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Fairly recently I was accepted to a MSCS position in a US Midwest university, where I was offered the ability to choose between doing a thesis or not (and I want to do a thesis). However, doing a thesis would involve me needing to reach out to professors and I'm not fully sure how would I do that. I am currently interested in more theoretical side of CS.

As far as I could tell the best way was to go and read some of their papers and ask questions and generally show that you are curious about the topic they work in. I was able to do that with one professor. However, some of the papers that other profs have are very difficult to understand because they end up being too big, and I currently don't possess the background information expected to read the papers. My question then is, in this case, how do I go about asking them for research? Aka should I wait till I take the class for the research they do (for eg taking game theory for a prof dealing with game theory in economics) or should I just cold email and try to schedule for a meetup?

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    The professors will be expecting thesis masters students to come around asking to do a thesis. They will not expect you to know everything that they know. This is a normal, expected interaction for them, happening every year.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented May 2 at 16:43
  • I understand, but I wanted some clarification on how email would be structured and most importantly what I'd put in the email Commented May 4 at 18:02
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    Does this answer your question? How should I phrase an important question that I need to ask a professor?
    – Sursula
    Commented Jun 3 at 6:27
  • Why email at all? Why not go visit them during their office hours?
    – Buffy
    Commented Jun 3 at 10:28

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You may be overthinking this. Keep in mind that you'll almost certainly not be funded while doing the thesis. So, the professor has essentially spends nothing except an hour every few weeks to take you on as a thesis student. They have nothing to lose and plenty to gain, since you might turn out to be really talented or end up doing valuable work in the end.

You've already noted two ways you can initiate the discussion. Another way could include attending internal seminars, talks, poster sessions, workshops, etc. that they're going to be presenting at and asking a few questions at the end, then following up later.

Or you could get an introduction from a professor you already have a good rapport with but aren't interested in research-wise (just ask "do you know Dr. X? I wanted to do a thesis project with them, etc).

Or you can just email them. Mention you're an MS student in the department rightaway, that you want to do a thesis project under them, then either mention a potential project and why you want them to supervise, or mention a couple of their papers and just mention some of the ideas that interested you. No need to go into depth.

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  • Is there a reason you state that I won't be funded during the thesis? Are RAships not common enough if you're performing research with a Professor? I am fairly hopeful for a TAship at my university too. This might be a dumb question, usually professors don't have a current project they are working on, when you state to mention a potential project, would it be something you have devised or rather how would you find out the current projects someone is working on? Thank you for response, I have like 3-4 professors who's work sounds really interesting, I'll email them once I get a gist of papers Commented May 4 at 17:59
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    @etthrowaway The demand for PhDs in CS in the US is high enough that there is no reason for professors to spend money on a thesis student who'll leave after a year, versus a PhD student who'll be around for four or five years. RA-ships for MS students are rare cases - a prof has leftover money from an existing grant, or has a small, short-term, project that needs to be taken care of, or the student commits to a PhD with the same prof, or the student's in the 3h year of a BS+MS program. Profs actually usually have a whole list of ongoing projects. Potential projects are something you devise.
    – Namerlight
    Commented May 5 at 6:26

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