The Duke faculty is a tremendous resource that students don’t take advantage of often enough. Your professors are experts in the field you are studying in their classes, so use them to deepen your learning. And from a purely practical standpoint, you’ll probably need at least one of your professors to write you a recommendation at some point (for grad school, a study abroad program, etc.). It’s difficult for them to do that if they don’t know you.
Most professors have office hours; drop by for a chat. Or, if you can’t make the established office hours, invite the professor out for coffee or a FLUNCH. Some students feel nervous/intimidated/shy about talking to their professors outside of class, so here are a few conversation-starters to consider:
- "I have a question about this topic we covered in class …"
- "I’ve reworked a question I missed on our last quiz/test/problem set. Am I doing it correctly now?"
- "I’m considering topic X for my final paper. Is that a manageable/appropriate topic?"
- "I really enjoyed this topic we covered. Are there other articles I should read? Classes I should take?"
- "I’ve really enjoyed this class. Do you teach others? What should I know about majoring in this subject?"
And here’s a conversation-killer: “What do I need to do to get an A in this class?” Don’t let this be your first one-on-one interaction with your professor.
Finding the right faculty
While developing close relationships with faculty is always a good idea, some opportunities at Duke—independent studies, DukeEngage independent projects, some research grants, Program II applications—require you to have a faculty mentor. So how do you find that person?
Ask for a referral. Talk to your current professors and your advisors. Do they know someone who is doing work in your area of interest? When reaching out to someone you don’t know, dropping the name of a mutual acquaintance can help catch the attention of your target. For example, “I took Class X with Professor Smith, and she recommended I contact you because I’m interested in Y.”
Try cold-calling (or cold-emailing). With some research, you can find someone whose interests match your own and “cold-call” her/him without anyone else to introduce you. Your chances of getting no response increase with this method, so try to find a few people to contact. A few suggestions on starting your search:
A few departments have pages that are especially helpful if you’re seeking a research opportunity: