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How to beg without begging


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I just finished up a research assistantship and am looking for another one.  It had been offered to me, without me really looking.  My grad program is very informal when it comes to research positions.  Professors are usually working on their own projects, receiving funding from outside the university.  We don't have a web site or anything that I could use to see what is available.  Is there a tactful way to approach a professor whose interests match mine and ask if there are any ongoing projects I could become a part of?

I should add that while pay would be awesome, I'm open to working just for the experience.  

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I think it should be okay to just directly email (or use your/the professor's favourite form of communication) and straight up ask if they have any openings for a research assistant. It's not really begging! This is how I got almost all of my research assistantships in undergrad (in my field, our graduate research assistantships are always paid for by our thesis advisor). I just wrote to a few professors whose interests matched mine. I introduced myself, included my year of study (in my field, this is a quick way to summarize your coursework since they are from the same department), summarized my past research projects and stated my interests. I then asked if they had any openings for research assistants for next semester.

As for paid vs not-paid work, I think you would have to consult those in your field as I am guessing the norms might be really different here. In my field, most professors will not supervise unpaid research assistants. I support this because I do not think it is fair to not pay an undergraduate researcher. An unpaid research position is a position that is not equal-opportunity---only students who are financially able to work for free would get the chance and I think that is not fair. 

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