I received this question from a student right before Christmas:
“Hi Professor Kelly! I have a question. I want to do undergraduate research this summer with a particular professor in the Theology department. I had a class with him in the fall that I really loved, but because it was a lecture course, he only really knows my name and just a little bit about my writing style. I feel a little strange asking him since he hardly knows me (also I know he is very busy and intimidatingly important), and beyond that, I really just don’t even know how to approach him. What can/should I say? How is this conversation supposed to go?”
Dear Anonymous Student,
My advice about getting a professor to agree to take you on as an undergraduate research assistant is similar to my advice to students who want a professor to take them on as a graduate advisee. The key is to express your knowledge of his research when you meet with him. Explain why working with him matches your own research interests so well. Thus, you will need to have read at least a couple of his recent or major papers.
If you can demonstrate your knowledge of his research and how you could fit into his research program, these efforts are likely to increase your chances of his accepting you as a research assistant. This is because professors love students who share their research interests. And they love students who have done their homework.
Don’t be shy about approaching this professor. Your interest will be flattering, and he might be very happy to find someone like you who is willing to work in the summer. Please let us know how your meeting goes!