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Approaching Professors


Tart

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I was wondering how to approach professors during undergrad. I'm currently in my second year and I'm hoping to apply in 3rd year however, my professors do not know me well enough to be able to give me a strong reference letter.

 

How did you guys strike that first conversation with your professor? A lot of professors tell us that we can come by for a chat any time where we can ask them about their research, but how do you actually do this? How much of their work do you read and how do you talk to them about it?

 

How well do they need to know you to provide you with a decent letter? Would it be too presumptuous to ask for a letter after only meeting them a handful of times?

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You might find this blog post helpful: Asking for a reference letter: How-to. You can certainly ask for a letter after only taking a class with them, it just won't be as strong or personal. 

 

I got elected as the year rep for the faculty council from first to third years, so that was a good way to get to know profs in my department! I wasn't interested in forcing any relationships, but usually if I was genuinely interested in a prof's research it was pretty easy to get to know them a bit better! If you're forcing yourself to read their papers you might want to reconsider trying to form a relationship that way, and express interest in them another way. 

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I was lucky with my profs. I got to know them over office hours since I had questions about the content and over time was able to establish a relationship with them that allowed me to pursue working for them in the lab or for other course related projects. I got very strong letters out of them as a result of the depth of the relationship I was able to develop. I realize this doesn't happen to everyone but I would encourage you to try and get to know profs whose work you have a genuine interest in- it can take you quite far. I started out volunteering in a lab but then was invited to edit the lab manual for a course and later, I was able to TA multiple courses because of the trust you establish with the department. Rather than going in with the explicit intent of getting a letter, taking a more genuine approach may do you good in the long term.

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