By: Maya Schlesinger, OUR Peer Research Ambassador
The toughest part of getting involved on campus is often — well — getting involved! This is especially true when it comes to undergraduate research and other creative endeavors, where your involvement hinges on building connections with professors whose work aligns with your interests.
For me, developing these contacts to start my research came in the form of emails and so I’ve had a lot of practice crafting these emails to professors. Your email is often the first thing that this person has to judge you by, and if you are asking them for something, you want to make sure it stands out and is professional. So, here are my Dos and Don’ts of contacting faculty or staff at UConn:
- Check out their faculty page! Pretty much all faculty and staff, even some grad students, have them on the department’s website. → Try: googling their name and UConn and you’ll probably find out plenty about them.
- Start off with a professional greeting. While some professors are comfy with first-name basis, don’t assume this. → Try: Dear Dr. _______, Dear Professor _______,
- Introduce yourself – but only briefly. While hopefully they’ll want to get to know you better after your killer email, they are busy people and don’t need your whole life story. → Try: “My name is __________ and I’m in your course ___________.” or “I read about your work on/with _________ and I am interested in [type of work/ field of study].”
- Read about their work. This may come in handy most once you get the meeting, but in tip #3 I told you to mention that you are interested in something they’re doing. This shows that you are not just blasting out a generic email to every single professor at UConn, that you’re genuinely interested in their work, and that you are a thoughtful person who can take initiative to do some background reading. This is useful for any job you ever apply for.
- Ask for a meeting first, not a job. When you match with someone on a dating site, you chat back and forth first to let them know you’re not a total weirdo and then you ask them on a date and eventually, maybe, are in a relationship. Don’t ask UConn faculty out on a date, but know that they have invested a lot of time and resources into making their lab or studio run, and they may not want just anyone waltzing in without getting to know them first. → Try: “If you have the time, I’d like to meet with you to inquire more about your work. I am available ____” (check if they have office hours if you can, or AdvApp appointments!)
- Thank them for their time. They just read your whole email and they’re busy people! Sign professionally as well. → Try: “Sincerely”, “Best”, or just “Thank you”
- Email again…… Haven’t heard back? It’s okay to pester a bit. Maybe give them a week or so and then send a follow up, or even just resend your original one (a vet school admissions director told me this one!).
- Rinse and repeat! Reach out to several faculty members this way. Even if you got a meeting with the one professor whose research you were drooling over and oohing and ahing at as you stayed up til 1am just skimming their papers (see: freshman-year me), maybe meet with another faculty member in your department or a similar one, just to gauge what else is going on. You may not actually like the person even if you love their research, so meet with a few if you can.
- Say “Hi” or “Hey” or “Sup” or even “Professor _____,” (see my #2 DO). Professionalism is key.
- Ask if you can work in their lab without ever having met them. This will likely not work out well. (see my #5)
- Pester them under a week since you’ve sent the first email. They are busy and being rude or naggy will not get you far.
- Ignore a reply! If they do get back to you, reply to them promptly. If they got back to you the same day, try to reply at least the same day, if not by early the next morning.
- Send your email at 2am. Try Google Boomerang for your email—it lets you pick a time to automatically send it (write at 2am, set it to send at ~8am the next day). This is my dirty trick to make professors think that I’m up early to be productive or at least writing emails at a normal time (instead of 1am when I was sitting at my desk excitedly reading their work… or watching Netflix).
Maya Schlesinger is a senior majoring in Animal Science with a minor in Molecular and Cell Biology. Click here to learn more about Maya.