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How To Find Supervisors and Mentors for Graduate School and Assistantships

Here are some tips on what to say when you contact professors for mentorship or laboratory placement: Show that you’re familiar with their research, Identify qualifications of interest, Propose a project that relates to the professor’s research or area of interest, and Identify what you will bring to the laboratory or research team.

Research laboratory placement can be a criterion for graduate admission into research-based programs or funding in Canada or the US. What to say when you contact professors for graduate school can be very important for securing a placement in a research team. This placement ensures that applicants’ research interests align with what is attainable in the program and guarantees some funding for the prospective students. Professors get a ton of emails from prospective students daily and may not have the time to go through them thoroughly. So, as an applicant, you have to send a captivating cold email. The body of the email should highlight all your achievements, skills, and qualifications relevant to the professor’s research. You should also attach your academic CV, transcript, and research proposal/sample paper. You have a higher chance of success or acceptance if you email professors whose research aligns with your qualification(s) or professional experience. Graduate school is a continuation of your academic/professional experience, so you are expected to know your research area of interest.

Here are some tips on What To Say When You Contact Professors For Mentorship or Laboratory Placement:

#1 Show that you’re familiar with their research:

You don’t want the professor to think you just stumbled on their research and decided to send an email. The first thing to do is get to know the professor and their research interest(s). Read through their profile and understand what their research interests are. Read some papers and presentations to get an in-depth understanding of the work they do. Most professors have many publications that make it impossible to read everything, especially as you may apply to other programs. A good hack is to read the most recent paper(s) to give you a good idea of the current research. Also, review past and current graduate students and what they do/did when they worked with the professor(s) you want to contact. Reviewing helps you link their contribution to what you intend to do and think of project ideas.

#2 Identify qualifications you have that align with the skills involved in the professor’s research or laboratory:

When going through the recent papers of a professor, look at the methodology critically and note the skills and techniques applied in those projects. This knowledge will give you a good idea of the skill sets you need to work with the professors. You can also highlight these skill sets in your email and subsequent application.  

#3 Propose a project that relates to the professor’s research or area of interest:

Critical thinking and innovations are qualities professors look for in their potential students. One way to demonstrate these skills is by proposing a project from the professors’ recent work or relating to the professor’s area of expertise. Doing this will show you have a good understanding of their research and will be an excellent addition to the lab.   

#4 Identify what you will bring to the laboratory or research team:

Professors want students that will add value to their laboratory. Highlight skills you have acquired from previous experiences that are relevant to the lab/research team, propose alternative techniques that will yield better results, and answer pertinent questions the research seeks to address.

#5 Identify particular areas of mentorship that the professor could provide for you:

Another part of laboratory placement or a research assistant position is mentorship. Good mentorship is another reason it is imperative to choose a professor that aligns with your career goals. The professors you work with are supposed to support your research and other areas of your academic pursuit. In the email, identify areas of mentorship you will need, specify how you want to grow and the things you will gain from work with the professor of interest. Doing this will show the professor where and how they can also be of help to you.

#6 Craft an email with enough information based on the points listed above.

State the basic facts and be as specific and convincing as possible. Keeping it short and interesting will attract and sustain the professors’ interest. In the email, propose a meeting with the mentor to introduce yourself and talk further.

In summary, getting a professor as a supervisor/mentor requires thorough research and knowing adequately about their works. These tips will help you write a strong cold email and get a supervisor or mentor for your Master’s or PhD program.

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