Last summer I asked a professor if I can try my hand at doing research under him in his field of interest. As I was an undergrad student (I still am) taking taking summer courses and working (I wasn't getting paid for the research) at the time and lacked a lot of skills/creativity to help in with what he was doing, I feel like I was not very successful in being very helpful with putting together a proper research report.

This being said, nearly whole year has passed since then, with no plans this summer for courses, I have an idea I want to do original research that could be helpful to his field (I didn't find anything written on the matter, so I'm not 100% sure if it's a good one, but I sincerely think it should be tried if it hasn't to verify its validity for his field) and I in turn gain from his guidance, and possibly get a paid position with him.

Is it possible for me to get back to doing research with him after having a rough time last year? If so, how should I ask for it? Should I simply write an email asking if its possible for me to try doing research with him again or compose a formal research proposal and give email it to him to demonstrate interest in the field? The risk in turn of that would be that I would waste my time writing a proposal that would never be read or rejected where my efforts should be elsewhere.

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    What specifically went badly last time? You've explained why it didn't go well, but not what happened.
    – ff524
    Mar 16 '18 at 20:24
  • @ff524 edited 2char Mar 16 '18 at 20:26
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    What does "not very successful in being very helpful with putting together a proper research report" mean, though? He sent you many emails asking for your input and you didn't reply? Something else?
    – Mad Jack
    Mar 16 '18 at 21:56
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    Lots of undergraduates are disappointed in their research productivity. It turns out research is really hard, that's why graduate schools strongly advise undergraduates to get research experience and specifically select students who have research experience - not just because they have learned some skills, but because they've learned a bit about what research is all about. Are you the only one disappointed by your output? Is your advisor also disappointed? You may very well be within their expectations yet not within your own.
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 16 '18 at 22:07

This is somewhat field-dependent, but a lot of undergraduate research is not really for the professor's benefit. If they needed help, they'd enlist graduate students or postdocs. Working with undergrads is more about giving the student a learning experience.

You don't say anything about feedback from your professor, but in any case, I see nothing wrong with asking to work under him again. As for your idea, it's definitely a good idea to run it by your professor before investing much more effort, as he is in a better position to judge whether it's feasible, whether it's been done before, etc.


Consider the game theory. What's the status quo now? I'm assuming awkward. If you ask him and he says no, then things remain awkward, nothing lost. If you ask and he says yes, that could really help you. So, I would ask him.

I do not recommend put effort into a "research proposal" -- better to just talk to him. I'd start by sending an e-mail saying that you have enjoyed working with him, regretted being oversubscribed last summer, have no such time commitments this summer, would like to spend 40 hrs/week doing research with him, and ask for a meeting to discuss an idea you have.

Having had students like you before, my guess is that his answer will come down to whether there are other students who want to work with him. If competition for research spots is tight, he will likely give the chance to someone else. If not, he is likely to give you another try; as others have said, undergraduate research is more about teaching than about getting help (except for manual labor type "research").

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