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Author: Subject: How to ask my professors for chemicals and equipment?
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Registered: 25-3-2014
Location: Minnesota
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[*] posted on 23-3-2019 at 16:29

Hello, I have been in a similar situation before at my university. It is completely do-able to preform 'freelance' lab work as an undergrad at university. However, you must be immaculately organized and have a very clear objective to what you are going to do. Without this I would highly doubt that any professor would allow you free-range access to a lab/equipment.

First, establish a rapport with the prof. Now I do not mean that you need to become best friends or anything, but at least visit him with questions enough that he knows you by name. Ideally if you can be on a first name basis with your prof you stack the odds in your favor. Remember (most) professors got into teaching because they enjoy helping students, asking questions (especially in office hours) allows them to consummate this goal and will make them more cordial to any future requests.

Second, after some sort of relationship has been established, subtly bring up some of your interests as well as your desire to preform research. This is a great opportunity to gauge your prof's attitude to your ideas research. However, understand that you are NOT asking him for anything. You are simply sharing what you are interested in.

Third, after mentioning your interests to your prof, I would let the idea sit in for a bit. This could be a minute or a week, you are going to have to make a judgement on this one. Pushing fast allows for more momentum, but may pressure your prof into a uncomfortable position. Going to slow will mean loosing momentum, but at least you will know that he has thought about your idea for a time.

Fourth, I would type up exactly what you intend to do and the merit of it (this could be something as simple as acquiring lab experience). I would include an objective as well as a literature review of relevant papers relating to what you want to do. And for the love of God, please proof-read and spellcheck this pseudo-proposal. This will show the prof that you have given this project some though. However do not give this paper to your prof yet.

Fifth, After becoming an 'expert' on your subject with your proposal in your bag, arrange a meeting with your prof and remind him of your idea and tell him that "you are interested in pursuing it but you are not sure how". (of course you know exactly what you need but it is better if your prof comes up with the idea of how to help you on it by giving you lab space/equipment; remember, people love to to give help an assistance but hate taking orders)

Now after mentioning this to him a couple things might happen. Your prof is likely going to ask you several questions, answer these promptly and as accurately as possible without guessing or lying (remember, your prof will likely only ask questions he already knows the answer to) If you don' know an answer, the phrase "I am not sure, do you know how I can find out" will go a VERY long way. It is critical at this point to be as transparent as possible. At this point, if he hasn't made an offer yet, hand him paper copy of your mini-proposal for his consideration.

After this point, do not pester him asking if he has given it though for at least a week or two, (however, still keep up your visits with your prof regarding other matters). If he is still radio silent after two or so weeks, shoot him a very concise email asking him if he had a chance to read that proposal. If he hasn't, or stonewalls, consider this pathway dead and look for other options. If he does reply, then you can go from there. You should get a reply though if you have done your homework on this and have written a thorough but brief proposal. (Heck, you might even be able to get some funding for your project $$$ :) )

Remember, whatever the outcome is, do not sacrifice your relationship with your prof because he might say 'no' at this moment, but maybe in a year or so your prof may have some extra money or a research position available and guess who is going to be the first to his list to receive it. The secret of academic and professional relationships is not creating them (that is the easy part), it is maintaining them over the years.

As long as you are not doing anything exceedingly hazardous (ie. organo-mercury compounds, energetic materials, anything of the phenylethylamine class of compounds (drugs), or anything which requires high pressures (autoclaves), highly reactive compounds (LAH to name one) , or expensive equipment ( "so... you want to modify the NMR to run a solid state sample" <--- yes this actually has been a request) I think you are very likely to be able to get some help.

I hope this is of assistance to you. I wish you best of luck with your endeavors. :)

DISCLAIMER: The information in this post is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.
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