Preparing for the First Meeting

Your first meeting with a potential research mentor is an opportunity for you to learn more about a faculty members research interests, ongoing projects, any collaborators or graduate students or other faculty they work with, and what expertise and guidance they may give you in a potential research project. For the potential faculty mentor, the first meeting is a time for them to learn more about you, your motivations, your intellectual interests, and how they can be most helpful to you. Before you head into your first meeting with a potential faculty mentor, consider the following:

Prepare ahead of time
Read up on the faculty member's most currently published papers or summaries of their work and reflect why the work is interesting, what you’d like to learn, and what ideas you also might have to contribute to the work. Sketch out a short agenda (for yourself) outlining the important points you’d like to make or questions you’d like to ask.

Potential Questions to Ask:

  • Can you tell me more about your project on ...?
  • How can I learn more about this topic? Are there papers or courses I should take to prepare myself?
  • How do students typically get involved in research in your field?
  • What would independent research look like in this field?
  • Have you mentored undergraduates on independent research projects before? If so, how did they prepare for starting an independent research project under your guidance?
  • What would a research assistantship for you entail? What are your expectations for a research assistant (time commitment, relevant skills)?
  • What are your expectations of a thesis writer? (How often do thesis writers check in with you?)
  • Are there any opportunities for me to get involved in research under your guidance or with your graduate student mentees or postdocs?

During the meeting
Take notes and ask questions. Don’t be afraid of concepts that may come up on in conversation that are unfamiliar to you. Show your interest and curiosity for what they do, which will provide context for you to describe your interests in working with them. 

Review the notes you took during your first meeting. If you were seeking a faculty mentor for an independent research project, think about their research and expertise, their communication style and how they might be helpful. Keep in mind that a potential faculty mentor’s interests may not directly align to your own. if you feel that they have given you substantial information to consider and if you enjoyed the conversation and feel comfortable seeking their advice, they may a make good mentor for your research. If you are seeking additional expertise or other guidance, it is also okay to have additional mentors or advisors in the wings. Follow up with a thank you email, acknowledge that you have read papers that they have recommendeded, and ask what next steps there may be if you are interested working more closely going forward.