Faculty do more than teach classes. They engage in scholarship in their own fields of study. They likely already have students helping them on their own projects or developing student ideas. Each discipline varies with regard to the roles that students serve. You will never know what opportunities are available to you unless you talk with faculty.
How important is it to find a mentor?
Faculty provide essential guidance on all aspects of student projects. Your faculty mentor does not have to be in your Department but should be familiar with your field of interest.
Undergraduate Research and Travel Fellowships are only available to students who are conducting research, scholarship, or creative activities with the supervision or in collaboration with faculty on campus.
How can you find a mentor who suits your interests?
Finding a mentor that suits your interests can be a difficult task. The best advice is to visit departmental websites and talk to other students or faculty in that department.
To get the clearest idea of the scholarship that a faculty mentor engages in, browse their publications (learn how to access and read journal articles). Talk to your professors and other students to find out what is going on.
How should you approach faculty who you want to work with?
Once you have found faculty you are interested in working with, send them a personalized e-mails describing your objectives and interests or approach them during their office hours.
Showing a clear understanding of their scholarship activities often conveys that you have been reading up on their work and are interested in joining the scholarship or research team.
What if a faculty member doesn't respond to your e-mails?
Although e-mail can be a great way to start a conversation with a faculty member, e-mails may not be the best way of reaching all faculty. Some faculty may not want to consider mentoring you until you have already been a student in one of their classes.
Each faculty member has their own style of working with students (just as each student has their own interests). Try to meet the faculty member in person during their office hours or catch them after one of their classes.