curf - Center for Undergraduate Research & Fellowships



Finding a Faculty Mentor

Identifying a Faculty Research Mentor may be the single most important step in your research process. Your Faculty Mentor provides a wealth of experience and expertise in approaching research problems, and will serve as your research guide. There are many ways to find a Research Mentor, and this overview is intended to give you a point from which to start your search.

  • If you’ve already identified a research topic, your Research Mentor might be a faculty member with whom you’ve taken a class in which you excelled. In this case, contact the instructor indicating that you’re interested in learning more about the topic, and follow up by visiting the instructor during office hours or scheduling an appointment.
  • If you’re just starting out, visiting your professors during office hours is a great way to get to know faculty and their research interests. Reading online faculty biographies and asking about their current research can help you learn about the kinds of research Penn professors are doing. Demonstrate your serious interest by reading an article they have published.
  • Look through the CURF Research Directory for faculty seeking student help on their projects.
  • Enroll in a course with a research focus – Departmental advisors can be most helpful in identifying such courses, and some departments specifically identify courses with a research focus on their website (for example, see History courses numbered 201-206 noted with an “R” CURF’s Preparing for a Research Consultation page in order to identify a mentor with whom you’d like to work.
  • Ask your current and former Teaching Assistants. Graduate students can’t be your formal Faculty Mentor, but they can help direct you to faculty who share your interests.
  • Ask fellow undergraduates, especially if they’ve had successful research experiences. Many Penn departments and programs have Undergraduate Advisory Boards and Student Associations consisting of students eager to share their experiences. Use and expand your network whenever you can.
  • Prepare a resume according to the conventions of your undergraduate school posted on the Career Services website and bring it to your appointment with your potential faculty mentor. If your research interest is in the faculty member’s area of expertise, they may agree to work with you. If not, they may refer you to a colleague. Or they may recommend other courses for you to take before beginning your project in order to continue to build your research capacity. Listen to your faculty member’s advice, and carefully consider an expert’s view on what you’ll need to do to successfully conduct your research.
  • Schedule a consultation meeting with a Van Pelt library subject specialist in your area, who can be extremely helpful in narrowing and defining a research project/topic. Your project will still require a mentor who is on the faculty, but library subject specialists can help you shape your project as you prepare to approach a potential faculty mentor.

Dr. Wallace Genser, CURF’s Associate Director for Undergraduate Research, is available to help you prioritize and strategize in your search for a faculty mentor. Call the CURF office at (215) 746-6488 to make an appointment for a Research Consultation with Dr. Genser.

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