How to Reach Out to Potential Research Mentors

You’ve decided that you’d like to try out research.  Great! It could be a lot of fun. You’ve thought about how to choose a research mentor.  You know some options for contacting a mentor. Now you need to actually draft an email. When I used to teach an undergraduate Introduction to Clinical Research class, this was one of the assignments I had the students do.  I was often surprised that their emails needed editing and improvement. On that basis, I wanted to provide you some example emails to inspire you to write a good email to reach out to a research mentor. They are below, with some commentary.

Hello Dr. X,

You recently spoke in my seminar led by Dr. Y.  My name is Bob Smith and I am a sophomore Genetics major. We have discussed PAX6 mutations in several of my genetics classes at length, and I found your presentation very interesting. I was wondering if you are interested in talking to me about the potential to be involved in any of your research projects.  I would love to talk to you about how to get involved if you have the time. I look forward to hearing from you,

Sincerely,

Bob Smith

Analysis: I like this because it creates a connection- this isn’t a cold email, there is some relationship, however tenuous.  It also creates context- where might this faculty know this student? It relates a salient detail- the PAX6 mutation which was discussed during the seminar.  And it creates an opportunity for the faculty to respond. The closing encourages a faculty to respond, even if that response is “Sorry I am too busy” rather than ignore the email.

Dear Dr. X,

I am contacting you with the prospect of you becoming my faculty mentor and researching with me.  I am very interested in the work your lab has done so far in searching for inhibitors to couteract and halt the metabolic processes of the parasites <example>.  I have lab experience both at the University of Wherever and back in my hometown ThisCitgy, AA. I feel I would do well working in your lab and am eager to learn.  Attatched is my resume and I look forward to hearing back from you.

Thank you,

Cindy Smith

Analysis: This is a less good example.  It’s good because it includes a specific example and mentions their lab experience.  There are a couple of typos, which is distracting. I also find the first sentence a little off-putting: that the faculty will do research with the student, rather than the student work with the faculty.  It’s subtle, but I can imagine some readers being vaguely irritated.

Hello Professor X,

My name is Ana Smith, and I’m a 2nd year undergraduate student in the College of Public Health at Unseen University. I was recently browsing the X web page and came across your lab. I was really intrigued by the work you are doing on Subject X. I’m really interested in learning more about working in a lab, and am hoping to take advantage of my time here at a prominent research institution. I intend to apply to work with the Center for Undergraduate Research here, and I would like the opportunity to ask you some questions pertaining to your research. I am available from 9:00 am – 12:00 pm every weekday morning.  Please let me know if you are available to meet with me sometime in the next two weeks.

Have a great day!

Thank you,

Ana Smith

Unseen University Class of 2022

College of Public Health

anasmith@unseenuniversity.edy

310-555-1234

Analysis: This is probably my favorite example.  It provides a brief introduction to the student and why they are interested in that faculty’s research, although more detail would be good if available.  Providing some times make it easier for the faculty to reply with, “Great, let’s meet Monday at 10am”. Providing contact info, including email and phone number, is also good.

So those are some examples.  If you have some sample emails you’d like reviewed, post them in the comments!

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