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Finding a Research Mentor

The Process.

We've broken down the process of finding a research mentor, but finding the right one takes meaningful considerations that we'll list below. At WVU, a large number  faculty members conduct research and may be pursued as a faculty research mentor. 

  1. Consider your interests.

    First think about your background, interests, and professional goals. For example, are you majoring in chemistry with an interest in toxicology and a desire to work in the pharmaceutical industry? Then, you should not limit your search to faculty members in the chemistry department. You may also consider faculty members from the School of Pharmacy and the biomedical sciences program. You should then proceed to the websites for the relevant WVU schools, departments, and programs to read up on faculty research interests. Often this information is located under a faculty/staff staff under your preferred department.
  2. Read existing research.

    To develop a better understanding of a specific faculty research mentors' research interests, consider looking at their Curriculum Vitae (CV)  or list of publications, if provided. You may search for the titles of the publications using WVU's library resources or a use search engine like Google Scholar.  Research mentors may also provide links on their profile page that redirect to a research website they manage.
  3. Ask questions.

    Get to know potential research mentors. Who has worked with them before? What was that like? Speak with other undergraduates who have previously worked with faculty members of interest and request advice from your academic adviser, graduate student teaching assistants and course professors. The more you know, the more meaningful your connection to your mentor. 
  4. Reach out and be professional.

    By this time, you should have narrowed down your search to a few (1-3) potential faculty research advisers. Contact potential research advisers, indicating your strong interest in their research, and make an appointment to discuss your interest in their research. Use this template to get started. Be prepared for your appointment. Bring an updated resume, knowledge of and enthusiasm about the faculty member's research, and a list of pertinent questions (e.g., Can you tell me about your current research projects?). You will also want to ask if the faculty member is willing to mentor an undergraduate student in research. If so, and you are highly interested in the research, you can initially offer to volunteer.
  5. Be mindful and genuine. 

    Remember, faculty members spend much of their professional lives carrying out and thinking about their specific research area. Faculty members are most interested in students who have real, authentic, and potentially sustained (beyond one semester or one summer) interest in their research. Of less importance is your academic grade point average (whether it is a 4.0 or a 3.4). In addition,  faculty members are not as interested in students who are just looking for research experiences to "pad" their resumes and who will leave after one semester of research.

    Training a student in research is akin to a faculty member taking on an apprentice. Initially, the student is dependent and the research experience is front-loaded with training, teaching, and readings of relevant literature.
  6. Keep on researching.

    The time needed to move an undergraduate student from research dependence to research independence depends on the specifics of the research project and the student's background, time commitment, determination, and interest. In general, students should not expect to arrive at research independence after just one semester and should expect to stay involved in research for a more extended period of time.

Thoughts on Choosing a Research Mentor  are also offered by the National Institutes of Health Office of Intramural Training & Education.