One of the most common ways of building connections with faculty and developing opportunities to get involved is through an informational meeting. Informational meetings, simply put, are conversations. These conversations are focused on a topic of mutual interest, such as a career field or research interest, and are a wonderful way of getting to know those who are engaged in work that appeals to you. Informational meetings are a common tool used in networking, which is essentially building and maintaining professional relationships.
Informational meetings provide you the opportunity to:
- Develop relationships with potential faculty mentors
- Gather insight and perspectives on a field or area of research that can help guide your next steps
- Explore the research possibilities at UConn and beyond
- Uncover opportunities to engage in research or creative projects alongside faculty
- Learn about the opportunities that may never get posted on the student employment job board
- Expand your network of contacts
Email is the most common way to contact faculty and arrange a time to speak. Review our tips on email etiquette and sample emails to learn more about how to craft a professional introductory email. OUR Advisors are also available to help you with drafting emails.
Another option is to go to faculty office hours. Conversations during office hours can vary, ranging from a brief introduction and arranging a time for further conversation, to an in-depth discussion of interests. As you won’t know in advance which will result from dropping in during office hours, be ready to engage in an in-depth discussion if the opportunity arises.
Preparing For Your Conversation
It’s important to remember that in asking for an informational meeting, whether with faculty or professional staff, you are asking for the favor of a person’s time and expertise, and you need to take this seriously. Do your homework and prepare for the conversation. Start by reviewing their bio and/or CV; these are often available on department websites. If their publications or research affiliations are listed, try to read a few articles and review information about the research center(s) they’re affiliated with to learn more about their work.
Prepare a list of questions you would like to ask or topics to discuss. You may or may not need your questions – every conversation is different – but it’s best to be prepared. Below are sample questions to get you started. Add additional questions that are tailored to the person you’re going to be speaking with and your interests in their work.
- What skills should I develop to prepare me to engage in research or creative projects in this field?
- Are there courses that you would recommend I take to help me develop those skills?
- What do you typically look for in an apprentice or research assistant?
- How did you get started in research?
- How did you choose your research topic/question? How did you become interested in this area/topic/question/project?
Questions about Your Background
In addition to having questions for them, you need to be prepared to answer questions about yourself. Common questions include:
- Tell me about yourself.
- What are your research/creative interests?
- What have you been studying? Why did you choose that course of study?
- What goals do you have for your future?
Faculty often use introductory questions such as these to start the conversation and to get to know you. Your answers should demonstrate your communication skills and ability to clearly express your interests and goals. Though you don’t need to have your life planned out or be able to discuss a specific topic of interest, you do need to be able to explain why you’re interested in an area of study, as well as your desire to learn more about the field. Review our guidelines on Telling Your Story to help you craft a thoughtful answer to the most common introductory question, “Tell me about yourself.”
Making a Positive Impression
Whether dropping in during office hours or meeting with a professor for a longer conversation, it’s essential to present yourself well. Use the tips below to enassure you are making a positive impression.
- Professional appearance: First impressions are made quickly. You don’t need to be wearing a suit to look professional, but do need to be neat and well-groomed. Pajamas, slippers, wrinkled or soiled clothes do not fit the bill; save these for another day.
- Professional handshake: Not all professors will initiate or expect a handshake upon meeting you for the first time, but if they do, you need to be prepared. A firm, not crushing, professional handshake is a skill that can take time to develop. Practice shaking hands with friends. You’ll learn quickly what works, what doesn’t, and become comfortable with this essential professional skill that will come in handy (pun intended) well beyond meetings with potential faculty mentors.
- Eye contact: Making eye contact signals that you are interested in and engaged with the conversation. It also demonstrates confidence. Poor eye contact may be seen as a lack of confidence or make you appear disinterested and disengaged.
- Body language: Sit up straight and lean slightly forward to show interest. Avoid slouching, fidgeting, and over-exaggerated hand gestures, as these may draw attention away from what you’re saying and make you seem distracted or uncomfortable.
- Energy and enthusiasm: Smile and maintain constant positive energy. This will go a long way towards demonstrating your interest.
For additional guidance from the OUR Peer Research Ambassadors, check out the following Student Research Blog posts:
- The Importance of Connecting With Your PI
- 4 Ways to Get Into Undergraduate Research
- Getting In Touch: Making Contact With Professors
- It’s OK to be Told “No”
- Meeting with Professors for the First Time
- I Don’t Understand Anything in These Papers!
- Research Mentors: Who, Why, and How
- Developing an Elevator Pitch
- Finding and Approaching a Project Mentor: Creative Projects Edition