Usually when potential mentors agree to meet with you, they are interested in finding out more about you before they make a commitment about acting as your mentor. The potential mentors are probably interested in hearing about your interests in research and in judging your level of motivation and enthusiasm. Be prepared to explain what you hope to get out of a research experience, why you are interested in this mentor’s research and what general type of project interests you. Be sure to ask the mentor to describe the research projects going on in their labs and which projects would be available to you. Remember that the mentor is an expert in their field but you are only starting in this area. Now is the time to ask the basic questions that you need to understand the project and the science involved. There are also some other important questions you may want to ask a potential mentor. These include:
- Have you had undergraduates working in your group before? How did it work out? What are some of those undergraduates doing now?
- Who would directly supervise my work? Possible answers range from the professor to post-doctoral researchers, graduate students, and more experienced undergraduate students. In nearly all cases, you would be assigned a supervisor and not be “on your own.”
- Is there potential to eventually work on my own project? Most mentors will reward hard work, reliability, and acquisition of skills by giving an undergraduate increasing amounts of responsibility and independence.
At some point in this conversation, if you feel that either this mentor or research project is right for you, you will want to ask them if they will be your mentor and allow you to work on a project you have discussed.