A professor’s perspective on connecting with professors

Makenna connects with Dr. Dan Sameoto to get some advice on how you can connect with your professors.



YouAlberta is written by students for students.

Makenna (she/her) is in her fifth year of mechanical engineering. Born and raised in Calgary, outside of classes, you can find her climbing the Athabasca Glacier with the Mission SpaceWalker student team. Makenna’s goal is to become an astronaut! She is incredibly dedicated and resilient and plans to pursue her pilot’s license and continue her education — because, as she states, “learning is the best job!” Her favourite place on campus is wherever her friends are, be it at the gym or spending late nights studying in ECERF DICE; they always lighten the mood and make her smile.

Whether you are looking for an advisor for a student club, asking for reference letters for graduate school or want to get hands-on research experience at the U of A, connecting with professors is incredibly important. In this article, our mission is to equip you with the tools to successfully find an advisor with insight from Dr. Sameoto, a professor in the mechanical engineering department. Dr. Sameoto has advised numerous student groups to do innovative things, including building satellites for space and solar arrays for sustainability. This article provides both student and professor perspectives on how you can successfully find an advisor.

Sameoto group social from Summer 2022

Sameoto group social from Summer 2022

Find the motive.

Define why you are reaching out to a professor. Are you interested in opportunities like the Dean's Research Award Program to apply for meaningful and paid research positions, and want to reach out to a professor to learn about their lab? Maybe you are interested in forming a student club to compete in competitions like the Canadian Stratospheric Balloon Experiment or the NASA Space Apps Hackathon and want an advisor to help connect you with the resources and knowledge needed. "Student competitions are important as they offer extra experience beyond regular classes, which are more structured and textbook-based," mentions Dr. Sameoto, who notes, "These events often involve interdisciplinary work," which helps further develop your skillset and help you find your interests. Once you have your direction, you then need to pitch it to the right person. "When seeking an advisor, students should ensure their interests and goals align with those of the advisor," says Dr. Sameoto, who also notes that "respect, thorough preparation and finding someone genuinely interested in the topic are key to a successful advisor-student relationship."

3D Printing in Dr. Sameoto’s Lab

3D Printing in Dr. Sameoto's Lab

Some suggestions when seeking out an advisor are:

  • Determine which department is best suited for your topic, and read the research interests of the staff members on the U of A website for that department.
  • Attend the U of A presentations/conferences that relate to your topic, and keep an eye out for a professor with similar interests (check out the U of A events listings).
  • Speak to your professors about who they would recommend reaching out to.

"These opportunities are not just financial aids; they're stepping stones towards a successful research career," says Dr. Sameoto. Use this time in your degree to discover your passions, and many professors are here to help you learn. Approaching an advisor with a clear direction or idea of what you want to achieve will show both independence and dedication. Most will want to help you, and as Dr. Sameoto says, "I'm passionate about helping students turn their dreams into reality, especially in the aerospace industry. My interest in this area and my desire to see more people engage in this kind of research work motivate me to assist students in these projects."

Reach out.

Now comes that collaboration pitch, that email or lab visit. Once you have intention, it is time to put that idea into action. Students are advised to speak with faculty members early in the academic year, as "research and application deadlines can approach quickly," notes Dr. Sameoto. 

A quick recipe for a successful introduction is:

  1. Personal Introduction: What is your name and degree?
  2. The pitch: What is the project? (Try to fit these to the professor's interest)
  3. Your ask: What do you want from this professor? Consider if you want to communicate over email or if you want to set up a virtual or in-person meeting.
  4. Thank them: They will be taking their time to help you, so express your appreciation.

"Understand what you are asking of the professor to communicate what you need effectively. It's important to remember that advisors often volunteer their time without extra pay, and their primary reward is the experience of mentoring students and working on interesting projects," says Dr. Sameoto, adding that "students should avoid overburdening their advisors and choose projects beneficial to both parties."

Once you reach out and have an initial conversation, make sure to identify the goals and steps forward, such as deadlines for when you need a reference or the next project milestone that you will need them to review. This is where tools like Gantt charts and regularly scheduled meetings are helpful.

Collaboration in Dr. Sameoto’s Lab

Collaboration in Dr. Sameoto's Lab

For example, Dr. Sameoto's bio on the U of A website lists various interests, including additive manufacturing, mechanics and materials. For project teams like Mission SpaceWalker with a robotic experiment, they focused on what novel materials they were hoping to use for the project to relate their mission objectives with Dr. Sameoto's lab. This mutual interest made it possible to effectively pitch the idea initially through email and eventually visit and use different equipment in his lab.

Maintain an advisor-student relationship.

If you are doing research with a professor or have them as an advisor, it is important to maintain a positive relationship with clear communication and mutual respect. "Advisors don't tell students what to do in most cases, but rather guide students in their own work, helping them develop their ideas through practice and eliminate part of the trial and error that isn't necessary," says Dr. Sameoto. "They are there to ensure that students work safely and productively and to be available for any questions that arise during projects." 

Mission SpaceWalker, advised by Dr. Sameoto, at the CAN-RGX Campaign

Mission SpaceWalker, advised by Dr. Sameoto, at the CAN-RGX Campaign.

Currently, Dr. Sameoto is advising two project groups: AlbertaSat, participating in the Canadian Reduced Gravity Experiment (CAN-RGX) team, and Atmotech, participating in the Canadian Balloon Experiment (CAN-SBX). Reflecting on successful project teams, Dr. Sameoto says he is incredibly impressed with the projects our students have completed, largely on their own initiative. He comments that his role as an advisor is mainly to ensure smooth operations, assist with paperwork and manage finances when needed. "However, a well-run group typically requires minimal day-to-day oversight. You have an opportunity to grow your ideas and research here at the U of A and with professors around you to help."

"Our students have demonstrated remarkable self-organization and skills, proving that when given the means and opportunity, they can achieve great things. This level of independence and competence in student groups is a testament to their abilities and dedication," says Dr. Sameoto. With a great advisor-student relationship, you will be better equipped to handle complex problems and hear of further resources and opportunities to grow your skills.


The following opportunities and resources are recommended by Dr. Sameoto.

Dean's Research Award

The U of A offers the Dean's Research Award (DRA) Program, a valuable resource for both undergraduates and professors. This program mitigates the risks associated with securing research positions. It provides up to a $1,000 stipend for a semester's work, where students contribute about three to four hours per week on a project, either defined by faculty or proposed by the student. This program is highly beneficial for students to build a research history and for faculty to become familiar with their work. It leads to stronger reference letters for future opportunities, including graduate school. It's also a low-risk way for students to explore if research roles suit them.

Undergraduate Research Initiative & Undergraduate Student Research Award

More comprehensive programs include the Undergraduate Research Initiative (URI) at the U of A and the Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) from NSERC. These programs are influential in securing future scholarships and demonstrating a history of success at the undergraduate level in producing new knowledge. Obtaining one or two scholarships in this area often leads to further opportunities, reinforcing a path toward success in research.

More on Dr. Sameoto's Lab

Some of Dr. Sameoto’s current and former students who have been working with ZiprPrint - a startup company spun off from his additive manufacturing work.

Some of Dr. Sameoto's current and former students who have been working with ZiprPrint - a startup company spun off from his additive manufacturing work.

Dr. Sameoto's lab is full of innovative and interesting projects, from gecko adhesive research to additive manufacturing. He is a professor in the mechanical engineering department, teaching a variety of courses and has research interests in micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), microfabrication, biomimetics, polymers and composites. "Our design philosophy is unique as we aim to create new products and devices instead of optimizing existing ones," says Dr. Sameoto. "Our lab work is quite diverse, primarily centred on inventing new processes and products."

Scanning electron microscopy images of microstructured membranes for improved water filtration. The process was invented by a former student in Dr. Sameoto’s lab in collaboration with Dr. Sadrzadeh.

Scanning electron microscopy images of microstructured membranes for improved water filtration. The process was invented by a former student in Dr. Sameoto's lab in collaboration with Dr. Sadrzadeh.

With a quite experimental lab, he leads a team that utilizes this iterative process, which is then improved on with graduate students who can "dive deeper into how to improve the devices."