How to contact faculty

First, try to be a little familiar with the faculty member’s research. Most faculty have web sites explaining the basics of their research. Check them out.

Second, identify faculty who have indicated an interest in working with undergraduates. The faculty survey forms in the BCQ room indicate whether or not the faculty member is willing to work with undergraduate students.

Third, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Most likely you will need to contact several faculty members before you find one who has space in their lab and can take on a student doing a Biology Colloquium Project. Don’t let a couple of rejections discourage you.

Finally, writing a good email inquiry or practicing what you will discuss in the phone inquiry will help you land a project. Below are a couple of examples that may help you.


What NOT to say in an email


My name is ______ and I am looking for an unpaid lab position to fulfill my biology colloquium project. If you have an opening, please email me back. Thanks.

Your name

Better approach

To: Dr. ____________

From: Your Name

Re: Biology Colloquium Project

My name is _____ and I am a student in the Biology Colloquium class at the University. This class is designed for students who are interested in biology and want to explore all their options. I am taking this class for the second time and am able to do a project for an additional credit. The project requires my work in a laboratory of at least three hours per week for the semester.

In reviewing the faculty surveys available in the Biology Colloquium binders, I found your name. I am very interested in your research on _________. I noticed on your web site that you have done ______ and I would be interested in learning more about your research by working on a project in your laboratory. I am wondering if perhaps you might have a space in your lab to sponsor an Biology Colloquium Project.

Please let me know if we might meet to discuss a project. You may contact me at ______ or contact the Biology Colloquium faculty advisor, Dr. Kathryn Hanna, at for further information about Colloquium project requirements. Thank you for your consideration.


Scenario for how NOT to call for a possible project

Student: Is this Dr. Smith?

Dr. Smith: Yes, this is she.

Student: I need to do a project for one of classes, can I do it in your lab?

Dr. Smith: Umm, I do not know who you are.

Student: My name is _______.

Dr. Smith: Okay _____, are you a student here at the University of Minnesota?

Student: Yup.

Dr. Smith: What kind of project are you looking for?

Student: I really don’t know.

Dr. Smith: Well, what class is it for?

Student: One of my biology classes.

Dr. Smith: Well, what do you need to do for this?

Student: I need to work a couple of hours a week, without pay.

Dr. Smith: All right. Why did you select my lab?

Student: I opened a book, closed my eyes, pointed to a name, and you were the lucky person.

Dr. Smith: How flattering. What would be the duration of your project?

Student: Just for this semester.

Dr. Smith: Well, thankfully my lab is full this semester and I cannot accommodate you.

Student: Are you sure?

Dr. Smith: Yes, I’m sure.

Student: Okay, bye.

Scenario for good phone conversation

Student: Hello, may I please speak with Dr. Smith

Dr. Smith: This is she.

Student: Hello Dr. Smith. My name is _____ and I am a freshman here at the University. Do you have a few minutes to talk? [If they cannot talk at that moment, find out a time to call them back.]

Dr. Smith: Sure.

Student: Great, I am enrolled in a class next semester called the Biology Colloquium. As part of my requirements for the class, I need to do a project. I am interested in the field of _____ and found your name in the CBS Career Center database. When I looked at the description of your research on line, I was intrigued with your work. I was wondering if you would possibly have a spot in your lab for me next semester?

Dr. Smith: Possibly. Could you please explain to me what your project entails?

Student: Absolutely. The project is a one-credit option for the class and I am required to work in the lab for three hours a week for a total of 45 hours for the semester. Since I will be getting credit for the class, it is a non-paid position, essentially a volunteer in your lab.

Dr. Smith: I can always use free help.

Student: Good.

Dr. Smith: Do you have a project in mind?

Student: I do not have to create my own project, I can help you or one of your colleagues working on a project. This position is designed more-or-less for the student to get a sense of what it is like to work in an actual lab—and to show us that it is not like General Chemistry lab at all.

Dr. Smith: Great, I do have some space open and can get you involved in some lab work. Is there anything else I need to know about?

Student: To monitor my progress in the lab, there is a short project form that needs to be completed before I start, and again at mid-term and at the end of the semester. I will also be giving a short presentation to the Colloquium class or writing a short paper.

Dr. Smith: Let’s plan to meet soon. I have time at 1 pm tomorrow.

Student: That works for me. I will also bring a short description of the project requirements (yellow sheet) and the form that needs to be completed.

Dr. Smith: I’ll see you tomorrow.

Student: Thank you very much for your time.