Identifying and Contacting Faculty Mentors

Identifying Faculty Mentors

First, reflect on your interests.
Want to do research but don’t know where to start? Consider specific topics, people, events, places and things you are curious about. What do you feel most passionate about? What is exciting to you? Once you’ve reflected on your interests, it’s time to start looking for a mentor who can walk you through the research process or help you identify additional resources for your study.

Search Department and Faculty Research Profile pages or through pages of research programs.
Look for labs, research groups and individual faculty who have similar interests and who may have the experience and expertise that fit with your interests. These faculty do not necessarily have to be those who are teaching your courses. Faculty profiles may give you a sense of their broad academic interests, ongoing projects, current publications, as well as provide a list of other research team members (such as graduate students and other undergraduates) they also may work with. Additionally, the Harvard Summer Undergraduate Research Village programs abstract books may give you a sense of others faculty who have mentored undergraduates on research.

Talk to your network.
Ask faculty, directors of undergraduate study, teaching fellows, graduate students, House tutors, concentration advisors AND other undergraduates who are involved in clubs and student organizations or who are doing research for suggestions on faculty who can mentor research. Peers may provide invaluable on-the-ground advice on research experiences, environments, and faculty/research mentoring relationships that have worked/not worked for them.

Keep track of faculty’s whose interests and work resonate with you.
Try to make a two-column list: one column for faculty name, contact information; and the other column for what research topics/projects seem interesting to you, questions you have about their work. What more would you like to learn if you met with them and worked with them? Keep this list of faculty to two to three faculty, at first.

Contacting Faculty

Don’t send mass and templated emails, be brief and professional, and provide context (if possible).

  • Tailor your emails to each individual faculty member, specifying your interests in their work and any questions you have.
  • Avoid making typos and misspellings especially in faculty name and research interests!
  • Briefly, provide some context about why you are contacting them, who you are (your class year, concentration or the concentrations you are interested in), what interests you and excites you about their work, and your desire to talk further about what you are looking for (e.g., will you be enrolling in a research course? Are you planning on writing a thesis? Are you just starting out in research and are seeking advice?) If you were referred by a concentration advisor, a peer conducting research with the faculty member, a graduate student, or another professor, perhaps they were the lead instructor in a past or current course, it is helpful to also mention this connection. It is also ok that you don’t have this connection.

Ask to meet virtually (via Zoom) or in-person, or speak on the phone.
First meetings enable you to learn more about their ongoing research projects, what techniques are employed and who may be involved or have been involved with this work. It may be of value to ask for additional readings or resources to help you get oriented to their work and, if you are interested in their work and would like to get involved, what steps you can take to involve yourself in this research.