I contacted a professor in a foreign university for a possible research internship in his lab. He is willing to accept me as an intern, but has stated that since he barely knows me and it is the first time I will be working under him, he will not provide any financial support.

I have read his publications, his areas of interest match with mine, and I believe that his papers were among the most exciting ones I have read so far. Being an undergraduate, I have limited funding of my own and I don't want to miss this opportunity because of lack of resources.

Since he mentioned 'will not fund' instead of 'cannot fund', I feel that there is some scope to convince him. Can someone advise me regarding what I should say to do so, without being rude? I would appreciate any help.

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    I feel that there is some scope to convince him. — Nope. – JeffE Jan 26 '19 at 9:31
  • what's the duration of stay (e.g. how much money you'll need)? What are your and target countries? Are there people in that lab from your home country? – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Jan 26 '19 at 17:42
  • @JeffE - Maybe if he asks really nicely? – Valorum Jan 26 '19 at 19:52
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    @Valorum No. For this prof this student is a stranger. If a stranger asks you for a favour, you may say "yes", "yes, but", or "no". This prof said "yes, but". Go with this. If OP tries to turn this into an unconditional "yes", the prof will see that student as pestering him and a prospective time waste, and extrapolate that they will become a drain on his time when they come to visit, not taking a "no" or "not now" for an answer. – Captain Emacs Jan 26 '19 at 21:15
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    I think you're reading too much into his specifc wording. He said he won't fund you. That's the end of it. – David Richerby Jan 26 '19 at 21:52

It may help to look at this from the professor's point of view:

  • You are not a student at his university (or even a citizen of his university's country), so internal research grants are not an option (indeed, he may face some backlash for hiring a non-student if research slots are limited).
  • You are an undergraduate, so your ability to be useful to him is very limited, especially at first as you are ramping up. (Undergraduates generally have limited time and skills compared to grad students and post-docs).

Given this, his position is quite reasonable: if you want to work "for free", fine; otherwise, this won't work out.

To change his mind, you need to reverse one of these assumptions:

  • You can find a pot of money (e.g., a scholarship) and ask for his support in applying for it
  • You can prove that you are really useful for the lab, and that paying you a meager salary is more cost-effective than other options. But, for most undergraduate students, this will be an impossible sale, and the professor will quickly tire of saying "sorry, no."

In short: I really don't think you'll be able to convince him. Your best bet is to look for scholarships or other funding. If that doesn't work out, you should tell him honestly that while you appreciate his offer, and would certainly accept it even with a modest stipend, you simply cannot afford to travel to and live in the foreign country with no income.

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    i would add few points: there might be sources of funding available in OP's country for "work overseas and come back home" type of research. Also, some universities might be able to provide limited support if professor vouches for the student. – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Jan 26 '19 at 17:43

He does not know you. He does not know how well you work. He would have to give the money to you, who comes with unknown background, rather than to a student from his course who he knows is capable.

Now, why would he do this? Interns are often (not always, of course) a time sink. If he accepts you for the internship, then do avoid trying to create a funding sink, when it is clear that he does not intend this to happen.

If he already said "No" on funding, do not push the matter. It will look rude, no matter which words you use.


Never work for free, unless its for a charity or a noble cause.

"... but has stated that since he barely knows me and it is the first time I will be working under him, he will not provide any financial support"

This is clearly a red flag. Look for some other internship or better not do anything than accepting this offer.

Had he stated that he did not have money to fund, then it would be a different scenario, but still I would say not work for free, but you could ask him to support you with a recommendation letter for a possible external funding source that you had identified. Anyway this is not the case, so my advice is , do not accept this offer.

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    It is not working for free, but for education and points for CV. A university internship is a give and take, and rarely do the professors get something substantial out of it, in the best case, a potentially interesting candidate for the future. I remember many years ago a bunch of interns in an institution on a 2-month program; the hosts were surprised that one of them ended up developing a nontrivial and actually useful piece of software. The others were effectively just hanging around, trying out stuff (no, they were not lazy or weak, but the knowledge offset to be productive was high). – Captain Emacs Jan 26 '19 at 15:01
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    @CaptainEmacs : Unless you are paid in cash, its free. – user102868 Jan 26 '19 at 23:39
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    @CaptainEmacs If the internship is so pointless that the professor gets nothing out of it, then why should anyone care if it's on a CV then? That's a failure of interviews/screening processes (or if it takes so long to be productive, largely a waste of time), and shouldn't be an excuse for not adequately compensating for performed work. – hichris123 Jan 27 '19 at 0:55
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    @hichris123 As I said, it might be that it is to find out if the student might be a candidate for a later PhD, or can dabble a bit in a noncommittal mini-investigation (which may give some leads with a good student). Some profs also have other reasons for internships. Note that I always advocate to students to accept only funded PhD positions; an internship is not on that level and (at least in the country I am) there is hardly any funding source for these types of positions, either. – Captain Emacs Jan 27 '19 at 1:27
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    @user102868: unless the university gets more out of it than it puts in in terms of support, it's not work. This is the prof already agreeing to work for the student for free, and the student wants to prof to pay for the privilege! – RemcoGerlich Jan 27 '19 at 9:47

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