How to Find a Research Mentor

One of the most exciting things about NBB at Emory is the wide variety of research projects pursued by our faculty and students. To find a research mentor, try these steps:
1. Figure out your areas of interest: Expose yourself to many different intellectual challenges and consider many different questions within NBB. Take exciting courses. Go to seminars and talks. Read and ask questions. Having general areas of interest will help you narrow down possible mentors and projects.

2. Learn about faculty research interests: Faculty research mentors can come from any department, school, program or division at Emory. Most of the faculty involved in NBB research have brief descriptions listed on the following pages:

  • The Graduate Program in Neuroscience has a very comprehensive listing of faculty who generally take a biomedical approach to NBB research questions: http://biomed.emory.edu/PROGRAM_SITES/NS/
  • The NBB website itself lists many other faculty who may not be associated with the Graduate Program above, but who are active mentors and instructors for NBB students: Faculty in NBB

3. Use and create a network: Once you’ve identified a few general areas of research that interest you, start sharing your interests with others. Talk to your major advisor, current instructors, and your peers about faculty and research areas that interest you. This kind of networking may help you hear about openings in labs, programs or funding to support your interests, or help you secure a personal recommendation for a particular position. Many of us can help you if we know what you’re looking for.

4. Contact potential mentors: Once you have identified a list of top faculty with research areas that interest you, craft a specific email to each one. It is appropriate to send out several in your first batch. In that email:

  • Briefly introduce yourself.
  • Describe your specific interest in his/her work. Your words should show why you’re emailing this professor in particular. It may help to read a paper or two from the lab to help you write a specific sentence or two.
  • Be as clear as possible about what you’re looking for. Do you need a work-study position? Are you looking to work full-time for the summer? Are you hoping to volunteer next semester? The mentor needs to know generally when you’d like to start and how much time you have for the project before he/she can decide if there’s room for you on the team. If you’re looking for support for a specific program or course (SURE, SIRE, Honors), include details about the program in the email in case he/she isn’t very familiar with the details.
  • Follow up after a week or two if you don’t hear a response. If you don’t hear a response after a second email, move on. If the faculty members are too busy to respond to your email, they are probably do not have any availability to work with you. Don’t take it personally! There may be another time or opportunity to work with them later.
  • Follow up as soon as possible with any responses and prepare to interview for open positions.

5. Prepare for the interview: As an undergraduate, you are not expected to be a fully trained expert; however, you should have a general idea (the more detailed, the better) of what this researcher's work entails. Bring a list of questions to ask, such as what kinds of projects might be available for you to work on, and whether this faculty has mentored other undergraduates. Take notes. Discuss how this experience is important to your future academic and career plans. If possible, indicate a project in which you would like to be involved if you discuss more than one area. Discuss compensation: are you looking for a paid position, a work-study position, do you wish to volunteer, or are you interested in doing research for credit? Regarding funding, ask whether the faculty's grants may support undergraduate research. Bring a transcript of your coursework, should you need to discuss your academic background. You want to appear informed, prepared, and eager to learn and work.

6. Follow up on the interviews: It is totally appropriate to take some time to consider offers to join a research team. You may be considering more than one mentor or waiting to hear from other emails. While you should take time to consider your options, be very clear about your goals and intentions so that no one is left wondering what you are doing. Let potential mentors know as soon as possible whether you’d like to join the team or not so that they can move on to other candidates where applicable. Generally, it is not a good idea to split time across two labs in order to test them both out at the same time. You’ll get the most out of the experience if you can really jump in and devote a lot of time to the project – thus splitting time will usually lead to two low-quality experiences rather than one in-depth experience.