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I got the attention of my materials science professor by being the top student in my lower and upper division courses for that subject. He also happened to be a research professor at LBL. One thing led to another.
RememberMe1412944dI got the attention of my prof by nagging him with questions after class (not deliberately, just happened that way) and asking about how class stuff related to something else I was interested in (compilers). And now I do research on the intersection of his stuff and compilers, heh. You want to carve a niche for yourself.
You basically want to show that you're interested and capable. They don't care so much for being the top student grades wise in the course (at least mine didn't, but it definitely helps because you're showing you put in the effort).
In my first lecture in my first year of university, I hung around to ask my lecturer whether there was anything else I could look at above and beyond the class material, as I'd been learning programming for a few years prior.
That led to a side project, the side project led to a side job, and the side job led to a PhD being as simple as asking "Hey, I've been thinking about a PhD, any ideas on what I could cover?"
It may be a bit harder than that these days, but forming good relationships early certainly helps.