UofT is the largest research institution in Canada. From history to science, philosophy to engineering, UofT churns out new breakthroughs and discoveries every year. And that means big opportunities in research for undergraduate students.
UofT offers research courses in second, third, and fourth year. For instance, in second year students can take part in a ROP 299 project and in third and fourth year students can participate in independent study project courses like HMB395. These courses can give you the opportunity to take on your own project under the supervision of a professor or allow you to work on part of an existing project. Many students look for volunteer opportunities in labs as well.
We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s not about what you said, it’s about how you said it.” When it comes to approaching a faculty member or supervisor about the possibility of getting involved in research, this statement couldn’t be more true. Professors can seem (and sometimes are) intimidating and oftentimes, it’s difficult to understand the “etiquette” required when contacting them. I’ve compiled a list of tips that will hopefully make the process more comfortable. They may even increase your chances of hearing a “YES!”
The Do’s and Don’ts of Contacting Professors for Research
Introduce yourself! Unfortunately, UofT is much larger than any high school on the planet and it’s very unlikely that a professor will recognize you by first name. When speaking to or emailing a professor in regards to a research position, be sure to identify yourself. What’s your name (your FULL name)? What year are you in? What’s your major? Giving yourself an identity will increase the chances of you being remembered.
Be polite! According to the UofT Career Centre, students often forget to use a formal tone when approaching a professor or staff member. You wouldn’t address a professor the way you would a friend. It’s important to show them the respect that they deserve.
Do your homework! BEFORE contacting a faculty member of your choice, spend some time looking over their current research. Glance over a professor’s CV or scroll through the research that he/she has listed on his/her website. It’s not enough to know the department he/she belongs to or the field he/she is working in. Knowing his/her specific area of interest indicates that you are genuinely excited about the prospect of working with him/her. It also suggests that you know what you’re getting yourself into. Remember, you don’t need to understand EVERYTHING you read (it’s probably far too complicated), but you should try to grasp main points.
Sell yourself! Be humble but be sure to showcase your interest and accomplishments when speaking to or emailing a faculty member. You are, in a sense, advertising yourself. And professors will opt for the individual who sells themselves the best.
Send generic emails! We all do it, don’t we? In first year, I remember sending a generic email for everything (jobs, research positions, etc.) It’s so convenient to address an email “To Whom it May Concern.” There’s also a very slim chance that you will receive a positive response to a generic email. Address your emails to the faculty member of your choice. Be specific.
Neglect proofreading! No silly spelling or grammar mistakes, please! Try to show attention to detail. This is the kind of thing that won’t be noticed if it’s done right. But it’ll definitely be noticed if it’s done wrong.
Give up! Professors are busy. It can often take a while for them to get back to you. And sometimes when they do, they don’t give you the response that you want. They may not have the time or space to supervise an undergraduate research project or they may not feel that they are the best person to direct your work. And as you apply to more and more faculty members, you may find that many of them do not want to take you on at that point in time. Keep trying! You may get 100 no’s but you only need 1 yes to get to where you want to go.
Till next week,