Landing a Research Position: Meeting the Professor
Updated: Jul 30, 2020
By Komal Patel
Conducting academic research is a great way to learn about a specific field in-depth, and can demonstrate your curiosity and dedication. But if you don’t know any professors or don’t have prior experience, it can be daunting to get a position! If you don’t know where to start on getting your research position, take a look at my first article entitled Landing a Research Position: Getting Your Foot in The Door before coming back here.
Before Your Meeting
Thank the prof for getting back to you and schedule a convenient time to meet over email. Don’t send them your resume and/or transcript unless asked before you have the meeting - this is first and foremost a chance to learn about their research, don’t let them think you’re only after a position!
Read the professor or research group's research focus statement and their most recent papers. Knowing this basic information demonstrates that you care about the research and are genuinely interested in it. Come up with a few insightful questions to ask, and use these to spark conversation during your meeting.
Know and be able to explain why you want the position and have an idea of the time commitment you’re willing to make for the position. A good estimate is 7-8 hours a week when you’re first starting out.
Prepare a short intro about yourself, which could include your program, extracurriculars, favourite courses (relevant to the position!) and what you like to do in your spare time. You might be tempted to talk a lot about your academic and extracurricular work to impress the professor, but talking about yourself holistically makes you a lot more relatable. In addition, you don’t want the prof to think you’re too busy to dedicate time to their work!
Be presentable. Take the time to wear a collared shirt, nice pants and shoes, and tidy your hair. First impressions are important, and you want to make the best one possible!
Be polite. Please, thank you, and all of the manners you learned in grade school are definitely a must when meeting someone for the first time, especially in a professional setting like a university.
Show up early. A good rule of thumb is 5 minutes early in person, and 1-2 minutes early over video chat. If the prof logs on early, you’ll be ready and waiting, and if you have trouble finding their office in person, you’ll have some buffer time on your side.
Take the initiative to send a video call invitation to your prof, unless they have already sent you one. Taking a small task off their plate to make it easier for them is never a bad thing!
Be aware of your environment. Is your background tidy? Is it well-lit? Will it be quiet for the duration of your call? Is your wifi signal strong? These factors add to how smoothly your call will go, and reduce any visual clutter or audible distractions.
Asking For The Position
If your conversation goes well, you like the professor, and you’re interested in their research, ask for opportunities to get involved in their field. This could mean with them directly, or if they’re not taking students, they might be able to connect you with someone in their department who is. Make sure you walk out of the meeting with a new contact or a position. And if they put you in touch with another professor, email that person ASAP.
After The Meeting
Follow up within 24 hours with a thank you for the professor’s time, and include any additional material (resume, transcript, course outlines) that were requested during the meeting. If the professor gave you someone to contact, reach out again and thank them once you have your meeting with that contact. Everyone likes to know that they were able to help someone out, and professors are no exception!
I’d love to hear your stories about landing a research position or any questions you might have on instagram @thementorshipspot or at my personal account @kom.patel.
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