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For context there is a graduate student who has graduate from my program (at my school) working in my subfield (high energy theoretical physics) but he graduated before I joined the program so I never got to introduce myself.

He's now a post-doc at a highly respected university and is probably extremely busy.

However, I would really like to reach out to him and ask him for some advice for a beginner in the field, (I'm just starting my second year of the PhD program). Do you think it is appropriate to cold-email him and ask for some advice or the opportunity to speak with him over skype or on the phone or some form of communication?

I feel a little bad because I never introduced myself and I'm really scared of being flat out rejected by him but I also feel that he might have some really good advice for me.

Mostly, I'm worried about how to write the email and how I might sound (desperate?) to them.

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    Don't be scared of rejection! In the worst case, he'll ignore your email and forget about it entirely, which puts you in the same position you're in now. There's really only a potential upside here. – Nuclear Wang Aug 6 '18 at 18:20
  • I suggest calling via telephone before emailing. – user96140 Aug 6 '18 at 18:21
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    @user96140: I disagree strongly. As a recipient, a phone call is almost certain to interrupt me in the middle of something. With an email, I can read and respond at a convenient time. – Nate Eldredge Aug 6 '18 at 18:26
  • of course a phone call interrupts you. that is the point. the objective is to interrupt you. – user96140 Aug 6 '18 at 18:48
  • Be sure to be concrete. Requests for "some advice" are difficult to handle. – Keelan Aug 6 '18 at 20:50
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Yes, it's fine. High energy theory is a casual, non-hierarchical, small field of ~2,000 people. If you lived in a town of 2,000 people, you shouldn't be afraid of talking to anyone in it, even the mayor. Here that goes doubly so, as they're only a few years older than you and went to the same school.

As an undergraduate I cold emailed plenty of full professors; some of my friends preferred directly knocking on their doors. The best physicist I know started doing this in high school. I never got any negative feedback, besides occasional admonishment to call them by their first name rather than by their title. In the long run, excessive deference to perceived status will hurt you more than any email ever could.

  • "small field of ~2,000 people" This is true in large fields with many people too. – Anonymous Physicist Aug 6 '18 at 23:02
  • @AnonymousPhysicist I think some really big ones can be more hierarchical, but I’m going on second hand information there. – knzhou Aug 6 '18 at 23:04
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I don't think there is any reason not to do it. Just introduce yourself and say what you'd like to know and why. If he's too busy he might not respond back with much but I don't see any problem. Of course, one of your professors probably knows him better and can give you good advice on this.

  • yes, the real path forward here is to find the mutual acquaintance and have her make the introduction. – user96140 Aug 6 '18 at 19:32

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