Contacting Professors FAQ

Yale has a lot of esteemed and distinguished professors doing amazing research! You may be wondering how you can reach out to these professors so that you can work with them. Here’s a guide to contacting professors and finding a faculty mentor for research, whether that be summer research, a senior thesis, or other research conducted during the semester.

Finding a Mentor:

  • There are a lot of ways to find potential mentors. The two largest resources you have at your disposal are the YURA Database and the SPS advisors list. There are a host of professors listed, with descriptions of their work, publications, etc. There is bound to be a professor you’re interested in, so be sure to look through the database and list.f
  • Contact your advisor. Your first-year or sophomore advisor knows many of the faculty in the department well, as well as their peers’ research. Don’t hesitate to schedule a meeting with them and ask if they know any potential mentors. They will work with you to find someone.

Contacting Professors:

  • The most imporant advice in this regard is: Don’t be afraid to contact them. Professors love having undergraduate interest and they want motivated people to work with them. That being said, do make sure to do some reading about the professor and their work before you reach out, since they may have a lot of students reaching out to them.
  • It is usually best to contact professors by email. Make sure to address the professor politely and properly, and to describe why you want to work with them. Your emails do not have to be long, but they should describe who you are, and why you are contacting the professor in question.
  • If you know your research interests, specifically state what you want to do or learn about.
  • At the end, you should ask if there are any potential projects or spots open in the group or lab. Attaching your CV and/or transcript can be helpful so the professor can see what your level of expertise is.
  • If the professor doesn’t respond in a week or two, don’t take it personally; they’re incredibly busy. Give them some time, around a week or two, then politely follow up and say you’re just checking in. If they don’t respond after that, it might be best to pursue contact with another professor.
  • However, don’t be afraid to drop by the professor’s office if you’re insistent. The professor won’t mind it, given that they’re not talking to someone right then and there. If you know where their office is, go drop by and politely introduce yourself and say you emailed them. More often than not, they’ll invite you to sit down and talk with them.
  • When you meet the professor, remember you’re just having a casual conversion. You might be nervous, but that’s natural. Remember professors are people too!
  • Establish contact after the meeting ends. It helps if you ask the professor to send you papers or literature they think are interesting for a potential project. That way, you can correspond back and forth about the papers and project.
  • Make sure to contact a variety of professors. Everyone wants to work for the most prestigious professors, but they rarely have space for undergraduates and prestige isn’t everything. What’s important, is whether or not the research matches up with your interest and whether you and your mentor are right for one another. So, don’t be afraid to contact multiple professors and juggle multiple offers. That brings us to our next section.

How Do I Know a Mentor is Right for Me?

Often times, students might have multiple professors who have agreed to work with them. How do you choose who to work with, especially if everyone has interesting research projects? Or, even if you have just one potential mentor, how do you ensure you two will work well on a project?

  • It helps to be honest with yourself first. Do you prefer a more hands-on or hands-off mentor? How often would you like to meet them? What do you want to get out of the project? Decide this for yourself first.
  • Talk to your mentors about it. Don’t be afraid to ask them: How would you describe your mentorship style? What are your expectations for me? How much do you expect me to finish by the end of the summer/semester? It might sound bold to ask such blunt questions, but professors will appreciate the honesty, and by setting everything straight from the beginning, you will have a much more productive mentor-mentee relationship.
  • In the end, you do have to commit to working with just one professor, but you aren’t comitted to them for all of your Yale career. It is expected for graduate students to change their interests or mentor during their Ph.D., so as an undergraduate, it’s basically a given that you will change mentor or interests. So, if you have to turn a professor down, don’t be afraid to contact them again for a senior thesis or next summer’s research.

When Do I Contact Them?

You might wonder when is too soon or late to contact professors. Let’s list out the cases.

Summer Research:

If you’re doing summer research, anytime from January to March is fine. Though, this does depend on where you want to get funding from. If you have a DSA and plan to use it, you have till May to apply for it, so you can contact professors anytime during the semester. If you plan to apply to a Yale fellowship, it’s best to contact professors in January or early February, since the Yale sponsored fellowship deadlines fall towards late February and early March. Furthermore, consider that other students may be contacting those professors, and they only have finite room in their labs. So, the moral is: the sooner the better, and you can’t go wrong if you contact in January or early February.

Senior Thesis:

You generally have a lot of time for this, but contacting professors during junior spring can be a big boon for your mentor-mentee relationship. It will save you the struggle of finding a mentor during your senior year, which may be stressful during the hectic first weeks of fall semester. So, contacting professors in the spring will allow you to set expectations, develop a relationship over the summer, and hit the ground running once the fall semester starts. 

What if I Have More Questions?

If you have any questions about physics research at Yale, do not be afraid to contact the co-presidents to ask them for advice! Their contact information is listed here.