I am doing my undergrad in engineering at a small liberal arts school. Due to lack of research opportunities at my current school, I am looking at getting a research position at a state university nearby. My question is, how typical is it for professors to let students from other universities join their labs? I want to send an email to a professor that I am interested to do research with, but I am not sure how to approach him in my email.

  • 2
    I'm a little surprised that there isn't some arrangement already between the two schools - have you asked your advisor / department chair? – Jon Custer Jul 18 '18 at 14:00
  • Agree with Jon. In any case, you will want these individuals to vouch for you. – Dawn Jul 18 '18 at 14:01
  • While most of the engineering professors completed their Ph.D at this state school, the engineering departments fairly new and so it does not have a formal arrangement of any kind, as far as I know. I could definitely ask the department head to put me in touch and vouch for me, but I am not sure what would would be the right thing to do first, contact the professor at this state school, or talk to the engineering department head and let him make this initial connection for me. Thank you. – ddacot Jul 18 '18 at 14:17
  • A lot of state universities have REU programs and tend to favor students at schools with a lack of research opportunities. Might be worth looking into – chevybow Jul 18 '18 at 14:32
  • 3
    Very slowly, and not from behind, or else you might startle them. – Azor Ahai -- he him Jul 18 '18 at 15:29

I'm playing professor psychology here; may serve as another approach for you to think about.

If it's an experienced professor and the school is large, your cold calling e-mail may not stand out (unless you have some stellar skill sets or experiences.) If it's a relatively new professor, hiring someone outside his/her school may be a deterrence.

My suggestion is this: talk to your school to set up a cross-registration arrangement and take a course at the state university. Preferably, take a course that is taught by the professor with whom you would like to work.

This gives you a few edges: you'd get to see if commuting to two campuses work for you, you'd get to check out all the resources and feel the campus culture there, and you will get to know the professor better, and be able to make a personal contact with him/her. Get a good grade, and use the semester to build a relationship with the faculty there.

Once the professor got to know you and understand your aspiration and capability, it'd be a lot easier for the professor to engage and make a decision.

| improve this answer | |

If the professor you propose to contact has relatively large labs with a number of researchers, your chances may be good. Less so if the students typically work as individuals.

In the former case a letter (maybe an email, but something more formal is better) to the professor is entirely appropriate. Detail your interest, your background and your skills.

However, before you send the letter get buy in from either your department head or other faculty on your idea. Then in your letter you can tell the prof to expect a supporting letter from Professor Xyzzy.

If the professor is interested, expect to be invited for a look around the lab, meeting other students and perhaps an interview. Be prepared for that. If your current faculty studied with this person, or otherwise knows him/her they can, perhaps prepare you for what to expect.

I doubt that, as an undergraduate, you would be asked to speak at a colloquium or other meeting, but it is (barely) possible.

Direct approach is good. Backup is also good.

Perhaps your contact might lead to a more formal arrangement that would benefit others. Your department head might be interested in that idea.

| improve this answer | |

You should feel absolutely comfortable approaching professors you find interesting. Writing something as simple as:

I am looking for research opportunity and always was fascinated by [your field of work]. Can we discuss possibility of me working in your lab?

At the same time, talk to your academic advisor at your school. They will definitely have an idea how to connect you with the state school. On the same note, contact state school's department administration (academic advisor or something) in order to get details on paperwork and process.

Best case scenario is that you'll be able to get paid to work in the lab. Worst case scenario you'll do it for free.

Chances are that the professor will miss your email. That is why it's a two-step process: direct contact and via administration. Both are important

| improve this answer | |
  • Adding to the answer of @aaaaaa, I suggest you to check out the latest (and most interesting) article of the corresponding professor, and directly make a comment on that or specify the point where it caught your attention. – user91300 Jul 18 '18 at 16:38
  • Getting paid (to learn) truly is "best case". But I wouldn't count on it here. We can dream. But you want to be more than a "lab rat", I think. An unpaid "intern" is the more likely scenario. But if you can really participate and not just wash glassware, it is worth it if you can afford it. – Buffy Jul 18 '18 at 17:54
  • @Buffy our uni (Univ of Southern Cali) has summer paid program for local (USC and non-USC) undergrads dornsife.usc.edu/bridge-institute/bugs That is not unique – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Jul 18 '18 at 18:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.