Pausanias wrote:I have a question about culturing a mentor relationship with professors. Do y'all have any advice for fostering a research-based connection with a professor? How does one get an RA-ship? Are they during the summers, or during the year? How important is political affinity with the professors for such a relationship? Are competing political opinions an obstacle to such a mentorship?
This is a really good set of questions. First off, it's generally *really* easy to become an RA, and there are lots of ways to do it: MANY professors actually just post notices on the walls of the Law School saying, "I'm starting a project on XYZ; if you want to work with me, send me an email" - this is how I got my RA job, and it's worked out extremely well for me; there is also a central database (through the Career Development Office in online format, and on a single part of a physical wall, in paper form) where most "official" RA openings are listed; people also commonly establish RA relationships by approaching a professor they have for class (or that professor will approach them); others just drop into a professor's office hours to talk about work they find interesting and inquire as to whether the professor is looking for help.
We also are required to write two major papers during our time here; each must be supervised by a professor. Sometimes, those relationships spur RA relationships, too, as professors learn the quality of your work and may even want to work together to expand upon ideas from your papers.
Some RA jobs are short-term projects, others are ongoing, so they could be either during the summer or during the academic year. Some people spend their 1L summer in part or entirely working as an RA. You can generally either get academic credit or get paid ($13.50/hour) for your work, depending on your arrangement with the professor.
Most RAs that I know of aren't working on politically-sensitive projects, so it probably doesn't matter whether you share a political affinity with a professor. But I suppose there are situations where it could be helpful. I haven't heard of anyone finding that to be an "obstacle," per se...probably due in large part to self-selection.
In general, you want to be an engaged student to build these kind of relationships that can lead to strong mentoring relationships. That's true at probably any school. But I'd wager that at YLS (or any small, research-intensive school), the opportunities to build those relationships are relatively easy to cultivate even outside of a typical classroom relationship (for example, I did not take a class with the professor I RA for until after I started working with him).