McNair Scholars Program

Strategies for Finding a Mentor

Match your interest with a faculty member in your major department:

Determine which professors have areas of expertise most similar to your interests.  Talk to people in your major (advisor, graduate students, instructors, director of graduate studies) to find out about faculty research, scholarly, and creative interests.  View the departmental web page or brochures. 

Research the possibilities: What areas of research interest you? It is likely that you have a few topics that truly catch your attention. Use the local media, library, and the web to seek additional information. Talk to your academic advisor and to your instructors for suggestions. It is very likely that one or more researchers in the area are currently working on topics that you enjoy. They are in touch with your department and know who is researching what areas. Friends, classmates and graduate students may also be able to suggest faculty members that have a reputation for being good research mentors. Review the mentor application files (over 200) and the lists of research interests by department in the McNair Scholars Program Office. If you have work-study funds, you can try to find work at a laboratory of interest (this can be particularly useful to 1st year students, who often have trouble finding research mentors due to their somewhat limited academic background).

Interview Potential Mentors:  

Set up an appointment: Tell the professors that you are interested in their research and would like to find out more about their work and the possibility of working with them. Call or e-mail the researcher, and explain that you are interested in applying to our program. Volunteer to forward program materials to them (don't assume they know about the McNair Scholars Program ), and set up an appointment to discuss the possibility of a collaboration. Do not be discouraged if you receive no reply: it is possible this researcher is out of town or busy with a grant deadline. Try someone else in your list. There is nothing wrong with approaching more than one potential mentor simultaneously. Your goal is to find a great mentor and research environment, and shopping around IS allowed. If you end up with more than one offer, decide which one you will explore, and decline the other offer with many thanks. This way, the researcher that you turn down will be able to recruit other students, and the phrase "flaky student that came by, acted all excited, then disappeared..." won't be associated with your person.

Respect the professor’s time and professional responsibilities:  Remember, a professor’s time is important. Office hours provide a time that is set aside for students to talk to faculty members.  Outside of office hours, be sure to make an appointment.  Do not expect to show up unexpectedly and to see the professor at any time.  You may be interrupting time needed for course preparation, research, and scheduled appointments with other students or colleagues.

Take an interest in the professor’s research and publications:  Like most people, professors like to talk about their work and expertise.  Sincere interest in his or her subject area, research project, or published work will usually get a positive response.  Make an effort to understand their research and the types of techniques used in their area.

Be prepared for all appointments with the potential mentor:  Be on time for all scheduled appointments, and be prepared for each one- always have something to say, to show, or to ask.  Take a copy of your transcript, list of completed courses, a resume, some of your work (a lab report, paper, or creative work), and the names of your references.

Ask for input and assistance with your educational and career goals:  Be prepared to discuss your expectations for the internship and your long-term educational and career goals.  Discuss the time commitment you are prepared to make and what is expected of you to work on a project.  Determine that the faculty member is available for the time you want to conduct your research (academic year or summer).  Recognize the potential mentor’s experience; he or she has already traveled the road you are just beginning to explore.  Ask this person to share advice, opinions, ideas, and experiences.

Strategies for Success

Start right away.  Do not wait until the application deadline.  Display a winning attitude; i.e. be positive, confident, motivated, enthusiastic, and responsible.  Do not apply for the internship just for the money or to pad your credentials.  A research internship is a serious academic endeavor and requires interest and commitment.

Taken from a handout developed by Central Washington University McNair Scholars Program and the MU Hughes Program.