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I think I made a dire mistake a few days ago. I asked a potential PI for their CV (I wanted to get a full record of their credentials along with the information I could find about him on Google Scholar and his website), but I was met with a curt response telling me I should look at his website and papers. I felt really, really bad after that. I sent him an apology e-mail, saying I meant no disrespect, and will look at the materials he suggested.

For context, I am trying to decide between two reputable graduate schools for an EE PhD, and I am interested in a particular person at both. One guy had his CV publicly available, while the other did not (the one I may have offended). I naively thought I could ask for a CV since I've seen professors post theirs. I thought this could help me decide.

I'm going to wait a few more days to make a decision because I don't want it to seem like I intentionally provoked him to make it easier for me to pick an option.

Does the guy despise me now? I'll be seeing him in the next few years (these particular people know each other and work together, and go to the same conferences). Is there any way to undo any damage I might have caused to his impression of me?

Edit: Thank you everyone for your input. I will try not to make this mistake in the future.

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    It's an unusual request for sure but I don't think you'd want to work with someone who'd despise you for it (I don't think he does). You certainly shouldn't keep reminding him of it. Focus on other questions and pretend you never asked this one.
    – Roland
    Apr 8, 2019 at 14:11
  • Did you know this person at all before emailing them? Apr 8, 2019 at 16:48
  • Yes, I did. I've maintained intermittent correspondence with him for a few months, and even met with him in person when I visited his grad school. Still, the fault is really on me for not digging into his publicly available information. Apr 8, 2019 at 19:35

4 Answers 4

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It would be a strange person who starts “despising” someone for making an innocuous social faux pas. In novels one reads about such people, but real life people are, by and large, more reasonable.

I can only speculate, but I suspect the professor was mildly annoyed and/or amused by your request, told about it as a funny anecdote to his spouse later that day, and has by now forgotten all about it. The fact that he bothered to answer your email, and that the reply was polite, even if curt, suggests that he wasn’t terribly offended.

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    @martychoke yes, I understand the mortification, but it’s probably not as big of a deal as you imagine. By the way, I disagree with lordy’s answer about whether it’s ok to ask a professor for a cv. It’s not an appropriate request, regardless of how it’s phrased. It comes across as spammy and presumptuous (even the same request coming from another professor, unless they included a good reason why they need it). I also think this is true in a more general workplace context outside of academia. You don’t usually ask someone to send you their cv unless you are thinking of offering them a job.
    – Dan Romik
    Apr 8, 2019 at 14:43
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    Not just a "strange person", but probably one you really really don't want to choose as an advisor...
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 8, 2019 at 14:52
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    I'm confused about why asking for a CV is a faux pas, since presumably it isn't private information and it contains much more than just a pub list. And I'm sure the student would be expected to provide a CV if the professor wanted it. Is the issue here the power/status differential between professor and student? It's not true that the only use for a CV is job applications. Apr 8, 2019 at 16:49
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    @ElizabethHenning if your premise is that it is a “legit request”, then there‘s no reason to be offended. But I don’t see your basis for assuming this premise. Just because the student is making a high stake decision doesn’t mean they can ask for any information about the professor they‘ll be working with. E.g., is asking for the professor’s tax returns a legit request? What would be more reasonable is if the student emailed to ask for specific details they need, and explain why those are important to them. As I said, people can be touchy about their CVs, hence it is not quite “legit”.
    – Dan Romik
    Apr 8, 2019 at 18:56
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    @DanRomik The student is thinking of offering the professor a job: Advisor!
    – JeffE
    Apr 9, 2019 at 5:12
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It is in principle ok to ask but the tone is very important. Something along the lines of:

I am very interested in your research and would like to know more about ... but on your webpage I could not find detailed information about ... would you be willing to send me your CV? This would really help me to get a better idea/picture of ... etc

If your email was friendly but the response was not then it might not be the right supervisor anyway. But if your email was something like "Hey, send me your CV" then I would not send you mine eigther and give an answer as above. And I have to say that many students write emails in quite rude tones and/or like in a facebook chat directly from their mobile phone and such emails are usually not very much appreciated by the receiving professors.

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  • Yeah I didn't communicate it properly. That's what I wanted to say but for some reason I omitted the "I could not find these information from your website/papers" in a moment of poor judgement. Would you think of me poorly for a while after making such a request, even after an apology? Apr 8, 2019 at 14:24
  • No, I would not - I do however think poorly of the 2 downvoters that do not even give a reason.
    – lordy
    Apr 8, 2019 at 20:09
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Well, it is unlikely that they despise you but it could certainly be seen as a major faux pas.

You see, asking for a CV has a hint of "convince me you are good enough for the role". And while it is true that this relationship affects the student a lot more than it does the professor, the power dynamic heavily favors professors/schools: it is students who are at the bottom of the ladder here. Not to mention most people (I believe) do not have an up-to-date CV ready at all times; I certainly do not. And asking to produce one might be quite a request.

The whole situation is a bit like coming to a store and saying "I'm not so sure, why don't you tell me why should I shop here". There is an expectation that you make this decision based on publicly available information and possibly ask more specific questions as needed. Sitting back expecting them to court you might make some owners/managers irritated or outright angry. It is unlikely the prospective advisor has reacted so strongly, and you still should be able to make amends, but this was out of line.

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    "a major faux pas" we are seeing the whole thing through OP question, in reality I think it was a very minor one, whatever the tone OP used in their email. Regarding the store analogy, well, it is equivalent to asking "why don't you show me your business and credit record", the CV has some degree of objectivity inside (unless it is fake, obviously :D ), of course it is up to CV's holder how to frame it ...
    – EarlGrey
    Apr 1 at 6:52
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I think this is an XY problem. I suspect what you want to know are things like:

  • What topics have you worked on and what papers have you and your group published?
  • Where have students and postdocs that have worked in your group ended up?
  • Do you have funding to take me on as a student?
  • Do you collaborate with other groups and if so which groups?
  • Can I talk to some of the students in your group?

These are totally reasonable questions, and you should feel free to ask them in a polite way.

There are a few issues with asking for a CV in your situation. The first is that the CV very likely contains much more information than you really want or need to know, such as

  • What are all the talks this person has given at conferences?
  • What are all the courses this person has taught?
  • How much funding was achieved in every successful grant proposal?
  • What is the list of every research visit this person has taken?
  • What is the name and current job title of every student this person has ever advised?

Given how much information is in the CV of a tenured professor, it is a choice whether the person makes it publicly available or not. If the person has chosen not to post it online, they might be worried that giving the document to anyone who asks could very well result in someone spreading the document around. Additionally, keeping a CV up-to-date is a lot of work, and they might not feel comfortable giving you an out-of-date document and not have the time to update it. Finally, there is generally an expectation as a PhD student that you will do due diligence to find information that is publicly available on your own. Sending a request for a CV subtly implies that you did not try to do any research on your own. On the other hand, explaining that you have a question about $X$ specific piece of information and could not find it shows that you have done your homework.

Having said that, I don't think this matters enough that you should be worried about what they think about you. If your advisor is a reasonable person, they don't expect you to know all the unspoken rules in academia as a starting grad student. Professors are busy people, and there just are not enough spare cycles for them to think about the social skills of a prospective PhD student. They gave you the information you needed, just thank them and move on.

I also don't think this on its own is enough of a data point that you should be worried about them. You should try to find out if you will be able to work with this person successfully. Talking to students in their group, finding out where past students have ended up, asking your current mentors what they know about this school/group/advisor, and reflecting on the tone of the other interactions you have had with this person are good ways to do that. But, I don't think the email you are describing is so far out of the norm that it indicates that they are an unreasonable advisor. It doesn't indicate they are a reasonable advisor either -- this is just too small of an interaction to mean much of anything, and so I would recommend moving on. Certainly, I would not recommend making the decision to go to one school vs another, based on this interaction alone.

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