5 Ways to Connect to a Research Mentor
- Talk to a Professor: They can be intimidating, but most of them LOVE to talk about research. But timing is crucial. Avoid the time just before class starts. The best times are after class is done or during office hours. If they don’t have research opportunities that interest you, odds are they know a faculty member that does.
- Talk with a Teaching Assistant: They work very closely with professors and will know about research projects that could use extra help. Plus, it’s not been that long since they were undergraduates, so they’ll have valuable advice to share.
- Use the Web: Check out faculty webpages and information about them posted on department websites. Find the faculty member’s CV (Curriculum Vitae). It will list all their publications. Try to read a few of their papers. You won’t understand everything, but it will help you decide if their work interests you. Plus, the professor will appreciate your proactiveness when you communicate with them.
- Ask a Fellow Undergraduate: Many of your classmates will have experience in undergraduate research. They may recommend a specific professor or have other pointers to share.
- Send an Email: Introduce yourself to a professor through email. Explain your interests as best as you can. The email should be professional and polished. Professors receive A LOT of emails. So be patient, but if you don’t get a response, follow up.
Visit UA’s Student Research Opportunities Database
Browse the Faculty and Undergraduate Student Research Database to find research positions in your area. This database contains all of the available undergraduate research positions.
Investigate the National Science Foundation’s REU Programs
The Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program funds opportunities for students to conduct research with faculty at universities located across the nation. Many REUs occur during the summer semester (expenses are covered by the program). It is strongly advisable to begin applying several semesters, if not a year, before you plan to participate, meaning it’s never too soon to start looking for an REU (talking to you, first years!). REUs exist for most academic fields in the natural, social, behavioral, biological, physical sciences, and engineering (see link above for full list of programs, application information, and dates).
What to Expect
Faculty mentors are an excellent resource as you begin the research and creative process. Typically, a faculty mentor will
- Outline his or her expectations for the time spent on research/creative work
- Provide a meeting schedule, as well as deadlines for the submission of work
- Explain how he or she will offer feedback and guidance throughout the process
- Provide any necessary training for the work you’ll complete (e.g., how to handle lab equipment)
Additionally, your faculty mentor may consider your level of preparation and assign work that is appropriately challenging. For example, a new student-researcher may be asked to complete bibliographic work or data entry, while more advanced students may help the faculty mentor interpret data and form conclusions.