How to Identify and Cultivate a Faculty Mentor
Faculty generally do welcome student contact and are very interested in honors students. However, before you go knocking on their doors, asking them to be your faculty mentor and oversee your independent study or undergraduate research experience, be sure you have done your homework. You should have already put some thought into potential topics – maybe even have explored them through some preliminary research or coursework. Be flexible and prepared to compromise. Decide whether working with a specific faculty member is more important than working on a specific project (or vice versa).Some ways to identify potential faculty mentors* and/or research topics: look at the course listings for topics/subjects in which you are interested; take those classes and get to know the professors by taking advantage of their office hours; perhaps even participate in an individual study with a potential faculty mentor (these courses are usually numbered 199).If you are already interested in a specific topic for an independent study or your thesis, bring a short written outline or abstract when you go talk to the faculty. Include (and be prepared to elaborate on) your idea/area of interest, what strategies you feel will be needed to accomplish your project goals (i.e., will you need to do field work, library research, etc.), and your expectations of the faculty member (time line for completion, how often you think you will need to meet, how many units you want for the work, what grade option is desired). A copy of your most recent UCI transcript may be helpful but is not always necessary.If you are interested in working with a specific faculty member on his/her research project, be prepared with some knowledge of the project itself. Ask how you could be involved – what exactly would you be doing, and if there is room for developing an independent honors project within their project and under their guidance.Professor Danziger has talked about exploring your “personal compatibility” with a faculty member. You must be compatible both with regard to the subject in which you are interested, and the “fit” of your personalities. An individual study with a particular faculty member (i.e., 199s) is an excellent way to explore that “personal compatibility.”Each school/major is different. Some, such as the School of Engineering, may offer off-campus as well as on-campus research opportunities; some areas are experimental, some more theoretical. In units such as Humanities, you probably would not be involved in an individual faculty member’s research project, but rather, you would be proposing your own project, which you would complete under a faculty member’s guidance.
Whether you work with your mentor on his/her project or your own, be open to and respond to his/her suggestions, feedback, and instruction. Interact in a very real sense of the word and let your mentor know that his/her contribution to your thesis project was a valuable part of your education and that his/her time and effort was well-spent.
Ultimately, the success of your project will depend on your interest, initiative and motivation. Start early. There are many exciting, well-respected, and interesting faculty members involved in all kinds of research here. Your thesis project will not be easy, but it could be one of the most rewarding parts of your years and education at UCI.
* Many departments have lists online that described their faculty and their areas of interest /research. Take a look at your academic unit’s Faculty/Research webpages or at the faculty information available on UROP’s webpage. Talk to your academic counselor, one of the honors advisors, or other students who are already involved in research. There are research surveys and other useful information we have on file in the Honors Office. If you have an assigned faculty advisor, ask him/her for suggestions regarding faculty who are in their departments/schools. If you are interested in one of the upper-division, major-specific honors programs offered at UCI, you may also talk to the appropriate faculty contact (see Honors Programs at UCI & Program Contact Information).