Is there an etiquette when asking Potential Advisors about their future projects?

The reason I ask this is because a Potential Advisor informed me of a future grant that she is applying for, which would have research a topic I am fairly interested in. The advisor gave me a general outline, but she left out some important details that are important to me; my fear is that the advisor will think I am trying to steal the grant idea. Perhaps I am making too much of this?

  • 2
    Don't worry, your potential advisor's behavior is perfectly normal. Grant applications, especially not (yet) funded, are one of the most confidential documents in academia.
    – silvado
    Commented Aug 28, 2013 at 15:11

1 Answer 1


I think you can certainly ask (nicely) for some more details about her ideas and the research she proposed as part of the grant. Especially so if this is going to be something you end up working on, or close to your own projects. You are, after all, possibly going to work for her! I don't think she will think anything else than you having interest in her research, which is quite positive.

However, don't ask for the grant proposal (i.e. the written text) itself, as it could be seen as assuming. Ask the questions you have, and let her decide if she wants to reply or simply give you the document to read.

  • 7
    However, don't ask for the grant proposal (i.e. the written text) itself, as it could be seen as assuming — I disagree. If you want to see the grant proposal, you should ask to see the grant proposal, rather than playing mind games. Just ask politely, and be truly willing to take no for an answer.
    – JeffE
    Commented Aug 28, 2013 at 15:49
  • 4
    @JeffE I'm not suggesting “mind games”, just saying ask for what you need, but not more… I know some people who would react badly if asked by someone they only recently met. You wouldn't, but that's only anecdotal evidence (and we have to take your word for it :)
    – F'x
    Commented Aug 28, 2013 at 16:06
  • 4
    If a potential advisor reacts badly (as opposed to simply answering "no") to a straightforward question, walk away. You want another advisor. (You want one of my proposals? Just send me email.)
    – JeffE
    Commented Aug 28, 2013 at 16:08
  • I think one thing I failed to mention is that I am currently applying to these programs, I am not in these programs. In geosciences we tend to pick advisors before we enter the program, and that advisor chooses his/her student and advocates for you in front of the adcomm, so to speak. Does this make a difference? I am sort of this random student from the internet to this person.
    – Neo
    Commented Aug 28, 2013 at 18:43
  • 3
    @Neo, yes, your relationship to the potential advisor makes a difference. At this point you should focus on applying and getting admitted. Once you have been admitted, you can start to ask more detailed questions about the research program -- at that point the potential advisor will hopefully be eager to recruit you and that is the natural time to have a detailed conversation about the science.
    – D.W.
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 8:08

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .