Many high school students interested in science would love hands-on experience in the field. Perhaps the best way to gain this is through the opportunity to research in a scientist’s laboratory over the summer. Not to mention, getting an internship will definitely help you stand out in the college admissions process. The first step, however, is incredibly important: learning how to email professors for research opportunities. So, let’s discuss how to email a professor about research projects you want to join! Don’t worry, we will explain what you need to know.
Why Learning How to Email a Professor for Research Opportunities Will Help You
Taking the initiative to conduct research helps showcase your passion for a particular area of science, and you get the chance to participate in real-world, impactful research. What’s more, in the best-case scenario, high school students have even co-authored scientific research papers through these types of opportunities! If you want to research with a professor on campus, use the tips below. Ultimately you’ll need to craft a story around why you want to work on the project and why you’ll be an asset to their team. To achieve this, maximize your chances of scoring a research internship at every turn.
It’s true, the process is nuanced. If you search the internet for tips on how to email a professor about research as a high schooler, you’ll find conflicting advice. There is no formal process to obtain a summer research opportunity in a professor’s laboratory. Most of the time, in fact, these opportunities come through personal connections and family or friends. [If your mom’s friend works in a lab, this is your chance to use that personal connection to possibly score a great summer research opportunity!]
However, if you don’t know anyone in a position like this, it is still possible. Let’s get down to nuts and bolts.
Getting Started: How to Email a Professor about Research
There are two main methods to landing a research internship. Both methodologies should help you with how to email a professor about research, but there are differences worth noting.
The first method (the better one) is to get an introduction to a college professor from a family friend, high school teacher, or outside counsel.
If you do not know anyone who can refer you, the second method is to email professors yourself in a targeted fashion using the email template at the end of this article.
First, however, let’s review some general advice on how to email a professor about research opportunities. These best practices hold true whether or not you’re reaching out to a connection or a stranger.
What to do when emailing a professor about research:
- Make sure to state your intention to conduct research in this field in the summer and be direct about your goal. Busy people want directness, to work with motivated students who have done their research before reaching out.
- Offer to work without compensation. Professors are very unlikely to pay a high school student with little to no lab experience, so offering to help without pay will open more doors for you. Think about it this way: you’re being paid in experience and time.
What not to do when emailing a professor about research:
- Do not tell the professor about alternative plans you have, or that you are considering other schools. It’s irrelevant detail and can make it seem like you aren’t really committed to or interested in working on their specific project after all.
- Do not mass-email professors and make it evident that the email is a template. Not only will your message sound stiff and unnatural, but directly copying a template instead of your own letter makes it seem like you’re willing to cut corners. You’ll make a significantly better first impression with a personalized note.
Method 1: Email Reference
- It is important to build relationships with your high school teachers. If you want your email to stand out, get a high school science teacher to recommend you. While these recommendations aren’t required, they certainly add credibility to your resume. Professors receive many, many emails to which they do not have time to respond. Adding a recommendation makes you seem like a more legitimate candidate who is more likely to perform well over a “random” student with no teacher referral.
- Find a specific area you are interested in researching, and conduct in-depth research on that area. For instance, find a neurobiology professor at a nearby local college that you can commute to over the summer. When it comes down to how to email a professor for research opportunities, this is potentially the most important step.
- Once you find a professor leading a project you like, it’s time to get specific. Look up the professor’s research areas and papers to learn about the professor. Explain to your teacher or reference why you are interested in that specific professor’s research and how you can help him over the summer.
Method 2: Email Directly
Likely impact: Most likely someone will read this email—and if they do, it’s the actual professor. However, the success rate of hearing back from professors from unprompted outreach is about 20%—so don’t give up if you don’t hear anything at first. Sometimes it takes weeks for them to respond. What’s more, it usually takes a few weeks to organize such an internship. To maximize your chances of success, we’d recommend reaching out well before the end of the year to develop a fruitful relationship.
Hello Dr. Andrews,
My name is ______. I am a junior at Sunny Side High School in Anytown, California. I got your contact information from Dr. Charles.
I am currently working on a project for which I am constructing a spectrespherometer using a smartphone for looking at different AGE (Advanced Glycolic End) products and effect on AGE products from high temperature heating and mixing with anthocyanins etc. As part of my project, I came across a video made by Dr. Charles and his graduate students on the smartphone spectrospherometer.
After reaching out, I have been exchanging emails with Dr. Charles. He also pointed me to some of his own research papers on the subject, which have been insightful! Since my project involves AGE/food products and I had some nutrition related questions, however, Dr. Charles gave me me your contact information.
Please let me know if you have a few moments to discuss a possible research internship in the summer. I look forward to hearing from you.
Before you go…
Best of luck finding a research internship this summer! Interested in getting college admissions counseling to help you apply for summer programs and internships? Are you stumped on how to email a professor for research opportunities? That’s something we help with!
Reach out today to learn more about Empowerly’s services and how to email a professor for research opportunities to boost your college application.