I'm currently a sophomore in high school looking to work with a college professor in the near future. I'm interested in the computer science field, and I was wondering how much programming I should have under my belt before contacting a professor for research/internship opportunities? I'm currently studying Java, but I know for a fact that it's not enough. I've gotten the fundamentals down (classes, methods, arrays, etc.) and I've just scratched the surface of GUI programming. At what level would you guys deem it appropriate to get into contact with a professor? Thanks for your help!

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    If you're answering an advertisement (say, on the professor's webpage), then the requirements should be spelled out there. If you're just thinking of emailing people with whom you have not had previous contact, I suggest you rethink your plans; this is unlikely to lead to anything. Commented Sep 16, 2017 at 23:51
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    Experience with computer science is probably more important than experience with programming. No, those are not the same thing.
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 11:10

2 Answers 2


There isn't any general rule about the level of programming required to work as a research assistant in computer science. There are many different subfields in computer science, and in many of them, doing research does not involve any programming at all. At the other extreme, some research projects might only be suitable for students with highly specialized knowledge in a particular kind of programming.

Even the same professor might have multiple projects, some of which require prior programming experience and some of which don't.

I am a researcher in the field of computer networks, and I work with high school students in the summer. I don't require any prior programming experience. Some of my students have prior experience, and some don't, but none of them have experience in the specifics of my research area, anyway. In general, for students with no research experience, I am looking for general qualities - learns quickly, responsible, punctual, good at taking feedback, good at writing notes and documenting their work - rather than any specific kind of technical expertise.

(P.S. I do not hire high school research students who contact me by themselves - I work with students who apply through a high school summer research program organized by my university. I encourage you to look for opportunities like that.)


There is no hard and fast rule for this. It depends on the professor's requirement. If he decides to employ you outside the framework of the academia, he can employ you anyway.

If you are interested in working with him for a longterm career, go through his previous works: researchers, publications, academic works, and so on. You will get an idea regarding what level of knowledge you actually need to have.


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