The arrangement between a mentor and student is variable, so there is no one-size-fits all answer to your question. The key is for you (the student) to set the expectations when contacting the professor. Are you interested in working on some aspect of their existing research? Will you and the mentor work together to find a topic that meshes your interests and their lab goals? If so, state that. Or, if you already have a research plan, tell them about it and state what it is that you're hoping for from them. Do you need advice? Access to equipment? Reagents? You'll need to be realistic though. One of the constraining factors for a professor running a research lab is money. S/he may be thrilled to have you in the lab and able to offer access to equipment -- but depending on the cost of the reagents, there just may not be any wiggle room in her lab budget to accommodate picking up the tab for your reagents. In that case, the professor might be more willing to mentor you if you're working on a project that directly ties in with her research as the reagents will already be in the budget.
In all cases, having a conversation that clearly spells out everyone's expectations is key. But flexibility on your part makes it more likely that you'll find a mentor more quickly.
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