Mentored research is a student’s opportunity to learn under the wing of an experienced, published researcher, and can be an invaluable part of an undergraduate experience. By working alongside a faculty mentor, students gain insight into the research process as well as hands-on, real-world experience in their chosen field of study. This early experience provides a lifetime of benefits for students, arming them with the knowledge and skills to better prepare them for the workforce and higher education.
There are many different types of undergraduate research at LSU, and the way research is conducted can vary greatly from discipline to discipline. Take a look at the research projects of some of our past LSU Discover Scholars to get a snapshot of the many faces of undergraduate research at LSU.
You can also search for opportunities using our Mentor & Research Opportunity Database.
There are many paths to getting involved with a research or creative project, but below are a few tips on some of the best ways to get started:
Find the Right Person to Talk to
- Reach out to one of your professors—remember, professors love to talk about their area of research so don’t be shy about asking questions!
- Look on the college website for a faculty member with a similar interest, and go to their office hours or email them for an appointment. Most faculty members will also have personal websites dedicated to their research interests, and these are great resources for learning more about research possibilities in your discipline.
- Talk to your graduate teaching assistant and ask them for advice about who you should reach out to and the best way to get involved.
Find an Opportunity
- Volunteering with a faculty member is a good place to start out. While initially you may not get academic credit or financial compensation for your work, it is an excellent way to build your skill sets and forge new professional relationships.
- Most departments offer a variety of research intensive courses. Look for special problems/studies/project courses, research methods courses, or independent study/research courses. Talk to your academic advisor to see what specific opportunities are available in your department or college.
- Reach out to your peers—talking to more senior students in your discipline can be an excellent way to learn about other opportunities available in your field, and get valuable tips on how to get started.
- Meet other undergraduate researchers at the annual LSU Discover Day and other LSU research related events.
- Sign up for LSU Discover’s Newsletter to keep up to date with research related news, events and opportunities.
- Expose yourself to things outside of the classroom—attending conferences, public lectures, workshops, exhibitions, and performances are all excellent ways to learn more about research or creative processes in your chosen field, and make valuable professional connections.
- Check out the Funding & Research Opportunities page for a list of research opportunities both on and off campus.
LSU professors are busy, and many of those who choose to mentor undergraduate researchers do so voluntarily with their own free time, consequently it is important that you be respectful of their time. Each professor can only take on a very limited number of mentees (usually no more than one or two), so realize that you may be competing with other students for a particular mentor. To convince a professor that you should be her or his choice, you will need to show that you are reliable and hard working from the start.
The two main things to keep in mind when communicating with a potential faculty mentor are:
- Be Polite
Show respect; be your own best advocate. All professors should be addressed by their chosen title, such as “doctor,” or “professor,” in person and in correspondence.
- Be Persistent but Patient
You may not receive a timely reply from your chosen mentor, but remember that you are one of hundreds of students who interact with the professor. Sending a follow-up email or drop by during office hours is a good strategy.
Contacting a Potential Faculty Mentor
Once you have taken the time to research a potential faculty mentor, there are a few courteous steps that should be taken when contacting and meeting with them:
- Send a formal email to the faculty member or go to their office during posted office hours. Avoid showing up unexpectedly.
- In your introductory email (and all email correspondence!) it is important that you be professional and polite. All emails should have a subject line and salutation (“Dear Dr. Smith,”), always sign your name, and you should make sure to answer emails promptly.—view a sample email here.
- If you have a resume, attach it to your email letter or bring it with you if you choose to visit the faculty member’s office. Visit the LSU Olinde Career Center for tips on writing a resume.
- If you don’t have a resume, you may want to bring a paper or project from a previous class that shows your competencies.
- Don’t worry if you do not have a paper, project, or resume. These are not always necessary to get your foot in the door!
Meeting With a Potential Faculty Mentor
- Before your meeting, do a bit of research about the faculty member’s specific area of expertise so that you can ask pertinent questions.
- Come prepared with 3 pieces of information about yourself and your research interests.
- Be prepared to ask 3 specific questions about the faculty member and their research or creative process. Some possible questions include:
- Ask them about the outcome of their most recent project—did they make any unexpected findings?
- What are their expectations for undergraduate students on their project?
- Ideas/topics that are of special interest to you or that you are unclear about.
- How you can better prepare? (e.g. classes, literature: books, research articles, etc.).
- Be prepared for questions that the faculty member might ask you, such as:
- Why do you want to do research or a creative project?
- Why are you interested in their research or creative process?
- What are your future educational or vocational goals? How does this research or creative process fit into these goals?
- How much time do you have to devote to the project?
- What relevant courses have you taken?
- Plan your visit around the faculty member’s regular office hours.
- Introduce yourself and let the faculty member know that you are interested in his/her research or creative process. Indicate if you are currently just gathering information about possible projects, or if you are interested in getting involved with a specific project.
- If the instructor is clearly busy meeting with other students during their office hours, politely ask for an appointment to discuss research opportunities in more detail.
- When scheduling a meeting, realize that your chosen mentor may be very busy, so be respectful of her or his time. Be reliable and prompt for all meetings and keep your appointments.
- After meeting with a potential faculty mentor be sure to send a follow up email to thank them for their time and recap what you discussed. View a sample email here.