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There is a professor at a university different from the one I study in, who I like to do some research with. I emailed her and did not receive any answer even after sending a follow-up email (a week after the first email). I knew her class schedule, but not her office hours. I thought about going to where the class meets to talk to her after her lecture (introduce myself, try to remind her of the email and express my interest in working with her over and ask her to read my CV that I emailed to her, or arrange some time to meet me and discuss about possible opportunities) .

Since I am not a student at the institution where she works and given the nature of my inquiry and the fact that she didn't answer my emails, I thought this might not be appropriate. I wanted to ask your opinion on whether you think there is a way for me to go and talk to her without it being inappropriate. (I thought about emailing the TA of the class and asking about the office hours of the professor, but I doubt if that's any better.)

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    Is there no secretary you can contact? Have you tried calling the professor? That would seem more appropriate than a surprise visit. – Roland Feb 27 '18 at 8:38
  • Yes, calling might be ok - but if you are not a student at the department, it is a bit too much. – Per Alexandersson Feb 27 '18 at 8:54
  • How much time has passed since you wrote the first mail? Did you indicate a deadline until when you need a response? – Frank Hopkins Feb 27 '18 at 20:59
  • @Darkwing It's been more than 2 weeks since the first email, and more than one week since the second one. I use an email tracking tool, and I know the email has been opened, but only once. To my experience, when someone actually reads an email, they open it more than once (that has been the case about every other person I've received a response from), so I think that might have been just a "mark as read" thing. – nra Feb 28 '18 at 0:38
  • @Roland Is calling more appropriate than going to her office? And do you mean calling her to just remind her to read my email, or to actually discuss the matter over the phone? – nra Feb 28 '18 at 0:40
9

Appropriate should even be, effective less.

You stated you knew her class schedule, so if she is free after the lesson you may have success to speak with or, better, to ask her when she can dedicate you some minutes.
It can be appropriate if you will be polite, clear, specific and concise.

E.g. I need 5-10 minutes to speak about xxx. I read those papers of yours (a,b), I find interesting yyy and I would like to work on it maybe in the zzz development. I'm currently student/phd/whatever in the ttt university. Is there any way to arrive to work on this subject with your group? What can I do?

There are, by the way, other ways in which you can contact her.

Secretary of the group or of the department. Each professor belong to group(s) and/or department(s). Find which, and call the secretary. (Again concise). Ask how to contact that professor.

Conference or Talk. If you have the time and the occasion it may be more effective if you find an open event in which to meet, e.g. if she takes part on a conference, or she has a talk accessible for you. In those occasions people is usually more open, and has already reserved time to speak.

Professor of your university of the same field. If you can access to some professor actually enrolled in your university in the same field of the one you want to contact, you may ask him/her information about that professor and how to contact. If they personally know each other, you can ask to be introduced too, or at least to send her a mail.

Her Office. Knock the door and ask when she has some time to speak with you about xxx...

ps> She may have some time to dedicate to students... you may try to go in that time, but you will be after the needs of her students.

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    Is dropping by her office really better than going to her after her lecture?! I thought the chance that I interrupt her mid some important business would be higher in that case. – nra Feb 28 '18 at 0:50
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    I could not help but notice that a formerly quite common way of contacting someone - namely, writing a letter - is apparently not considered an usual means of personal professional communications anymore. ;-) – Dubu Feb 28 '18 at 12:59
  • I cannot figure out what the header is supposed to mean, and this answerer hasn't been here in a year. – Azor Ahai Aug 30 at 19:26
51

I would not appreciate that. I have a schedule, which means that after a lecture I may have a meeting, I may have an appointment with someone I am supervising, I may need to pick up my children from day-care, etc. etc. etc.

If you have emailed twice and not received an answer, then that is your answer... That is not very polite, but none of us are perfect.

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    Your statement "If you have emailed twice and not received an answer, then that is your answer..." might correctly describe the situation conditioned on when you are the professor. However, the statement is not true for a significant number of professors who are not like you. I have had many experiences in academia in which the lack of a response from a professor was not indicative of a decision at all, but merely an indication that the emails have fallen through some attention cracks. I wouldn't have my position today if I hadn't emailed a professor a third time! – user2705196 Feb 27 '18 at 14:20
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    Beware: if you email me a third time you will end up in my spam filter. But yes, people are different. So the OP could try to find out what is going on by talking to people who know him/her. Also, trying to make an appointment through the secretary as suggested by Roland is a potential way forward. But I would not hold much hope. – Maarten Buis Feb 27 '18 at 15:16
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    if you are not replying to me why do i care about ending up in your spam filter – amara Feb 27 '18 at 16:31
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    @naiad Is the double post an ironic statement? Or just a happy little accident... – corsiKa Feb 27 '18 at 17:02
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    @naiad if you want to work with me you may not want to annoy me. – Maarten Buis Feb 27 '18 at 18:56
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No, that veers into stalker territory, don't do it. A lack of response is generally read as lack of interest. Even though she may just be busy or may not have seen your email, ignoring that convention, and going to these lengths to contact her, may ring alarm bells.

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    I think "stalker territory" is a massive overstatement. But I agree with the general point that tracking somebody down at their lecture is excessive. Why not just go to their office, for example? – David Richerby Feb 27 '18 at 16:28
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    @DavidRicherby Put yourself in the shoes of the professor. Two emails from a complete stranger, no answer is given, then the stranger drops by the professor's workplace uninvited and wants to talk right now because the professor did not answer the emails? Yeah, that's not good. I for one would be creeped out. – user9646 Feb 28 '18 at 10:26
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    @NajibIdrissi I completely agree that the asker shouldn't go the professor's lecture; I'm just disputing the use of the word "stalker" to describe that act. Show up repeatedly outside her lectures and you're absolutely a stalker, but that's not what the asker is proposing. – David Richerby Feb 28 '18 at 12:09
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    Reacting to one's attempts at communication being ignored by showing up at someone's workplace is a really common pattern in stalking. I'm not saying this one thing automatically makes you a stalker, I'm just saying this is a thing stalkers also do and you don't want to even raise the question in anyone's mind. – nengel Feb 28 '18 at 16:03
  • A lot of stalkers don't perceive themselves as stalkers because they have a 'perfectly reasonable' justification in their minds. It's really easy to set off alarm bells, because it's really important to nip stalkerish behavior in the bud immediately. If you figure out someone's schedule without their input, then show up out of the blue, regardless of justification, you're going to get marched away by security sooner or later. – Adonalsium Feb 28 '18 at 21:22
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I feel your pain! We have all been in similar situations in which we have to guess whether the lack of a reply means "not interested" or "I just forgot to reply". From my 20 years of experience in academia I would say there is a very good chance it's the latter, but it could also be the former. Hence your dilemma.

What not to do: I would advise against trying to corner the professor after their lecture. While it's not exactly stalking it can be quite awkward if the professor's schedule is tight and has to go straight to another lecture/meeting etc. and has to brush you off as a result. While you could do it, there's a chance it won't work in the sense of actually getting to talk to the professor. And it may not create good will if done crudely.

What to do: There is in fact a commonly used way to contact the professor in person. Go to their office and knock! Even without knowing their office hours that is entirely appropriate. If the professor can't talk to you, they will say so. If they can talk to you, be prepared to schedule a meeting time rather than discussing your actual inquiry right there on the spot. A similar alternative is to find out their phone number and call them. Depending on your personal preference you may choose one over the other.

If you feel awkward about knocking at their door unannounced, remind yourself that they have had the chance to avoid having to talk to you in person by replying to your email. Given that is common for professors to forget emailing undergraduates back, you cannot be reasonably expected to interpret a lack of reply as a no. Good luck!

  • I thought knocking her door unannounced would be worse than catching her after a lecture. My reasoning was that she is waiting for a bunch of students to go and talk to her after her lecture, but when she is at her office, she might be doing something that requires intense focus and it might be rude to interrupt her in that situation. – nra Feb 28 '18 at 0:55
  • @nra: When I am finished lecturing, I capture any stray thoughts or todos I didn't have time to write down during lecture, erase the board, pack up my stuff, and get the heck out of the classroom so that the next class can file in. If I am also answering questions from current students, I am intensely focused on them. So it's certainly not less intrusive to interrupt me in my office than after class. – Matthew Leingang Mar 2 '18 at 3:29
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Academics get this kind of question all the time. No response means "Sorry, I'm not interested. I have enough on my plate looking after my own students at my own university, without taking on somebody from outside whom I don't even know."

As for trying to find her in person, no. Certainly not by trying to buttonhole her outside her lecture, when she'll be trying to deal with student questions and trying to get to her next appointment (which may very well be fifteen minutes of quality time with her coffee mug). Certainly not at her office hours, which are devoted to the students she's responsible for teaching.

  • But from my experience with the professors at the department where I am a student, I can tell that quite often the professor just forgets to answer or just does a "mark all as read" a couple of times a day. It's happened to me that a professor kept forgetting to answer my emails for a month despite several reminders. Since I don't know this professor, I can't tell what her email habits are. – nra Feb 28 '18 at 0:47
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    But not knowing her email habits isn't a reason to turn up in person after a lecture. Try to arrange an appointment through her department. – TripeHound Feb 28 '18 at 15:21
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I completely disagree with the previous answers to this question. Pursuing this does not enter you into 'stalker territory' (@nengel) nor does lack of an answer suggest day care problems (@Maartin Buis--sorry). Profs get these kinds of emails frequently, and often times the writer is not willing to follow through, leaving little incentive particularly if you're at a different institution. If you're serious and passionate, pursue. You'll win her over eventually at some level. The fact you're at a different school entails all kinds of issues, but do not give up.

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    I did not suggest that not answering and email had anything to do with day care. My point was that if you approach me immediately after a lecture, I will in all likelihood have no time for you, because my schedule is full with other responsibilities (including day care). If I am not answering your email, that means that I am not interested in you. Those are two completely separate mechanisms. The question was should the OP approach the prof after a lecture, and my answer remains a very strong no because in all likelihood I have no time for you at that point. – Maarten Buis Feb 27 '18 at 12:04
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Do not just show up at the end of an instructor's lecture. Students tend to rush an instructor right after a lecture with lots of "one quick questions" so that's definitely not a time when she can pay attention to you.

Wait another two or three months and then send another email. She might just have been in a very busy stretch and maybe if you wait a bit, you'll find her in a period when she has more time. If you still get no response, you need to move on.

3

It sounds to me like this professor is not interested in working with you. She may be too busy to take on new projects, or she may feel she needs to prioritize working with students currently enrolled in her own university. Either way, I think you have an answer to your inquiry. I'm sorry it's not the one you were looking for.

0

To answer the actual question: it is completely inappropriate. You are not her student and many professors have tight schedules, you shouldn't waste either her time or your own.

However, you should email the academic advising or registrar of the professor's institution and explain that you are a student at a different institution and would like to get in contact with this professor. Don't take the neglection of your previous emails as a rejection. At my university many professors block emails from outside sources (i.e. you must use a @myuni.edu address), so in a case like that she may never have received your email.

If at this point you get some kind of rejection or no response, then you should drop the matter. It isn't worth it for yourself to keep pursuing it, and there will be other opportunities with other professors.

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    "At my university many professors block emails from outside sources" Er... *boggle* Must really suck when that acceptance email for the paper you submitted goes to "spam". Or when that foreign academic mails you from her @wherever.fr address. Or that guy whose university has a really crappy email server mails you from gmail. Or... – David Richerby Feb 27 '18 at 21:35
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    @DavidRicherby I attend a fairly small university, and not every professor is writing research papers and collaborating with other universities. Obviously I don't know the exact email policies that they use, but I have been told this by multiple different professors. – Jacob H Feb 27 '18 at 23:47
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    @JacobH, I think blocking all email from outside sources would be very impractical, unprofessional, and possibly contrary to university policy. That doesn't mean someone might not do it. What seems to me more likely is that this is the stated excuse for ignoring much email, rather than responding... and a surprisingly implausible excuse as it is! I'd wager that whoever said this is either not the sharpest tack in the box, or was so disdainful of the questioner that they didn't even bother to give a sensible excuse. Baffling, really. – paul garrett Feb 28 '18 at 0:48
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    Blocking outside emails would be insane. It is literally impossible to be a successful academic without communicating outside your university. – Sneftel Feb 28 '18 at 12:43

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