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Finding a Mentor

For the SURF and Amgen Scholars programs, it is the responsibility of the student to identify a suitable research mentor. The mentor must be a member of the Caltech faculty or JPL technical staff. For Caltech students seeking a SURF project, a mentor could also be a faculty member at another school or research institution in the U.S. or abroad.

There are several ways to identify a potential mentor:

  • Review the Announcements of Opportunity website to see projects being “advertised” by mentors. Please note that not all campus opportunities are listed here, but it is a good place to start. However, this is the best way to learn about JPL opportunities.
  • Browse the Caltech faculty websites and contact those of interest.
  • Use your academic network. Talk to your advisor and professors to see if they have ideas and contacts for you.
  • Review the most recent SURF Abstract Book to get ideas about possible research areas and mentors.
  • Caltech students should consider attending seminar (pizza) classes and option seminars where faculty present their work. Also, talk with upperclass housemates, classmates, and RAs.
  • Attend SFP Information Sessions and the Explore JPL series.

Helpful hints:

  • Start early! If possible, start looking for a mentor toward the end of fall term. This is when most opportunities are still available.
  • Contact multiple possible mentors at once; but don’t spread mass emails. Pursue only research groups that you are truly interested in. Have a polished resume ready for when you email potential mentors. If applying to JPL, please refer to this resume template.
  • Don’t rely on email! Show initiative by setting up an appointment, calling, or going directly to a professor's office.
  • Contact the professor’s administrative assistant for help in setting up an in-person or phone meeting.
  • Contact a graduate student or postdoc in the group and ask for a tour/meeting to learn more and get an introduction to the potential mentor.
  • Be sure to look outside your academic option. Research at Caltech and JPL is very interdisciplinary and opportunities exist in all divisions and options.
  • Use who you know! Using your network of friends, classmates, and professors is a great way to find a mentor.
  • Be assertive and professional, but not entitled!

Finally, for Caltech students, contact the Student-Faculty Programs office to discuss possible mentors—but come early, don’t wait until the last minute!