How to Contact Professors about Research

How to Contact Professors about Research

Working under a professor on a research project is a great way to gain meaningful experience, especially while you are an undergrad. However, sometimes getting one of these positions can involve cold calling professors about their research work, which can be stressful. To make this process easier we have compiled several tips to show you the best practices for sending these types of emails.

Pay attention to your subject line
The subject line is the first thing the professor will see and it will be a big factor in whether or not they decide to open your email. You want to be as clear and concise as possible about why you are emailing. For example, “Research?” is too vague, instead try something like “Interest in summer research position in organic chemistry lab.”

Do not send a mass email
There may be several professors you are willing to work with and as a busy student you should be able to send one email to all of them, right? Wrong! Sending out a generic email will turn professors off from selecting you as a candidate. Ensure that each email greeting addresses the professor directly and that you tailor the content to explain why you want to work in their lab specifically.

Identify yourself
Professors see a lot of students each semester, so signing your email with your full name will not give them enough information about who you are. Instead, introduce yourself and include your major and year in school early on in the email. If you have had the professor in class before, you should also include what class it was and what semester and section it was during.

Do not be afraid to elaborate
Your instinct may be to keep things very brief so you are not bothering the professor with a long email, but in reality you want to provide all of the details they need so they won’t have to spend time following up with you or skip over you because they don’t know enough about your qualifications.

Going along with tip #2, professors will want to see that you have taken time to read about the work that they are doing and that you have a true interest in the subject. Wanting a lab position because you want to boost your resume will not be enough, professors want you to show you are invested in the work they are doing.

Determine your skills
Before you start writing the email, you should take some time to consider what skills and experiences you have that will be most useful in the position you want and work on how you can summarize this information in a few sentences. Taking time to think back, look at your resume, doing this will make you will prepare to flaunt your talents in your email.

Don’t forget the ask
In your email, be sure that you are very clear about what you are looking for. If you want a position in their lab, be explicit and ask for it. This type of cold-calling email can feel nerve wracking, but can also lead to big payoffs if you are direct and sell yourself well.

Add your availability
When drafting the email, don’t forget to be clear about your ability to work. Start by outlining which semester or semesters you are hoping to find a position for. Then include how many hours per week you would like to work. Often, students who secure positions have at least 8-10 hours available in their schedule.

This may be obvious, but it is such an important step. A typo or run-on sentence can create the wrong type of first impression and make you seem much less professional than you are. Having a friend or classmate read over your email just before you send it is a great way to make sure you haven’t let any mistakes slip through the cracks.

Do not give up
To be honest, not all professors are going to reply to you. Some may have already filled all of their positions, others may simply have an overwhelming number of emails in their inbox, and a few may even decide you do not have the qualifications they are looking for. However, do not get discouraged. If you haven’t received a reply after 1-2 weeks, send a follow-up note and then move on to contacting other professors.

We hope these tips help you secure the research position of your dreams! When you do, let us know on Twitter, @Conserisapp. Good luck!

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