FIND SOMEONE WHO SHARES YOUR INTEREST
Beyond looking at departmental directories, you can search Northwestern Scholars to find faculty who share your interests. Even if you’ve never taken a class with a professor, you can reach out to them. Read their work to determine what it is that they actually do and if there is a match with your interests. Then send a succinct email asking if you can come to their office hours to discuss your - and their - research ideas.
HOW TO MAKE CONTACT
Faculty Are People, Too!
While often busy, faculty care about the same things as you do, so it is perfectly normal for you to reach out to them. Remember to always be professional and responsible in all of your contacts, which includes making sure you always use their correct titles (Prof or Dr, not Mr / Ms).
Show What You Know
You have taken the time to read some of their scholarly work, beyond just the basics. Let them know that you are really interested and want to talk with them to learn more. In other words, be specific about your interests and why you are contacting them.
Looking for a lab? Try Lab Managers and Grad Students
Many principle investigators are incredibly busy and delegate parts of running the lab to others. When you email a lab, copy the lab manager, post docs, and/or grad students. Say you are open to speaking with whoever is available.
COOL YOUR JETS
Don’t Send Mass Emails
Do you respond to bulk emails that are obviously not written you to, but to some unseen group? Take the time to write an individual email. It will make all the difference in the world.
Don’t Ask for a Wedding Ring on the First Date
In your initial email, don’t ask whether they will be your sponsor/advisor or pay you to work for them. Instead, ask to meet so you can talk. For more tips, see Find A Lab.
I HAVE A MEETING SCHEDULED! ALWAYS ASK FOR TWO CRUCIAL PIECES OF INFORMATION.
1) What should I be reading?
No matter how original your proposed project, there will already be a lot of books and articles out there addressing similar or the same themes. You will need to become familiar with this literature, but if you try to read it all you will be overwelmed! So allow faculty to help you find the really relevant stuff. Ask what you should be reading and make sure you write down any recommendations they give you. Follow up their recommendations by at least looking into the articles or books they suggest, before your next meeting.
2) Who else should I be talking to?
The University is big and diverse, and the people who are working on topics you are interested in might not be located in obvious departments. When you meet one faculty member, ask them if they know of other people who are connected to what you want to do.
WORKING ON A PROJECT PROPOSAL? GET HELP WITH YOUR LITERATURE REVIEW AND METHODOLOGY.
This person is an expert in this specific field. Get her/his help referencing the relevant literature and developing an appropriate plan for your project. No one expects you to know all of this information on your own.
LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION OR PROPOSAL ENDORSEMENT? COMMUNICATE YOUR EXPECTATIONS CLEARLY.
Make it easy for them to help you! Find out what specifically will be asked of them and when it is due. Give them as much preparation time as you can.
KEEP COMMUNICATING DURING YOUR PROJECT.
Once you start your project, you are not done with your faculty advisor. Most likely, things will not go according to your original plan. Your data collection will probably be larger than anticipated, and you will likely struggle with how to interpret and analyze it all.
This experience is entirely new for you, so don’t try to go it alone. Seek out advice, and stay in communication. They have been where you are before, and they can help!