Contacting Potential Research Mentors

Once you have an idea of the potential mentor’s research, you are ready to contact the mentor. You may choose to do this initially by email or to send them a packet containing a letter of interest and some information about yourself. In some cases, you may be able to contact the mentor by going in-person to their office or lab or by calling them on the telephone.

In an initial contact with a potential mentor, you will want to convey some of the following information about yourself and your research interests:

  1. Background information about yourself including your name, address, phone number, email address, your area of research interest, your educational background (for example, course work in biology, chemistry, physics, computer sciences), and any previous research experience. You may find that a simple one-page “resume” is the best way to organize this information and to make a good impression on the potential mentor. Many mentors also like to see a copy of your academic transcripts.
  2. The amount of time you are able to commit to a research project. You should also indicate when this time is and give an idea of what your other weekly commitments are. Often it is helpful to show a potential mentor a copy of your weekly class and work schedule.
  3. What you read about the potential mentor’s research that particularly intrigued you. Also, you will want to identify a general area of the mentor’s research on which you might like to work.
  4. What your motivation for pursuing a research project is. For example, are you considering a career in research and looking for an opportunity to try research? Have you learned about a topic in your course work that fascinated you and you want to investigate it in more depth?

If the potential mentor you contacted does not respond to your email, phone call, or letter, you will want to contact that person again after about one week or so. If you initially e-mailed the mentor, you might want to try sending a letter this time or calling the potential mentor on the phone. Getting in touch with a mentor often takes several tries. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back from them immediately. Keep trying! Although mentors are extremely busy people, they are almost always happy to talk to undergraduates about their research.

Once you are able to contact the potential mentor, you should ask if they received the information you sent about yourself and your research interests, restate your interest in getting involved in a research project, and ask if they might be interested in meeting with you to discuss the possibility of your working on a research project with them.