How to Email Professors for Research Opportunities - College Counseling 101

Many high school students interested in science would love the opportunity to research in a scientist's laboratory over the summer. Getting an internship like this will definitely help you stand out in the college admissions process and showcase your passion in a particular area of science. You get the chance to participate in real-world, impactful research, and, in the best case scenario, high school students have even co-authored scientific research papers through these types of opportunities!

If you are interested in researching with a professor on campus, use the tips below to craft a story around why you want to work specifically with this professor and maximize your chances of scoring a research internship.

There is no formal process to obtain a summer research opportunity in a professor's laboratory. Most of the time, these opportunities are gained through personal connections and family 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, it is still possible.

There are 2 methods to getting a research internship. 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.

What to do:

  • Make sure to state your intention to conduct research in this field in the summer and be direct. Busy people want directness and they want to work with motivated students who have done their research before reaching out.
  • Offer to work unpaid. Professors are very unlikely to pay a high school student with little to no lab experience.
  • What not to do:

    Do not tell them about alternative plans you have or that you are considering other schools.
    Do not mass-email professors and make it obvious that the email is not personalized.

    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.
    • Professors receive many, many emails that they do not have time to respond to. This 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 that 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.
  • Look up the professor's research areas and papers so you can learn specifically 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 it will likely be the actual professor. Usually our success rate is 20% with reaching out to professors and them responding, so do not be discouraged. Sometimes it takes weeks for them to respond. It usually takes a few weeks to organize such an internship and it might be unpaid. Usually we reach out well before the end of the year to develop a relationship.

    Sample Email:

    Hello Dr. AR,

    My name is AS. I am a Junior at Saint Francis High School in Mountain View, California. I got your contact information from Dr. Cunningham.

    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 youtube made by Dr. Cunningham and his graduate students on the smartphone spectrospherometer and got in touch with him and have been exchanging emails with him where he has pointed me to some of his papers which have been very useful for me.

    Since my project involves AGE/food products and I had some nutrition related questions, Dr. Cunningham 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.

    Sincerely,

    AS

    Best of luck finding a research internship this summer!

    Interested in getting college admissions counseling to help you apply for summer programs and internships? Contact us.