I'm studying CS and I'm really interested in a particular topic. There will be a course covering this topic in the next semester. The professor of this course never saw me but I will have to attend the course next year.

Since I am starting to think about the thesis, I thought this is a good time to find an advisor, and I believe he might be a good choice.

  1. Is it unpolite/weird to contact the professor asking him to participate in one of his projects? This imply that I want him as supervisor for the thesis.
  2. Should I send him an email or talk to him personally? He's quite famous professor here and probably receives tons of emails and will take some time to get a response (if any). On the other side, I'm very nervous about talking with him (shyness).
  3. What should I ask him in order to "break the ice"?
    • some reference about the topic (I don't need them);
    • if he can show me some of his projects (and if I can join one of them);
    • or go straight to the point and ask him about the thesis
  • As it currently stands, I've voted to close this question as specific to undergrads, since there doesn't seem to be anything related to research/grad school/academic life. That being said, I'm confused as to what your goal is here, OP. Are you looking to take the course with this prof? Do you want to do research with them? Something else?
    – tonysdg
    Apr 2, 2017 at 20:45
  • @tonysdg I'm editing the question. I was not clear, my fault
    – incud
    Apr 2, 2017 at 20:47
  • 1
    I would find out when the professor's office hours are, and drop in; at that point I would request an appointment to discuss some research ideas. The professor might at that point say, "Let's talk now," or he might give you an appointment for another day. The worst he can do is say he doesn't have time, or that he doesn't think you are far enough along. // If you're more comfortable with email, that's a reasonable way to approach him too -- I just think that if you're on the same campus, a visit would be most comfortable (for me). Apr 3, 2017 at 1:17
  • I edited the question to make it more broadly applicable. Finding a thesis advisor is an issue that also applies to grad students.
    – henning
    Apr 3, 2017 at 8:20

1 Answer 1


Go for it! This is perfectly normal, not at all weird or presumptuous!

I would put together a short, well-written email where you briefly introduce yourself, indicate your interest in his research, and propose a brief meeting to discuss whatever it is you want. Something like this would probably work:

Dear Dr. Eisenhardt,

I am Ignus Ignatius, a sophomore in the Computer Science Department here at Mutant University. I am looking forward to taking your Advanced Bioinformatics course next fall; I really enjoyed the bioinformatics module in Dr. Xavier's survey class this semester).

I am currently looking for a research internship and noticed that you have several active projects listed on your lab webpage, including the development of algorithms for processing NMR spectra.

Are you or your collaborators looking for interns? If so, I would love to talk for a few minutes if/how I might fit in your group (CV attached). I'm free Friday at 2:30 during your regular office hours and have a pretty flexible schedule on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Thank you,

--Ignus Ignatius

I would not ask for reference recommendations unless you actually plan to read them. Similarly, I'd try show that you did as much "homework" as possible by referring to specific things that this professor is doing. Some people spam out literally hundreds of generic "hire me" emails: this never goes well for them and you do not want yours to be mistaken for one of these.

You can rarely go wrong with a polite, personalized email. At the very worst, the prof will write back to say that they are not taking students right now, or never reply at all. Nevertheless, if this makes you very nervous, you can also ask a professor that you do know to introduce you to your "target." This also isn't that weird, though you do need to be careful if they work on very similar things--you probably want to avoid suggesting that the professor you already know is somehow worse.


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