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I am in the process of writing my PhD thesis, and I would like to extend the state-of-the-art part into a review article. Although I am confident that I have investigated and understood the existing literature thoroughly, I think the overall quality and visibility of the review article would increase if I find an expert to collaborate with on the paper. My PhD supervisor is not an expert in the field and I expect his willingness to actively contribute to be near zero.

I have already identified a rising expert (junior PI) that I would like to contact. A strong plus is also that he seems to be an expert on the area of the article where I have no published results, whereas I have some published research in the other of the two subareas of the review article. However, I am not sure how and when to contact this person (I have not met him in person).

One approach would be to (nearly) finish the paper and then send him a direct email, asking whether he would like to contribute, and send him the paper after he agreed to handle the draft confidentially so he can decide if he wants to contribute. I would also mention that I am willing to do the ground work but expect him to comment on the draft and help improving the overall quality of the paper.

Another approach would be to upload a finished (to the best of my abilities) paper on arXiv and than send him the mail asking for his willingness to contribute.

Is there a better approach?

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    By passing. .. It is unlikely you will change him. The idea of contacting a young researcher sounds ok as, if there will be any benefit, you will likely share it. Most important point is IF there is need for a new review. Reviews can (should) be original, too. In the sense that they resume new results, critically discuss the current state and pose a minimal base for future development. – Alchimista Dec 21 '17 at 13:00
  • @Alchimista There does not exist a review on this specific topic and the existing literature is very scattered. The publications use very different figures-of-merit and are targeted at different applications. I plan to "norm" the experimental results of existing publications, combine them with (simple) calculations and classify different types of experimental realizations for specific applications. So I argue that such a review would enable other groups to build the best device for their specific application. – snalx Dec 21 '17 at 14:12
  • @Alchimista The majority of publications regarding this topic were published after 2011. – snalx Dec 21 '17 at 14:16
  • Do you have a comparable track record? Do you have high quality papers? It is harder to form any collaboration if your professional standing is different. – Prof. Santa Claus Aug 22 '18 at 21:32
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I suggest that you contact the other person and ask for their advice on your ideas, but not for collaboration, initially. See where that goes. It allows the person to make a small commitment without feeling any pressure for a larger one.

Your idea for a review or summary article might be a bit unusual, but in many fields these are occasionally needed as the field splits but the different pursuits have some common but unnoticed features. Partly for this reason, I don't think that the other party would think about going into competition with you on the idea, and might want to participate. The advice would be valuable in any case.

If the collaboration starts naturally then you can write a joint paper, perhaps after you complete your degree so that your advisor has less sway. Write and explain your ideas, expanded from what you write here, send a draft, and ask for any feedback that he/she might give.

The other person might also be able to suggest others with whom you might profitably share your ideas.


I mention the competition issue only because you don't really know the person. Most everyone behaves ethically, but not all do. So in some situations it is necessary to be a bit cagey when you are a newcomer to academia. I don't really see it as an issue in this case, however, as mentioned above.

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I find the best way to go about these situations is to meet in person and talk. It is much easier to share ideas than to try to guess what will work best.

Over the last ten years, personal communications have shifted more towards asynchronous methods that can be polished and perfected. People feel nervous and unsure if they cannot proofread their ideas before releasing them to the world.

But ... it is important to meet and talk. Being spontaneous and responding in real time to eye contact and body language are important parts of communication. It may seem much easier and safer to send emails and post online, and it is, but relationships are built on interaction in real time. There is much more to it than the words on the screen can convey.

Professional collaborations are built on clear vision, managed expectations, and reasonable timelines. You have several valuable opportunities here:

  1. Show Respect for Advisor: Meet (coffee? lunch?) and talk to your advisor and get feedback there. Even if you learn nothing tangible, you keep him in the loop and this shows respect for the person who is officially your 'advisor.' Technically, an 'advisor' is there for this very reason even if it doesn't always work that way. This is an appropriate opportunity to build on your relationship with your advisor.

  2. A Bit of Networking: Find people to brainstorm with. Consider whether you really need this collaboration. Is it necessary to accomplish your goals? I think you lay out a good case that it is, but make sure you are doing this for a valuable reason. It will be something that takes time from both of your schedules. This is what you are doing by posting here, but if you have people you can talk to in person, it is a great time to further professional relationships with them.

  3. Specific Networking: Meet with your prospective collaborator and discuss the proposal. See if there is interest. If you feel that this person is reluctant, it will likely cause friction and limit the value of the contribution. If this "rising star' is actually a friend of yours, then focus on how you can help each other. Ask if they need anything in the way of help (expert advice? typing? research? chart creation?). This is always appreciated!

  4. Team Building: If the collaboration sounds feasible, discuss and decide who is doing what and set some deadlines. Be friendly, but you need a timeline that works for both of you. You are busy. They are busy. We are all busy. Be realistic and ask what they think a reasonable timeline is. Ask what reasonable goals and outcomes are. Agree on these things before you leave. If you can offer them something valuable (publishing without doing much + helping you) with clear expectations and minimal investment of effort, you will be well received.

  5. Leadership: Follow this up with an email setting out the agreed upon details in writing. This sort of clarification tends to reduce misunderstandings and CC it to your advisor. Thank them both for their specific contributions. Ask for further feedback or ideas. People love to give advice. This sort of clarification tends to reduce misunderstandings by managing expectations. It is also a good way to reiterate that they are doing you a favor and that you appreciate it. It may seem counterintuitive, but you can show great leadership even when asking more expert people for help.

This is just my 2 cents, but I think this situation is much more about the personal opportunities than the actual collaboration. You can keep up communications online, but an in person discussion once in a while is important. The thesis will get done either way. You will be rich and successful. Life will go on.

... but the relationships you form as you go through life is what will matter the most.

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