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I am a 3rd year Undergraduate Student looking to work on mini-Projects/Projects under professors in my department. I am interested in Signal Processing and Communication Systems, and while I have done multiple courses in SigPro, I haven't had any formal background in CommSys. I have few apprehensions before I write to any professor about my interests:

  1. I know 3rd year isn't too early to be asking to work on a project but I still feel that I might not be able to deliver what might be required for the work. I remember some of my professors mentioning that the undergraduates in my college do not have enough experience to actually help them with their research and that they prefer those pursuing Masters. I feel that was a pretty logical statement, so I am really hesitant to write to professors.

  2. I have reservations about my moral conduct at times. While I might sound irresponsible as I say this, I also want to mention that things like failure to pay attention to the courses sometimes might be bad when I talk to that professor for projects. In my college, the professors do not really mind that these days but I still feel very bad. The problem sometimes is the course itself which I do not find engaging enough, but it does affect my integrity in their point of view. But apart from the lack of focus I am pretty disciplined in general.

  3. My seniors have mentioned that it is okay to mention 110 - 120% of your knowledge and skills while writing about yourself. But I do not want to sound very all-knowing or bratty in a formal email, given that my professors seem to have very good reputation in general (like owning multiple patents or heading government funded projects). I want to keep it modest but that will undermine the efforts I have put in to learn more about their research areas. How should I go about handling this?

  4. Just a few weeks ago, I mailed few professors expressing my interest to work on projects under their guidance while also mentioning my coursework and other areas that I am interested in. I did not receive a reply at all, even after a follow-up email. I think that might be an issue with me, for example my mailing style or less information or not attaching my resume (it was meant for corporate internships, so I didn't want to send that). After how long is a good period to mail them again properly, while also making sure I don't come out as nagging or annoying?

Any help is greatly appreciated! I saw other related questions but I have more basic issues to which I need a broad view on (my friends aren't willing to help much), but still if there are possible duplicates please mention!

Edit: I understand how to ask professors without sounding rude, and I even plan to visit their office sometime after my exams are done (hopefully it doesn't appear as 'rudely barging in'). I also understand they might be busy, and they might also have other students already working with them. What is a good alternative to doing projects during my break? I have really nothing else to do apart from reading papers or picking up some skills.

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    Is it possible to speak with the professors in person? You only mention email.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 6, 2023 at 19:23
  • "I want to keep it modest but that will undermine the efforts I have put in to learn more about their research areas." Why? It rarely happens that modesty will leave a bad impression. Modesty does not mean diminishing your achievements or knowledge. Commented Oct 6, 2023 at 19:40
  • @Buffy I was told that my professors are usually very busy so it is advisable to mail them first before asking for an in-person meeting.
    – yamada
    Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 6:45
  • What country are you in? In the US many departments have institutional REU programs. Talking to an REU coordinator would be another option. Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 14:40
  • @MoisheKohan I am from India.
    – yamada
    Commented Oct 8, 2023 at 4:30

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I suggest you send an email requesting a face to face meeting to discuss possibilities for research. Keep it short, which will increase your likelihood of a reply. Say a few things about your background if the professor doesn't already know that. Say you have an idea for a topic, but keep that somewhat vague.

The reason for keeping it vague is to not give the impression that you are interested in this-and-only-this. The professor might have their own ideas and you might find them interesting.

In particular, I suggest you stay flexible about the topic. Any research experience as an undergraduate is good. And it is better to have something of interest to the professor than otherwise. You will get more help and guidance that way. But mentioning that you have an idea for a topic is a plus, I think.

But a face to face meeting is much better for exploring possibilities. Otherwise it takes a series of emails with, usually, some days (or worse) between replies if they are busy. For me, as a professor, it actually saves time as I only need to switch gears to think about it once, rather than several times. Many (I hope most) professors hold regular office hours where it might even be possible to drop in.

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  • Thank you for your inputs! So is it okay to write to them freshly again to talk with them after a month or two? I'm almost sure my name or batch is out of their mind by now (which is good for me) but I just cannot make assumptions.
    – yamada
    Commented Oct 8, 2023 at 4:34

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