Finding a Research Mentor

Tips for identifying and contacting potential summer research mentors for VP&S students

Review the websites of individuals whose work interests you. Note that these are not always updated, so site like PubMed can give you a better sense of recent publications. (For example, the Irving Institute site can also provide information about recent publications and grants – click on “Person” and enter the last name.)

If you are interested in research outside of New York City, review the websites of research faculty in other locations and talk to individuals in the Columbia community who are in the same field; they may know these colleagues and help you make connections.

Keep your ears open in classes, read papers, attend seminars, and speak to colleagues and professors to determine what field(s) and questions intrigue you the most.

Once you identify faculty whose research interests resonate with yours, contact them directly by e-mail (or phone or in person). Send them a crisp, one paragraph note that identifies you as a first-year Columbia VP&S med student who is looking for a summer opportunity. Briefly explain your background and why their work interests you. Attach a one-page CV that highlights your education, any honors/awards, any research experience/thesis/publications/presentations. And thank them for their time, of course – recognizing that they may not have any positions but could refer you to others. And don't take it personally if they do not return your message. If you contact 3-5 individuals, you are likely to get at least one “bite”.

Once you have identified a potential mentor, you can then meet with them, discuss projects, and determine what kind of funding opportunities may be relevant. Your mentor may have their own ideas and/or their own source of funding. Many students take advantage of the NIH Summer Research Fellowships, depending on the focus of the work. However, there are also several other summer fellowships opportunities you may find of interest. Listings of these opportunities are provided in the VP&S Summer Opportunities Resources Project site in Courseworks.