I'd like to do research with one of a few professors within a certain group in my (American) university's Computer Science department. I'm having some trouble contacting them, but I'd like to understand what I can do, as an undergraduate student, to increase my chances of getting research with one of the profs I am interested in.

The group they are in teaches only a few undergrad classes, which, as of next semester, I have completed all of. Yet I was, through a series of extremely unfortunate class schedules, unable to be taught by any of the professors I want to research with, although next semester I will be taught by their colleagues in the same group. I talked to a couple TAs and other profs, who said to "just get better at the research topics in question", although this seems like altogether unhelpful advice given the gap between a first year undergrad and a professor's research.

There are no classes that really delve into the exact research that the professors I would like to research with do, although the class I am taking next semester covers the basics of what the group is about.

What can I do to understand what the "prerequisites" for being a research assistant to the professors in question would be (beyond just "get better")?

2 Answers 2


The "prerequisites" are really going to depend on the field that your professors of interest are publishing in. Which will lead me to the next point: if you're interested in this field, read some publications from these professors or other professors/experts in this field, then stop by their office hours or talk to them and mention your interest in the field and what you can do to gain more knowledge.


Since the qualities that an individual professor is looking for is intensely personal, there is no substitute for actually communicating with them. Mine would be different from the person in the next office, certainly.

You need to solve the communication problem before you can get anything specific. I suggest that you might want to contact the department office (or chair) and explain that you are having trouble contacting the professor in question and ask for advice.

But there are a couple of things you can do. You say you have already taken the courses that this group normally teaches and probably represents their interest. Normally, I'd advise doing what you have already done. So, I'll assume that you are basically prepared. But you haven't indicated whether any of them are actually interested in supervising undergraduate research. Perhaps it is a very rare thing with them. And you aren't known to them in any case, not having taken the key courses with anyone in the group.

Perhaps your attempts to contact them have been ignored for some reason or combination of reasons. But you might consider the following:

Write up a simple CV, describing the relevant courses you have taken and any research you have done around those topics. This should be a page or less.

Write up a simple SoP (Statement of Purpose) saying what you might like to do and how you think you would be successful doing it. This should be (perhaps) half a page.

You don't want to say too much, or you'll be ignored again, but you need to make an introduction to them. It is hard now, with the pandemic, but the ideal way is to go visit in person and deliver these two documents.

A third thing you might do is get a letter of recommendation from the professor you took the key courses, in which that prof introduces you to the others.

To summarize, treat this as you would an application to an educational program.

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