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How To Approach a Professor About Working Together

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Working with a professor can be a personal, professional, and academic highlight of your time in college. Approaching a professor about working together, however, can be as intimidating as it is rewarding. Learn 5 simple steps to take before you approach a professor about working together.
Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Minimum

Here's How:

  1. Build a relationship in advance. If you know you want to go to medical school and know that a certain professor in the biology department has a great reputation with medical schools, for example, do what you can to build a relationship with that professor as soon as possible. Take their classes, visit them during office hours, and attend special lectures or events that they are speaking at or facilitating. In essence: become a familiar face.
  2. Make an appointment during scheduled office hours, saying why you want to come in and talk to your professor. Once you've realized you want to work with a professor, let them know in advance that you'd like to speak to them about the opportunity. Not only will this allow the professor some time to think about your idea, but it will also allow them to put together some information about possible opportunities.
  3. When you do meet with your professor, have a conversation with them instead of simply posing the question. If you are going to be working together, it's a good idea to make sure your working styles will mesh well. Try to have a conversation about what the options are -- what would your professor be looking for in someone? what kinds of projects do they have going on right now? -- instead of simply asking if you can work with him or her. After all, you might be thinking of helping your professor with research while your professor might be thinking of you organizing his office.
  4. Prepare a list (even if it's just in your mind) about why working together would benefit both of you. What would the specific benefits be for both you and your professor? What hours would you work? How many days a week? How much would you be paid, if at all? What would the reporting structure be? What would the end result/product be? How would you know if things were going well? What would you want out of the experience? What would your professor want?
  5. Don't expect an answer right away. Your professor may not be able to give you an answer right away for reasons that have nothing to do with you. Let your professor know that you don't expect an answer during your meeting but that you are definitely interested in working something out. Make sure to follow up, of course, so that you and your professor can coordinate logistics within a reasonable time frame.

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