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Finding a Faculty Mentor

Vanderbilt University is home to a cohort of world-class faculty and a culture of commitment to mentoring students, both at the graduate and undergraduate level. There is no shortage of resources available to help you identify faculty whose disciplinary interest align with yours. The College of Arts and Science, Peabody College, School of Engineering, and the School of Medicine all offer published directories of faculty organized by discipline.

The following strategies are recommended to help you establish a meaningful connection with a potential faculty mentor:

Talk to the professors teaching your classes. They know you from class and may have a good idea of what your strengths and weaknesses are. Even if you know that the professor teaching your class may not be doing the research you are interested in, he or she will likely know other faculty members who may be a good fit.

Do your homework (and we don’t mean the assigned classwork). Most faculty members have a biography and a CV (a curriculum vitae, or a list of everything they have published and presented in their academic career) on their department’s website or their own website. Read a few of their papers. Even if you don’t understand everything that is going on, you’ll have a basic idea of their research interests. If you like what you read, a professor will appreciate your dedication and pro-activeness when you communicate with each other. If you don’t like what you read, then you know that a specific field may not be for you.

Email is your best friend. Send an email to a professor introducing yourself and your interest in your field. If you don’t receive a response, follow up. Professors are very busy and may not see every email that they receive.

Ask fellow undergraduates. A lot of the older students have been doing undergraduate research themselves. They will be able to relate what the research experience was like from their perspective.

Talk to TAs and other graduate students. Graduate students are at a stage of their education where they have more experience than undergraduates, but are still learning themselves. This can bring a valuable perspective to your search for research opportunities.