If you like to get a Research Assistant and some cases Teaching Assistant position, then you have to work with professors and help them with their research.
Some of the common mistake committed by students include:
- Writing an email to professors requesting financial aid
- Walking straight to professors office and ask them to give them RA
First, you need to show your interest and prove to them you can solve research problems.
This guide was written by the second semester of MS in Mechanical Engineering student in the USA.
Learn About Professor’s Research
I’m assuming that you know the names of Professors who are working on research topics which interest you even before you go to your student visa.
After your F1 visa process is done, visit the department site as much as possible and get the following details:
- Details of the Professors/curriculum vitae – Can be found from department site.
- Publications – Can be found from department site (or their website)
- Recent research topic(s) – Can be seen from Professor by e-mailing him (or their website)
- The Labs where they work on – Can be found from Professor by e-mailing him (or their website)
Don’t worry at all if you’re not getting a reply from Professor.
They rarely reply to students who use an email address, not from official student email id issues by the school.
Even if you don’t get to know their latest research work and the labs where they work through their e-mail, make a reminder of it somewhere so that you don’t forget to collect that information once you reach the US.
Find all the publications of the Professor through Google, Google Scholar, Science Direct, etc.
If it is copyrighted and you’re unable to access it, make a note of it.
Take printouts of all the publications that are accessible to you.
Read them carefully with interest.
Find some topic in the paper that interests you to discuss with someone.
Note down all your doubts. Do some other groundworks like getting to know about the latest developments in that field.
Use Google Scholar to find some additional and related details.
Refer to some textbooks. Even little knowledge about the topic in this manner is enough to start a fruitful conversation with the Professor.
The First Semester Plan
Once you get to the university place in the US, talk to your department seniors.
Find out who is working in your field of interest and under which Professor.
Get whatever information possible on Professors like
- Their research work
- Their work environment
- Each Professor’s preferences
- When does each Professor allow their students to graduate etc.?
Now try to access those publications that were inaccessible to you while you were in India.
Sometimes, you might get access to those files that were copyrighted through the university network since there might be some tie-ups of those sites with universities.
Or try asking some seniors and get your hands on those papers which interest you.
Find out all the courses that each Professor is offering for that term.
Send Email to Professors
Now, E-mail each Professor individually.
Arrange an appointment with each of your choice of Professors. Talk to them, in-person.
- Never open the conversation regarding funding or research assistantship.
- Ask him about which courses to register for that term since you are planning to do specialize in the field where exactly where the Professor’s research lies.
- Ask them for guidance for the next term regarding the courses you should enroll in.
- Ask him whether taking his classes would help you in your specialization.
- Ask the Professor, what are their current research works?
- Say you are planning to research in your field of interest.
There is a chance where the Professor could tell you that he’s not looking to hire a student right now.
Or he/she will see to it in the next term or something like that.
Now say that you’re looking forward to work in your interests and money is only secondary to you.
Say that you’re not looking for money and you willing to work without being paid.
If they ask you to work without saying or giving you anything, they are scrutinizing your work in silence.
Once you have earned their trust, they’ll fund you automatically.
Money follows where there is passion!
After a few months have gone past, schedule an appointment with your professor.
- Say that you have some doubts on some previous research works of them which interests you a lot.
- Ask your doubts – intelligent one’s
- Continue this process until a specific time.
Now when talking to different Professors will get you an idea as to which of them made themselves apparent and organized.
Now summarize all the information that you have received regarding the Professor.
Every detail of him and analyze.
Decide on which topic you’re going to work on and under whose guidance?
Because sometimes, even though Professor’s research topic interests us, it might not suit you.
Professor’s environment, preferences, or if they are active on research work or has stopped working and just teaching courses, availability of people to guide you, the way how you see the Professors, how seniors see the Professors – all of this can be a deciding factor for you.
Once you have decided you’re good to go.
What should you remember while collecting the information?
Internet via Department site
All that glitters are not gold.
Do not believe whatever you see in the Professor’s profile at the site.
So try to get to know the updates from the Professor himself via e-mail or through seniors.
Everyone has their perspective.
Each one sees the world as they see it fit.
So don’t blindly follow what seniors tell you.
Meet up with the Professors and confirm it for yourself. According to you, they might even be wrong or exaggerated.
What do Professors look?
You should have taken at least two courses in your field of interest or related to it and scored well in those courses.
- Your GRE (AWA score)
- Overall undergraduate aggregate, percentage, or grade.
- Worthwhile project(s) done in your field of interest means a lot.
- Your resume.
And don’t ask me what’s the expected scores in those tests or expected resume or projects.
The expectation varies from Professor to Professor. Do your best in your undergrad and pray that your profile speaks well for you 🙂
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