations, including time commitment, outcomes, communication, and required trainings.
Be prepared for a no. Faculty may not have an opportunity available that is appropriate to your level of experience, or they may not feel that they have the time to mentor you properly. Thank them for getting back to you, and express your interest in future opportunities should they arise.
Be prepared for no response. If you have not heard back in a week, send a gentle follow-up email. If you do not hear back, approach a different faculty mentor.