Approaching Professors Concerning Research Opportunities/Projects

Whether a professor has an advertised ROP project or research opportunities available that are not widely publicized, you should direct your focus on faculty members that you are truly and genuinely interested in working with.  Mass generalized email communications should be avoided if you wish to work with a faculty member on their research project(s).  Instead, you should be mindful of the details and follow these specific tips on how to approach professors in discussing Research opportunities/projects.

NOTE: general tips on approaching and speaking with professors is also recommended

  • Initial Contact.  When looking to approach a professor to discuss research opportunities or projects, begin by sending them a professionally crafted email introducing yourself.  Let them know what you are looking to gain from meeting with them and be open to their schedules as they may not always be available on campus when you are.  Office hours are usually the best time to arrange a meeting so be proactive in your request to meet.
  • Determine what you are after.  Depending on whether you are interested in a Research Opportunity Program project, general research interests, or participating in a Research Course you will need to first determine what you are approaching your professor about.  Make a clear plan ahead of time so you know what some talking points are and to articulate what you are looking to do/have happen.
  • Research Ahead of Time.  Take time to research the professor you hope to work with.  Familiarize yourself with the professor’s more recent research, courses, publications, projects, etc.  Find out if you both have compatible interests and make note of what excites and inspires you about their research.  You can review their online CV (if available), or personal and departmental websites to find this information.  A good way to make a great first impression is to show the professor that you are able to discuss their specific research projects and why these interest you, even if you don’t understand all of the content. 
  • Identify your Skills.  Prepare to discuss any previous experience or skills you can offer.  This can include research methodology courses, lab experience, field experience, volunteer/work experience, or even your own enthusiasm.  Include courses you are currently taking and anything additional that you believe will be relevant and beneficial toward your discussion.  Also, make note of how you believe you can benefit the professor’s research goals as well as your own.  This information may be requested of you prior to meeting so be sure to have it ready.  Remember, this information will also be included on your ROP application, should this be the experience you are after, so preparing in advance is a great first step. 
  • Clear your Mind.  Preparation prior to meeting with the professor is key.  You want to be sure that you go into your meeting with a clear research interest that you can easily express.  Prepare some questions in advance to guide the conversation and to show the professor that you have taken some time to prepare for the meeting/discussion.  You want to portray that you have genuine interest in their research and in working with them.  Also be sure to discuss your educational and career goals and how this may impact those.  The goal is to leave your professor with a clear idea of your research interests are and to show your enthusiasm, intent and talent.
  • Get Some Feedback.  Ask your professor for feedback on your discussion and what some of the next steps might be.  They may suggest alternatives or provide you with helpful reading materials on the topics to get you better acquainted.  They may even suggest colleagues who might be a better match for your interests or recommend you speak with the Experiential Education Unit for more details.  This is all positive feedback and should be welcomed.
  • Note of Thanks.  After your meeting, it is good practice to send your professor a thank you email letting them know you appreciated the time they took in guiding you and in your discussions related to their research and your interests.  If you know that you might be working with this professor you can ask to have a second meeting to discuss the nitty-gritty details about the project/course.  This may be offered to you in the form of an interview or another meeting to go over the details, but never assume, always ask first.  If you are asked in for an interview arrange to meet with a Career Counsellor in the UTM Career Centre for tips on how to interview.