Remember, 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. It is their job to help you succeed.

Reaching Out and Meeting Faculty
Sending the Initial Email

You want to craft an email that is easy for faculty to say ‘yes’ to, so you want to be direct and focused.  Here are the email’s basic parts:

  • Title– Properly address them as Professor (safest bet) or as Dr. (if PhD/MD/EdD, etc). Do NOT make assumptions about gender/marital status.
  • Introduce yourself– Who you are/affiliations/interests/majors/etc.
  • Justify contacting them and express interest
    • Say that you have read some of their work, and say why you are interested in it.
    • You want to be super explicit in this part. Why are you talking to them and not the person with the office next door? Why are you interested in them? What was compelling about the article you read, and how does it relate back to your interests?
  • Ask for a meeting or a conversation, NOT a job!
    • If you’re in a lab-based field, say that you’d be willing to meet with them or anyone else in the research group, as it can help get a meeting scheduled faster!
  • List the dates and times you’re free during normal work hours, making a meeting easier to schedule.
  • Thank them in advance for their time.

If you get the opportunity to meet, treat it as an informational meeting, not a job interview!

  • It’s easier to get ignored when you’re asking for a job. They don’t know you!  It is easy to say ‘no’ to a request for a job from someone they don’t know.
  • Build your connection first!  Confirm mentor/mentee compatibility!  What would working for this person be like? Do you get along or communicate well?
  • Approach the meetings as a way to expand your network and explore interests.

Ground Rules for Emailing Faculty

  • Make sure that you are writing customized emails to each professor. OUR advisors are happy to read over your  emails before you send them!
  • You can reach out to more than one person at a time!
    • This point goes in tandem with customizing your emails. There’s not a certain number of people you should be reaching out to, but think about quality over quantity. Three well thought out, quality emails will probably yield better results than ten generic emails.
  • If you do not hear back from someone after 7 business days, email them again! Go back into your sent folder, and reply to your initial email. Show them this meeting is really important to you, while also being polite (something to include in this bump can be your updated availability).

While this strategy can help you create your default email, some faculty members/labs have specific directions on their websites for how they want to be contacted. Go back, and check their website again to make sure you’re reaching out in their preferred way/following their directions!  They make their own rules, and if you want to engage with them, you should definitely follow them!

Prepare Before You Go
  • Faculty often have more than one office, so be sure you know where you’re meeting!
  • Be respectful of time– let them know if you’re running a few minutes behind or if you need to leave early.
  • Dress for a first impression!
  • Have a prepared list of questions– they’re going to default to you and ask what you want to discuss. This moment is where annotating their article can come in handy!

This meeting may seem intimidating — why would they want to talk to me? What do I have to offer them?  I don’t know anything! The thing is that no one is expecting you to be an expert! They know you’re an undergraduate!! They don’t expect you to be operating as a graduate student or postdoc! The important thing is that you’re interested and motivated to learn– you have time to get up to speed!

Meeting with Faculty

3 Key Things You Must Do in This Meeting

  • Tell your story (why you are interested in what they do?).  You are not the first student they’ve talked to about research.  They were you once.
  • Ask them what else you should read (given your stated interests).
  • Ask them who else you should speak with (inside or outside of Northwestern).

Think back to how you develop your interests further, by reading stuff and talking to different people! Even now you should still be doing that work. You never know who knows what and how they can help you!


During the discussion:

  • Consider taking notes, especially to help remember details.
  • Show engagement in the conversation. Eye contact and nodding can be signs to indicate active listening.
  • Ask questions/respond when appropriate.

At the end:

  • Thank them for their time.
  • Ask about how you can learn more.

After you’ve met with faculty members:

  • Thank them again (in a follow up email) within 48 hours of your meeting.
  • Once you’ve met with a few faculty members- THEN you can ask about working with them on a research project. Set your goals, and be clear about your timeline, goals, and any grants/funding you’re considering for support.


For lab-based fields:

  • Can you tell me about your research group? (size, structure, etc.).
  • Do you work with undergraduates? What type of work have undergraduates conducted with your group before?

For non lab-based fields:

  • I’m really interested in designing a project on X. What thoughts do you have about the best methods to approach this?
  • I’m considering Y approach. Are there any special considerations I should take into account if I use this method?
Reflect and Goal Set


  • Do you think there was one faculty mentor you met with who would be a better fit than others? Why?
  • What did you like about your conversation with that person?
  • What is the most important thing you learned? How does this impact what you want to do next?
  • Did your research interests change at all as a result of your talks? If so, what is more interesting to you now? Why?

Setting Goals

  • What do you want to do next with all the information you have learned so far?
  • What kind of timeline makes sense for you now? Are they the same or different as when you stared this process?
  • What is the best next step for you to take?

Lastly, make sure to send a follow-up email thanking them for their time. It is basic professional courtesy, but it also serves as a means of keeping your line of communication open. Be sure to reference something specific from your conversation.