Studying at a University Campus

1. Your goal is to find a professor who specializes in your general area, and who is willing to work with you, or accept you as a research assistant.

2. Once you have found a professor who is interested, you will develop your project based on the area he is working in, and based on his research projects.

3. Do not develop a project on your own, then attempt to find a professor who is interested. Statistics are against you. The chances of finding a professor interested in your topic are remote. These kinds of searches seldom produce results.

4. However, if you read specific articles by a professor whose work interests you (search for the professor’s name in a database for the subject), you may be able to interest a specific professor by talking about the articles he or she has written as the lead-in to your letter.

Universities in the United States

1. Use the google or yahoo search mentioned above (subject department university) to find departments.

2. Use Peterson’s Guide to Graduate Schools, available in the library and online at to find a school offering graduate studies in your area of interest.

3. Look especially for schools that offer doctoral programs in the subject, since they will have more professors who are doing research projects.

4. Select several of the schools, preferable good state schools. Avoid Ivy League, and top five institutions such as Princeton, Cornell, Harvard, Yale since they tend to be less interested in working with students.

Universities in Foreign Countries

  • Select more than one country.
  • Unless you are fluent in the language, or are entering a special language-oriented program, confine your search to English-speaking countries: U.K. (Scotland, Wales, England), Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Canada.
  • Find several institutions for your initial focus.

Know the Country/City/State

Making Contacts

Your next step is to contact professors in your area of specialization. The following guidelines are helpful:

a) Go into the university homepage, find the department for your major. Look for lists of faculty, and lists of research interests. For example, if you are an English major, look under the English Department listings. For Computer Science, look under Computer Science.

b) Eliminate schools which do not provide email addresses, or some method to contact the professors directly.

c) Print out two or three university web pages for the department, especially if it includes information about the professors, such as rank and specialized projects.

d) Make a list of the email addresses of the Department Chair (if indicated), and professors in the department.

e) Note ranking:

  • professor, research professor (highest rank, usually has research assistants)
  • associate professor (next rank, also has assistants)
  • assistant professor (not yet tenured, may not have assistants, but may be interested in you)
  • (United States) adjunct, lecturer (part-time). Do not contact, unless it is a university in another country. Lecturers elsewhere may be full professors.

f) Develop a contact letter. Send it with an updated resume and a brief description of courses completed in your major.

g) Subject Heading should be: Fully Funded Research Assistant Available. This will catch the interest of far more professors than any other subject heading.

h) Expect to send numerous letters, and to receive very few results.

i) Once you have an interested professor, request information about the professor’s work and publications.

j) Be prepared to find and read the publications.