Finding a Faculty Mentor

Finding a Faculty Mentor

The Aresty RA and Summer Science programs are designed to help students find mentors who are actively seeking new researchers. At the same time, we recognize that many students may want to join research projects outside Aresty's programs and will seek out mentors on their own. Here are some guidelines for finding a faculty mentor. (The Rutgers Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry also offers good tips on finding a lab).

Step 1: Identify Potential Mentors

  • List faculty members with whom you have taken courses and whose work has inspired or influenced your intellectual interests.
  • Attend lectures on campus to familiarize yourself with other faculty members outside your courses.
  • Consider the interdisciplinary implications of your interests and identify all relevant departments - including professional schools - that may house potential mentors. Don’t be limited to the department of your major.
  • Check departmental websites for up-to-date information on faculty research interests and publications. This is a great way to learn about your discipline. Recent course listings can also give you an idea of the research interests of particular faculty members.
  • Explore the Undergraduate Research System to view both past and current projects, and who the associated faculty are. Make a list of the projects that interest you most.
  • Talk to fellow students, especially seniors, TAs, and graduate students involved in research, to find out which faculty members specialize in areas relevant to your proposed research project.

Step 2: Approach Potential Mentors

  • Narrow down your list to 3 - 4 faculty members and do your homework before you approach them. Browse their most recent publications through the RU Library databases or on their websites and write down questions that you have about the work. Be able to state why you are seeking out this particular person.
  • Write a professional, personalized email to prospective mentors. Remember: many faculty members receive dozens of unsolicited requests to join their research each year. A generic email will be immediately deleted. Explain your interests and ask professors if they would be willing to discuss their research with you. Demonstrate intellectual curiosity and a thoughtful approach to your academic goals.
  • Have an agenda for the meeting. Do you need: feedback on a research or creative project idea? Help defining the purpose or scope of a project? Suggestions for further background reading? Advice about designing a research instrument or plan? Information about laboratory facilities or equipment?
  • When you contact the faculty member, say that you have read the person's work, ask one or two questions that you have written down, and say that you would like to meet in person to discuss their current work and your own interests.
  • Don’t go in empty handed: have with you a paragraph summarizing your research interests, your transcript, your resume, and a list of specific questions/requests for guidance.
  • Before leaving the meeting, think about what kind of follow-up you would like to have with the faculty member. If you have established a good rapport and would like to develop an ongoing working relationship, ask if he/she would be willing to meet with you again. If there isn’t a good match between your interests and those of the faculty member, ask him/her to suggest other colleagues you might approach.
  • Be confident and assertive about asking for help but keep the length of your meeting within the established time limit (e.g., 10 or 15 minute “slots”).

Step 3: Select a Mentor

  • Once you have identified a faculty member with whom you wish to work on your research or creative project, clearly communicate what kind of time commitment you are expecting and make sure you understand the professor's expectations as well.
  • If you are doing an independent project, give your mentor a copy of your research proposal, as well as any forms she/he will need to fill out to establish a formal advising relationship. Be sure to allow plenty of lead time before deadlines and make sure your mentor knows when forms are due. Arrange an agreed upon date to check back with the faculty member to verify that forms have been submitted.
  • If a faculty member declines to serve as your mentor, don’t be discouraged! A negative response likely says more about the professor’s prior commitments than it does about the merits of your project. If you’ve done your homework and have carefully reflected on your interests, return to Step 1 and begin the process again.