Finding a Research Mentor

Finding Potential Mentors

Check out departmental websites and scan the list of faculty profiles

https://biology.uiowa.edu/research
http://genetics.grad.uiowa.edu/
http://molcellbio.grad.uiowa.edu/
http://ogi.grad.uiowa.edu/srop/available-mentors

Contacting Potential Mentors

Email is a good way to make initial contact with potential mentors. By sending an email you give the mentor a chance to review your materials before responding. It is like the first step in an interview, so be sure it reflects your best effort (no spelling or grammatical errors!). If you are comfortable, it is also OK to phone or stop by a potential mentor’s office to ask about scheduling a time to meet to discuss any potential openings for a research experience but an e-mail is a preferable way of approaching a future mentor.

Some things to consider when composing emails:

  • Research mentors are very busy people, so keep it short and to the point (approximately 1 paragraph).
  • Address the email using the mentor’s official title (e.g. Professor, Dr.)
  • Do your homework before you shoot off an e-mail!  You should know about what kind of research the lab does. For instance, check out publications that the faculty member has before contacting the lab.  Specifically refer to the mentor’s research, and what you find interesting about it.
  • Be clear that you are looking for a research experience (vs. a dishwashing job) and what your main goal will be to do an undergraduate research project.
  • Highlight what you have to offer; what distinguishes you from other students (e.g. hard worker, experience, eager to learn, willing to stay more than one semester, persistent, specific courses you’ve completed that are relevant to the research).
  • Show enthusiasm for learning how to do research!

DO NOT write: “Hey, I’m interested in doing research in your lab. Do you have any openings? Thanks.”

Additional information you could include in an an attached letter:  

  • Your course schedule for the semester showing blocks of time where you have time for research.
  • An electronic transcript (an unofficial degree audit is fine).

Interviewing with Potential Mentors

  • Be on time.
  • Be enthusiastic and motivated. Smile.
  • Be ready to discuss why you want to do research in general (What are your academic and career goals?), and why you want to do research with this mentor specifically (What is it about his/her research that is interesting to you? Is there a particular project on which you would like to work?).
  • Read about the research BEFORE you go to the interview. There is usually a research overview on the web with references/links to the group’s published papers. Try to read one or two of these papers, and prepare some questions about them. Generally, mentors won’t expect you to fully understand the research, but making the effort to learn about it on your own shows independence and motivation.
  • Ask about the expectations of undergraduate researchers in the group (time commitment, credits, type of work).
  • Ask about who would be your direct mentor in the group (professor, post-doc, graduate student).
  • Bring an unofficial copy of your transcript (degree audit is fine) if you haven’t already submitted one.