Tips for Contacting Mentors

Getting Started in Research

Find a mentor:

Search for faculty research interests on Scholars@Duke. Type in a topic in the search engine.

Search the Medical Center Faculty Database .

Contacting Potential Mentors

Remember – Not every potential mentor will say “yes”, and not all who do will be appropriate for you. So be prepared to send out 6-10 letters.

Mentors are very busy….

  • Keep it short & to the point (8 sentences max)

You are starting a relationship…

  • Be polite, be respectful (“Dear Dr. So-and-so”)

Mentors value enthusiasm and genuine interest …

  • Be familiar with the mentor’s research, be specific about why it interests you
  • Connect the research opportunity to your academic and career plans

Mentors value commitment and reliability…

  • Make clear your availability. i.e., when you can start, how long you can commit, how many hours per week, flexibility
  • Make clear your intentions for the relationship. E.g., independent study leading to an honors thesis, or work-study position leading to a research opportunity

Mentors value knowledge and skills …

  • Briefly mention relevant courses, grades/GPA, previous lab experience
  • Optional: attach a CV/resumé as a pdf file

Make it easy for the mentor to say “yes”…

  • Send from your address
  • Include your complete contact information

Make it ok for the mentor to say “no”….

  • “If a position is not available in your lab, could you kindly refer me to a colleague who might have an opening if you know of someone.” 

Mentors are very busy and may not respond…

  • Be persistent, but polite. Wait a week, and if you don't get a response, try contacting someone else.

Mentors are very busy and might say “no” ….

  • If temporary (no current funding, full roster of undergrads, etc), let them know if you will still be interested in the future
  • Be polite and thank them – you are still building relationships (and a reputation)

Mentors are very busy, but they just might say “yes”!

  • Be polite and thank them
  • Ask for an opportunity to meet before finalizing your decision

When you interview…

  • Be on time; Be yourself – avoid dressing too formally or too informally; Listen attentively
  • Be ready to discuss your goals and interests
  • Ask to meet the members of the lab, to see the lab
  • Be ready to discuss the projects – read the web site, published, papers, background info
  • Be prepared to be offered a choice of projects – know enough to make a thoughtful decision.
  • Ask about expectations – time? independence? who will be your ‘direct’ mentor?