I am a PhD student and recently I came across a researcher who is currently an assistant professor. I don’t know them. But I want their thesis, which is currently not available online. I want to know details of their work.

Is it okay to ask an unknown professor or researcher for their PhD thesis via email?

  • 7
    It's similar to asking for a paper, which is usually fine, but you should add 1 or 2 short sentences on the context of your request, e.g., you started working on a particular topic for which his thesis appears very relevant. Jan 27, 2018 at 9:29
  • 1
    Get it from the Proquest Dissertations database. Jan 27, 2018 at 10:06
  • 4
    @AnonymousPhysicist good luck finding dissertations from outside the US on that.
    – user64845
    Jan 27, 2018 at 11:07
  • 2
    @MadJack well, several isn't that much. For example in my country universities publish those free of charge on their own website, you won't find those on proquest. Proquest is heavily used in the US, not so much or basically not at all in other countries (the idea to put those behind paywalls is also quite stupid imo). Just look at the "Most-Accessed Dissertations and Theses" list for december 2018. Some from canada, one from the UK, everything else is US. They even label them with the country but only if they are not from the US.
    – user64845
    Jan 27, 2018 at 15:12
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    @lighthousekeeper - This is an important point of etiquette and worth an answer. Jan 27, 2018 at 15:50

2 Answers 2


Yes, it is completely fine to ask them, but before you do, it helps to be aware of a few things:

  • In many if not most fields and countries, PhD theses are somewhere between

    • a recompilation of previously published papers with an introduction and a conclusion and possibly with some additional content that did not fit into publications,

    • just a collection of published papers.

    This is particularly likely to apply if the thesis is not to be found in a published form. So, the more important results of a PhD work are likely to be published.

    This doesn’t make it invalid to ask for the thesis, but it may be worth checking what that person published during their PhD time before asking. This way you can establish whether you are actually interested in the thesis and what parts you are interested in.

  • Depending on the field, it is rather uncommon that somebody is really interested in an entire thesis, and not just a certain aspect. Hence a more specific request including why you are interested in the thesis or what specific aspects you want to know about is more likely to gain you what you need. Usually, the author can directly tell you, which chapters or sections are relevant to you.

For example, the most interesting content that is exclusive to my thesis is a brief review of the general topic in the introduction. The requirement of publishing my thesis was waived because all essential parts were already published. If somebody wrote me a mail just asking for my thesis, I would ask them what part or aspect they are interested in and then send them the corresponding paper(s).

  • 2
    In addition, ask your librarian how to find PhD theses: e.g. over here, they are usually available, but the "distribution channels" are different from those for papers (search e.g. in the national library and/or university library where the thesis was done). And while boilerplate theses in extreme cases report nothing that wasn't in the stapled papers, many other theses (like companion technical reports to a paper) contain interesting details that are not in the papers. Jan 27, 2018 at 11:16
  • @cbeleites - Good point. I suggest, Wrzlprmft, you add to answer: check with librarian first. Jan 27, 2018 at 15:51
  • @aparente001: It doesn’t really address the question, which was not about how to obtain a thesis, but how to ask for one. It’s fine as a comment, but that was already made.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jan 27, 2018 at 16:21
  • In addition, some might no longer have a soft copy of their PhD thesis. Having written my thesis almost twenty years ago, at some point I had stopped backing it up along the years. Jan 27, 2018 at 17:00
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    I would contest the claim that 'most' theses consist of material that's available elsewhere - and, even if true, the thesis can contain additional material / be phrased in a different / more expositional way / be easier to read / etc. than the published papers. Academia is a varied place, and there's plenty of fields (and countries and epochs) where the expectation is/was that significant effort go into writing text that's specific to the thesis.
    – E.P.
    Jan 27, 2018 at 19:40

Is it okay to ask an unknown professor or researcher for their PhD thesis via email?


I did it a lot and always got the thesis (or any other kind of paper) sooner or later. Typically, you are also likely to get a positive answer if you ask politely and provide the author with the details on why you need the thesis. After all, the author wishes to promote his or her name.

In certain rare cases, you'd get a negative answer:

  • Thesis contains classified information, and you are not allowed to read it (e.g., you are in the US and asking a Russian for his/her dissertation on ICBM-related technology).

  • The thesis has low quality. ("I wrote it late at nights.")

  • The thesis is old and available only in print, so sending it would take more than 5 minutes.

  • The thesis is lost and even the university library does not have it any more.

  • The author lost interest in research.

  • The author is busy and you seem too unimportant to bother to answer.

  • The author wants to get the thesis published first and only then share it. (Thanks to @greenb.)

Again, all these cases are rare.

  • 3
    In the disciplines where the PhD thesis usually comprises unpublished research (like in the humanities), another common reason to refuse is that the author is transforming their thesis into a publication / a set of publications and doesn't want to share the work until it's published (or doesn't want to share the material gathered in the thesis for other scholars to study until their own analysis appears in print). But it's always worth asking
    – greenb
    Jan 27, 2018 at 18:56

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