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I'm currently finishing my second year of a Bachelor in Econometrics and Operations Research (of the 3 years in total). Next semester will be doing an exchange semester. During my exchange, I want to try to make the best out of the opportunities and resources that it can provide for me. I saw a certain professor that is doing research that genuinely interests me and I was wondering whether it would be okay to send them an email asking if I could be a research assistant for the months that I will be there. I understand already asking to be a research assistant is shakey ground if you don't know the professor, plus being an exchange student, I get this might not be a conventional question.

I am prepared to do my best and give it my all. It genuinely interests me and I want to learn but also try to add whatever I can.

Is this something that can be asked?

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Yes of course, there is nothing wrong about asking. Very often people do research internships for a period of 3 months over the summer, sometimes even less. So it is totally ok even if you are on exchange.

No professor will care whether or not you are on exchange, as long as you can provide some kind of value to them.

Your chances of being accepted however may be increased if you have taken his/her course, or have skills that can uniquely contribute to their research agenda.

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The obvious answer is that it never hurts to ask.

That said, professors routinely discard essentially unread the many unsolicited "I want to work with you" letters that turn up in their email. So to increase your chances of success try to make the first paragraph of your request as specific and compelling as possible. Show that you are very familiar with this professor's work.

Your question asks about asking for a research assistantship. That suggests you are looking for financial support. I think you are unlikely to get such support, so if you don't need it, say so clearly.

If your exchange does not depend on arranging in advance to work with this professor you can ask in person when you show up at their university.

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  • Thank you for your answer, to clarify, I do not need financial support so I may have phrased it wrong. It's purely out of interest and wanting to grow my understanding of the field.
    – Heens
    Commented May 29 at 16:20
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    @Heens A "research assistant" is a job title for a graduate student in my part of the world; it would imply a paid position, especially with the word "position" along with it even if it were not interpreted as a graduate student position. Depending on the location, it may not even be legal to not pay someone to assist in research. If you are not looking to be paid, you should state explicitly that you are looking to volunteer (though, again, volunteering may not be legal).
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented May 29 at 18:22
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    I would advise against showing that you are "very familiar with the professor's work". I know this is common advice and I get contacted regularly with people doing so about my work, and for lack of a better word, it makes me cringe. Mostly because they get it wrong. They often focus on prior research we have moved beyond. Or they pick collaborative works where I am clearly not the leading PI.... or worst of all, they are filled with awkward flattery. One or two sentences that you find that area of research really interesting and you really want to learn more about it. That's all I want to see.
    – R1NaNo
    Commented May 30 at 1:56
  • @R1NaNo Yes. That's the right way to phrase what I said as "very familiar with your work". Thanks. Commented May 30 at 2:21

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