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Finding a Mentor

It is extremely important to find a mentor to guide you through the process of undergraduate research. A mentor will help you succeed as a student, as well as develop a lasting professional relationship that will be invaluable to your future career. The following steps will help guide you through the process of finding a mentor.

Important Steps to follow:

1. Consider why you are interested in a research experience

2. Find an advisor willing to guide you through the process

3. Contact potential advisors

4. Establish a relationship with your advisor


1. Consider why you are interested in a research experience, what you hope to get out of the experience, and your level of preparation. 

  • What am I interested in? What do I know about doing research in my field of interest?
  • How much time can I commit to a research experience?
  • What type of research environment suits me best?
  • What courses have I taken that might directly impact my experience, and what additional courses might make for an even better experience?
  • What skills can I already bring to the research experience, and what skills might I need to learn during the experience?

To have a good research experience, you will need to put some effort into the project, you will need to establish a good relationship with your advisor, and you will want to be working on something that is of interest to you.

2. Identify an advisor willing to guide you through your research experience.

To get involved with a research project, you need to identify a faculty advisor…that person who will guide you along your research endeavor.  Because you will be establishing a relationship with that individual that may last for many years, it is important that you be mindful about who you choose to work with and why. Find faculty in areas you would like to conduct research by using any of the following approaches:                                                                                          

  • Search various OSU web sites using key words related to your field of interest.  You can do a general search of the OSU web site or  college or department directories (e.g. College of Science Directory). Don’t limit your search to just what you know…sometimes a good chemistry project is hiding in another department.
  • Check out faculty lists in several departments.  Again, don’t limit yourself to the obvious choices.  In most cases, you can “click” through from the list to the specific interests of each faculty member.
  • Talk to faculty who teach courses you enjoy and see if they can assist you with finding research opportunities in those areas. Talk with your advisor and get ideas from him or her.
  • Apply for appropriate research programs or research positions on campus. 

It’s a good idea to have more than one potential mentor in mind.  There are several reasons why faculty choose not to enter into a mentoring relationship with a student: they might be on sabbatical, already have several undergraduates and don’t have any more room, or their time is already fully committed.  The nice thing about being at OSU is that there are many potential advisors to choose from.  If it doesn’t work out with one potential advisor, chances are there is another one with similar interests who is willing to work with you.

3. Contact potential advisors.

Contact information can be found using the online Find Someone at OSU tool. Email is the most efficient way to start a conversation, but expect to have a face-to-face conversation before you start your project. If you don’t hear back within a few days, be persistent, but not pesky.  Emails and discussions with potential advisors should be treated as professional interactions similar to job interviews. A few tips to keep in mind:

  • Unless positions are advertised, students should generally propose volunteering to gain experience. Volunteering can lead to paid positions over time. If you have work-study money, let them know because it makes you more reasonable to hire. You might also plan to register for research credits.  Check with your advisor to determine if research credits fulfill degree requirements.
  • Students are not expected to have research experience. If you do have experience, let them know about it.
  • Students are not expected to work many hours when they are volunteering. Be honest about what you can commit to and make sure you do all of it.
  • It is a good idea, though not essential, to put together a resume or CV that you can attach to your email. Career Services has staff that can assist with these.

How does a potential mentor know that you are interested? Make it clear in the email, “I read about your research and it really piqued my interest”. Come to the meeting prepared!  Be familiar with the faculty member’s scholarly interests, recent publications, etc. 

4. Establish a relationship with your newly selected advisor.

You want to get off to a good start and continue to build a solid relationship with your advisor.  To so, consider the following:

  • Clarify expectations then follow through.
  • Determine frequency and method of communication.
  • Remember why you got involved in the first place.  Your mentor is the key to reaching those aspirations.  The mentor may also become a source of continued support and guidance long after you complete the research project.
  • Keep in mind that if you are a beginner with few skills, the type of project you can undertake will be limited; however, projects suitable for beginners exist in many disciplines.