Identifying a Mentor
Identifying an undergraduate research mentor can be a bit intimidating. We have identified some steps to help you navigate this process.
- Begin with exploring what areas of research interest you. It is likely that you have a few topics that truly catch your attention.
- Talk to your academic advisor and to your professors for suggestions.
- Use department websites as an avenue to find professors currently doing research.
- Be sure to expand your horizons beyond professors in the College. Emory’s other divisions like the Rollins School of Public Health, School of Medicine, and Laney Graduate School all host incredible researchers and projects. There are also options at places connected with Emory, such as Yerkes and the VA Hospital.
- Once you have identified a few possible mentors, do some preliminary research into their work and read a couple of their publications.
- Just to brainstorm, you may choose to browse through the Laney Graduate School Dissertation Sampler via Emory University’s website in order to glean information about potential areas of interest.
- Keep an open-mind about who you want to work with - be aware that your research interests might change!
- Examine the work of faculty you have taken classes from.
- Do some extensive “creeping” - look into professors’ past research, current research, future research interests, dissertations, CV, and recent papers, articles, and books. Note that publishing takes a long time and they may not be currently working on the same work that they have published.
- Look into graduate students’ dissertations who have worked with your prospective mentor(s). Note: this provides you with an idea of how previous students (whether undergraduate or graduate) have benefited from collaborating with your prospective mentor(s).
- Browse mentors’ academic/institutional websites for additional areas of interest. (Note: faculty bios are not always necessarily up-to-date.)
- Ask peers who have worked on faculty research projects.
- When beginning your mentor search, try looking on the website of university departments you’re interested in. It is a good idea to work with people who have had some experience working with undergraduates.
- Ask a close professor if you can work with them. If you’re not interested in their work, ask if they know anyone who shares interests with you. If you have a job, perhaps you can ask your coworkers, too, especially if you’re a work-study student in a lab or university department office. Use your connections!
- Refine your list of potential mentors. READ THEIR PAPERS. You can search their website or the library. This will be useful for any interviews.
- Update your resume. If you need help with this, go to the Career Center.
Now that you have found some possible mentors, it is time to contact them. Writing a professional email is different from texting your best friend.
- Send an email to potential faculty mentors. Volunteer to forward program materials and your resume/CV. Remember, the Career Center and Writing Center are great resources helping you edit your CV/resume.
- Keep your email short and concise. During the meeting, be professional and able to articulate why you are interested in the faculty’s research.
- If you get no response from a faculty member, you can try sending a follow-up email one week after you sent your original email – no earlier.
It is vitally important to use netiquette to be taken seriously by faculty members. Here are some pointers on how to communicate effectively with faculty:
- Use your emory.edu email address.
- Make sure that the subject line of your email is clear and concise.
- Address faculty appropriately! “Dear Professor Smith” or “Dear Dr. Doe” are both acceptable. People have worked hard for their advanced degrees, please don’t address someone with a PhD or MD as “Mr./Mrs./Ms.”
- It is important to show your passion. Why should this faculty member choose to work with you? You need to show that you are dedicated to the research. After all, passion is the drive to success, right? You can talk about any personal experience related to research. This shouldn’t be overwhelmingly long. Three to four sentences should suffice.
- Demonstrate your interest in the faculty member’s research. If you are drafting an email template to send out to multiple potential mentors, be sure to tailor each email to each recipient (and change names and dates accordingly.) Make sure to include why it is that you find their specific research interesting.
- Include any technical skills you may have with computer software or other relevant skills (like lab skills for the natural and physical sciences). You can also attach your CV or résumé.
- In the last paragraph, request an interview. Here, you can again show your interest in the research. It would also be nice to include your availability for the interview. But, do not just give one or two specific times and days. Provide a range so the mentor doesn’t feel like they must conform to your schedule.
- If you do not receive a response after approximately one week, send a follow-up email.
Keep in mind - this is your potential mentor’s first impression of you. Be cognizant of how your writing comes off as a reflection of you.
- Use of emoticons in professional emails.
- Use of wacky colors and/or fonts
- Casual greetings (e.g. “Sup” “Yo, [First name]!,” or “Hey, Dr. ___!”)
- No greeting at all
- Sending a follow up email within one week of your initial email.
- Informality in general. Avoid phrases like, “Hey, Professor ____. Can I have an interview?”
Although these may seem obvious, you may be surprised by how frequently this vernacular leaks into our professional life! Be cognizant!
After meeting with a faculty member, if you have a good feeling about their leadership and the research projects available, ask if they are interested in undergraduates doing research in their research space. If you have concerns about how to go about this process, feel free to set up an advising meeting with Undergraduate Research Programs through ASST: http://www.emory.edu/asst.
As an undergraduate student, be prepared and willing to start at the bottom. You may start out doing repetitive tasks. As you become more comfortable with time, you will be able to move up and perform more complex procedures.
Make sure you are clear about the faculty's expectations and your role and work on the research project.
Don’t overcommit yourself.
Developing a good relationship with your mentor means more opportunities and guidance! Your mentor is a valuable resource who can provide guidance and wisdom throughout your research career. Mentors may offer advice about future career directions as well as provide more insight into your research field of interest. Furthermore, mentors can be very useful in networking. The research world is very close-knit and your mentor might be able to connect you to other prominent people that will assist you and your future career.
With these reasons in mind, you should reach out to your mentor more often. Communication is very, very important. Make sure that you let your mentor know your questions and concerns. Don’t be hesitant to ask for help when you need it. Of course, always show your respect and willingness to learn from them!