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I attended a networking event and met a distinguished professor at another major university. I am studying to attend graduate school for one of the Ph.D's that the university actually offers, and the professor would like to meet to me about admissions and research. I have been in an undergraduate lab with one of my professors for almost a year now at my university. I want to be respectful and talk about the research I am doing with my professor, but want to ask them first if it is okay to share our purpose. I know some professors in the past do not encourage their undergraduate research assistants to talk about their work until publication. My professor will not be on campus this week but will be checking their email. I would like to get back to the professor I met soon to set up a meeting time in their office and discuss so does anyone have any advice or a sample emaiL I can follow asking my professor if it is okay to share the work we do in the lab?

Thank you very much.

  • Why does your professor not want you to talk about the content of your research until publication? That is an odd attitude, but maybe I'm missing something. as far as I know, there's no general attitude as such. – Azor Ahai Nov 6 '18 at 19:40
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First, I think you should assume that it is ok to talk to a potential future advisor. No one should forbid you to do this. But you can ask your current advisor if there are elements that should be held back "for now." If there are strong reservations, ask for advice on how answers to questions on the research should be stated. Those questions will come, of course.

One way to deflect questions that you are not comfortable answering is to refer the questioner to your professor for details.

Some things might be sensitive, such as incomplete results or innovative methodology, but it is more likely that the details of such things, rather than their mere existence, that might need to be held in confidence at the current time.

You can set up the meeting with the potential future advisor without hearing back, but keep your own advisor informed about the meeting.

You need to keep two people happy and their interests are a bit different, though not necessarily at odds. But don't neglect your own interest here.

You have a right to advance your own career, of course.

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I know some professors in the past do not encourage their undergraduate research assistants to talk about their work until publication.

I depends on who you're taking to. Doing public media interviews about results that have not been peer-reviewed is usually considered a bad idea, but talking about the research to other academics inside the university system is not usually considered to be a problem. Unless there is some good reason to the contrary, it is usual for researchers at different institutions to be able to talk freely about their research (even prior to peer review and publication) and this usually comes with the implicit norm that the people you talk to keep your research findings confidential prior to you publishing them. For applications for a PhD program it would be usual that you would talk about your present research.

...for one of the Ph.D's that the university actually offers...

Another thing to do if you are emailing distinguished professors is to learn the proper use of apostrophes.

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