I am currently an undergraduate student, in the 3rd year of my 4-year computer science degree and I want to email a professor to do a research internship with them. I went to some of their research papers, I liked the topics to which they are related as well as I enjoyed reading most part of it but there are some portions which I cannot understand fully.

While applying what is the best way to describe that I read their research paper and I am interested to work with them in this case?

Important note : I am from Theoretical Computer Science background

  • 1
    It’s not necessary to fully understand the paper to start working on research in the field. You’re still a student — you are there to learn, and you will learn as you go along. In my experience, it’s more important to communicate why you’re interested in the research than the fact that you’re completely familiar with the field, especially as an undergrad.
    – GnomeSort
    Oct 9, 2020 at 14:18
  • You have a better answer than mine now, probably. Oct 9, 2020 at 14:43
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    If you could understand the papers completely, what you would learn from this person? Oct 10, 2020 at 14:46

2 Answers 2


Professors are, or at least tend to be, busy people. So my primary advice is to keep it short and to the point. Tell them which year you are in, that you are looking for a research internship, add a very high level topic you are interested in (the more specialized a topic you insist on, the less likely a match can be found), and that you went through their papers (add names if it’s not too many), and that you enjoyed reading them. They will write back to get into any details if interested, or maybe even refer you after talking to you if they aren’t.

I do not agree with what was said here too that understanding every step of a paper is needed or even helpful. You are an undergrad seeking to learn from them by working with them, not a peer-level collaborator. Obsessing about getting every word when some will be standard tricks or conventions obvious to researchers in the field but not outside is both frustrating and wasting time you could have used more productively. What you ideally need is a good grasp of the paper’s intuition and internal logic. The professor should realize in a follow-up discussion if they feel you are prepared enough.

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    Just one remark: avoid including paper titles in emails without briefly explaining in your own words while they're interesting/relevant. This easily comes off as a generic spam mail and leads to the opposite of what's intended. Oct 9, 2020 at 16:47

From the perspective of an academic, I expect a prof to look at the motivation of the student and their background: Why are they interested in this research? What are the tools and skills they bring to the table?

If they do not understand the paper yet, that can be amended when they come to intern. After all, the academic is the world expert on the topic, the intern does not have to be topic-savvy.

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