I am a non-student/private citizen and I am eager to meet with professors at universities in my area so I can ask these professors a particular question about a particular subject matter. I want to ask them the same question to see if they all will give me the same answer. Based on their answers, I will then decide whether or not to pursue writing an article to be published which relates to this particular subject matter.

I have sent emails to six local universities requesting a meeting with a professor in this particular area of study and so far I have only received one e-mail reply. In that one email reply, the professor suggested that I meet instead with one of their graduate students because his consultation fee is very high. I am still waiting for the professor to provide me with the names of these grad students.

I have decided to wait at least a week before sending follow-up e-mails, or perhaps calling them directly to ask for an appointment, because I realize that professors are busy people.

This experience with trying to communicate with college professors makes me wonder if professors, in general, like answering questions from non-students/private citizens. Is it safe to say that professors, in general, would prefer that non-students/private citizens seek answers from subject matter experts in the private sector?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Solar Mike, Brian Borchers, D.W., user3209815, Richard Erickson Aug 1 at 10:21

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Seems heavily linked to academia.stackexchange.com/q/133956/72855 – Solar Mike Jul 31 at 21:26
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    Yes, I thought it was... – Solar Mike Jul 31 at 22:23
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    "because his consultation fee is very high" --- Clearly this isn't pure mathematics! – Dave L Renfro Aug 1 at 14:36
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    @DaveLRenfro or, the professor really does not want to meet with the OP. I have known Professors who vase consultation fee based upon their desire to work with the client. – Richard Erickson Aug 1 at 15:42
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    Who are people who are not private citizens? – user2705196 Aug 1 at 22:03

As in general, people are typically happy to be asked to exercise/express their expertise on the things they've worked their whole lives to understand.

But/and the most expert people are very busy, working on moving forward in that.

So their time is very valuable.

So an email response is much preferred, typically. The email back-and-forth, to arrange a physical meeting, is not preferred...

And if I, for one, found out that my opinion as a professional whatever was just supposed to be one vote out of some larger number... for the potentially misguided project of an amateur... I'd most likely not agree to spend the time. It's disrespectful, whatever you feel about that, for non-experts to think that the time of experts is at their disposal in this way, for free, etc. Be serious.

Many academics are kind and generous, but like to have just a token of respect and appreciation (rather than big bucks).

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    +1, particularly for the penultimate paragraph – cag51 Jul 31 at 23:59
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    @paul garrett, in each of the e-mails that I sent to these professors I told them that I would pay them a consultation fee and I did not request for a meeting on a particular date or time, I was leaving that decision up to them. I also told them that I would only need about 15 minutes of their time. I have the upmost respect for those in academia and its unfortunate that you think that I am being disrespectful. – user111325 Aug 1 at 1:51
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    @HRIATEXP I actually work as a consultant (free-lancer) on the side to pay the bills as I start academia. Its not "you" are disrespectful its those types of emails are disrespectful (even the ones that offer to pay, I get these too and the numbers are low compared to my standard rates). – LinkBerest Aug 1 at 6:13
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    @HRIATEXP, re "I also told them that I would only need about 15 minutes of their time." Experience quickly teaches that other people's estimates of how long it will take you to answer a question are rarely accurate. – Peter Taylor Aug 1 at 6:43
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    First, you do not request meetings. You should kindly ask for a moment of their valuable time. Second, be prepared to share your research design upfront including a description of what questions you are trying to answer, how are you going to analyze the data and how you handle participants privacy. If your research idea is interesting and design solid, there is a good chance to get access to actual peope. – Eriks Klotins Aug 1 at 9:11

Most researchers I know - including myself - are happy to discuss honest questions from the public. What most researchers do not particularly like, is to be part of a session where the asker either has a hidden agenda (why don't you just ask your question in an email?) or does not put any value to the time put into doing such sessions (do you really need to ask multiple professors? To me, that approach would put you directly in the spam category).

I would suggest that you simply write the question directly to the professor suggesting you to meet up with the grad student, and possibly ask him/her to forward it.

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    @HRIATEXP Even that seems pretty rude to me. You can maybe ask one person. Don't turn this into a test or survey. Don't waste the time of 4 different people. – Bryan Krause Aug 1 at 0:24
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    @BryanKrause, this is an eye opener for me. I had no idea that it is considered to be disrespectful to seek an answer/opinion to a particular inquiry from more than one professor. At this point, I have decided to give up on the whole matter and will instead only seek answers from subject matter experts working in the private sector. – user111325 Aug 1 at 1:59
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    @HRIATEXP again, I still work in industry and I can assure you private emails offering to pay me for my opinion on subject X are all deleted as spam because they tend to be spam. All my consulting contracts started with an email from an official business address versus the hundreds of "head-hunter" or "research needed on subject 83728 for $xxxxx.xx dollars an hour" a week from gmail or other private accts which never even make it past my spam filter. In academia, we like our research and are not only in it for the money so might answer - in industry: consult only after agreement is signed. – LinkBerest Aug 1 at 6:21
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    There is really no need to try and play clever tricks here. Write down the question the best you can, and send it as a polite request to the person you've had the best interaction with previously. Don't mention consulting fees. Don't solicit the opinion of several. Don't mention private sector or other grievances. Just this. – nabla Aug 1 at 19:55
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    @nabla : Don't accuse him of something ulterior when it seems and I empathize with that he likely genuinely does not know. This issue touches very closely on something I have been going through personally right now, to much grief, and I take this thread and everything said in it EXTREMELY seriously as a result. Heck, even, wanting to "spam" things could very well be the result of a long, LONG build-up process of frustration with not really knowing what the GENUINELY "right" way is. – The_Sympathizer Aug 3 at 7:41

STOP. If you have an agenda (such as asking and comparing answers) this will be rapidly known, especially if you limit yourself to a single university.

Please read a lot of relevant literature before contacting anyone: if you are not current with the literature chances are your meetings will be very short and you will be ignored as yet another crackpot amateur. Bear in mind that your chances of successfully publishing as a non-student/private citizen are extremely small.

Note: Unfortunately every so often I meet someone with an alternate method to solve a question for which the current paradigm works perfectly well. There’s no harm in this of course, but the method fails at any other problem except the original. In all cases I can remember the author had not done proper prior research and did not realize how much the current paradigm explained, and how little this new approach did beyond the initial problem. Often non-specialist fail to appreciate the level of professionalism required to perform at the research level in any field.

As a result, most non-specialists are dismissed simply because of poor background preparation. All crackpots fall in this category but not all in this category are crackpots so it is incumbent on the non-specialist to be well prepared.

  • if you only knew the particular question that I was planning to ask these professors I think you would agree that it was wise for me to try to get multiple opinions before putting my question and the answer to it out on the public domain, which I plan to do in the near future. Time will tell. – user111325 Aug 1 at 2:05
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    @HRIATEXP With due respect your comment does not inspire confidence and is in like with what crackpots say; please be more forthcoming with people you contact. – ZeroTheHero Aug 1 at 12:42
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    @HRIATEXP We've never met and it's not for me to decide on the merit of your idea without having additional details so please take my comment to be friendly and simply meant to lower your expectations: from the information available here, you are likely to be ignored as a crackpot simply on the basis of probabilities. Overcoming this perception will be a serious challenge unless you can display some mastery of the topic by understanding relevant recent papers and reviews on the topic. Unfortunately simply having a "scientific epiphany" is not enough. – ZeroTheHero Aug 1 at 15:23
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    @HRIATEXP Cranks are not necessarily conspiracy theorists; they almost certainly don't self identify as one. "I consider myself to be a very sound-minded, rational, and analytical individual who has experienced an 'scientific epiphany'" - this is the sort of sentence a crank utters and is exactly what you would find if you followed Dave's advice. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crank_(person) – Bryan Krause Aug 1 at 15:24
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    @HRIATEXP No, they consider amateurs who claim they have solved an open problem without any background to be cranks until they demonstrate otherwise. I think people that fall into that category don't recognize how common they are. Here's an example of the effort it takes: cnn.com/2019/07/27/health/doug-lindsay-invented-surgery-trnd/… Most amateur scientists want to learn to be professional scientists: academics deal with them all the time, they are called students, and they only have to prove they are interested, capable, and willing to learn. – Bryan Krause Aug 1 at 15:46

Call them and ask the question. It is much easier to get 5-10 minutes informally with someone on the phone than expecting them to write a well worded e-mail. If your question takes more than 10 minutes to answer you really should compensate them in one way or another.

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    Do not under any circumstances call them uninvited. – Maeher Aug 1 at 15:02
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    @Maeher I have called several professors and similar and asked them politely if they have time for a question. Most of the time they have been very helpful. Never have they been hostile. Sometimes they have said "I only have a couple of minutes". – d-b Aug 1 at 21:10
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    @d-b Obviously most people are polite. That doesn't in any way imply that they were happy about you calling them. – Maeher Aug 2 at 5:49
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    @Maeher : How then is he supposed to know what their actual feelings are? – The_Sympathizer Aug 3 at 8:28
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    @Maeher I reckon this is adults and they are capable of denying a request they don't have time for. This is no different than calling a neighbour or acquaintance and ask them for a quick favour. – d-b Aug 3 at 13:43