I'm transferring this Fall to a UC from a community college and I'd like to hit the ground running on gaining some research experience at my new college. I've already identified a number of staff whose research I find interesting, but I'm somewhat unsure of the best way to approach them. I've knocked out general and organic chemistry classes as well as the math and physics requirements but most of my interest lies in Nuclear or Physical chemistry, which I don't have much or any exposure to as of yet. I had a summer internship in an isotope research lab, but my work was very basic.
So my question is, what is the best way to make a good impression and to approach trying to join a research group? Especially when I may not have very many "useful" skills as of yet? I'm not expecting it to be easy, but I'm eager to learn and get involved so I can better understand what I can contribute going into the future and where I may want to further specialize.
What should I include in an introductory email? Should I read and try to understand any recent papers in full before contacting them or is a relatively solid understanding of the premise of the research sufficient? Would it be a good idea to ask to speak to an undergrad or graduate student currently in the group? If you are a researcher or professor, what qualities or skills do you look for in undergrads? Would it be appropriate to ask to be referred to other researchers who may be accepting undergrads if the one contacted is not? What is the line between being "assertive" and "annoying"? Should I start emailing now, in the summer, or wait until the school year starts?
That ended up being a lot of questions...any information, context, knowledge, experience, or advice is greatly appreciated!