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I am starting my Ph.D. and am interested in a specific field of research which seems quite promising for the next years. Now, my masters supervisor does not work in this field, nor anyone in the department, and it seems in the country.

Nonetheless, he is interested and suggested me to find an expert in the field from another country to collaborate and said he would sign a recommendation letter1. In the better scenario this would be a formal co-supervision, but not a requirement.

So, I sent an email to such an expert (in fact it seems one of the researches who started the field) with my masters thesis attached as well as the recommendation letter. After a week unfortunately I didn't get any response.

I asked my masters supervisor and he suggested me to reply the email resending it, because he said that usually there is an answer. He also told me to add one line asking if someone else could be suggested.

I've sent the message last week and no answer as well up to now.

To be honest I'm confused. I mean, the thesis has been quite complimented by a very famous researcher in my country who integrated the examination board. The recommendation letter speaks quite well about my work. Finally my university seems to be respected internationally. With all this, I thought at least a no as answer I would get.

Perhaps the only point is that I have not worked in that field in my masters, but that was because no one in the country knew it.

Now, is this lack of response, in the timespan I told about, effectively a no, totally dismissing the possibility, and so should I already disconsider it? Or a no would be really be said explicitly? Should I wait more before looking for some other possibility?

Edit: In trying to make the question more concise and to the point (whether or not one could expect an answer in the timespan of more or less 10 days) I left out a detail. The email was focused on asking for a collaboration. Of course, formal co-supervision would be better, but it is not required, and we briefly mentioned it. So the email was entirely focused on collaboration. The scholarship pays for just a collaboration also, where the PhD student spends one year working on the group of another researcher.


1. I don't know how things are done in other places, but here it is possible to establish a collaboration with a researcher from anywhere, including other country, and have it all paid by the scholarship if you need to stay a certain time working there with him. This may or may not be a formal co-supervision, so that the researcher has the option to not sign if he cannot.

  • Is it still summer break in your location / the other supervisor's location? – Azor Ahai Aug 24 at 18:59
  • In the UK at least, supervising students at a Uni other than your own is frowned upon internally. Some pretty much don't allow it. You say you have scholarship to pay for "time working there", but what about the time it takes him to review your work, answer your emails, and have skype or whatever meetings with you? You aren't paying fees at his Uni so, essentially, the Uni would be giving you his time for free, time that could be spent with one of their students. – GrotesqueSI Aug 24 at 20:17
  • I didn't mean that to sound harsh, rather to put into perspective why you maybe getting no answer. If you are asking him to do something that isn't his job and to do it for free, his Uni administration isn't going to agree to it. – GrotesqueSI Aug 24 at 20:18
  • @AzorAhai, I had not taken that into consideration. Indeed after looking up a bit it seems that at the possible co-supervisor location is indeed summer break right now (it is not here). – user1620696 Aug 24 at 20:52
  • @user1620696 Then I would suggest not emailing again until a few weeks into the new quarter, to allow them to get settled. – Azor Ahai Aug 25 at 16:06
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Your time scale seems too short for me. Patience might be a virtue here. But sending the thesis and the request at the same time is probably a pretty heavy load to drop on a person.

Ask your advisor to follow up with a request and a recommendation. It might be more successful coming from them than from you.

But in general, making a request and offering to show related work in the initial request might be more successful than just sending it all at once. Some people get a lot of these requests and have learned to ignore them.

  • Hi @Buffy, thanks for the answer. So you think that perhaps some days from now, if I get no reply my advisor sending a request and a recommendation directly (he was copied in the messages I sent) would be ok? I just don't want to be discourteous, that's why I'm asking to be sure. – user1620696 Aug 24 at 22:02
  • Like I said, if the next communication is from your advisor it would be more likely to meet with success. But there are no guarantees in such things. People have their own responsibilities, of course. – Buffy Aug 24 at 22:07
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  1. I would never answer an email from a student suggesting I co-supervise him with someone I do not know. At the very least the email should be from the supervisor.
  2. I would never co-supervise with someone unknowledgeable in my field.
  3. My university does not allow co-supervision by people who are not at least adjunct to the core unit of the program.
  4. I would never accept remote co-supervision in a unit where I do not know the supervisor and in which I do not have some sort of appointment at least at the adjunct level.
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    about the first point, it was my masters supervisor who told me to do it like that - send the message with copy to masters supervisor. Just saying that because I didn't know this was discourteous nor did I want to be discourteous. About the bureaucratic aspects of co-supervision, what we really asked for was a collaboration (I've edited the question to make this clear, it was my fault that the OP wasn't clear about it, so I apologize). A formal co-supervision is not required if there are bureaucratic issues. – user1620696 Aug 25 at 15:24
  • I think you're not seeing the whole picture here. You need to get your current supervisor to initiate any potential co-supervision. As you have explained it, the odds of getting an answer are next to nil: why would an expert in a field take on remote supervision or co-supervision with an unknown professor of an unknown student with no background in this area? Your current supervisor is the person that needs to make the case, not you. – ZeroTheHero Aug 25 at 17:03
  • "I would never answer an email from a student" -- You have explained well why you can't supervise the student, and I agree with most of your reasons. However you failed to explain why you wouldn't answer the email stating these reasons briefly. – Dilworth Aug 25 at 21:16
  • @Dilworth frankly: on what grounds should I respond? I'm sorry to say that the process described by the OP is prima faciae suspicious, and honestly I don't know of anyone who would answer such emails (although of course I concede this does not mean some would not, just that those people I know would not.) – ZeroTheHero Aug 25 at 21:47
  • I am not justifying the lack of response @Dilworth, I am increasing the context and proposing possible complexities that would take time to decipher even if the professor is keen. If he is unaware of the rules around having a student for a year for free, he might send an email to the graduate school and they might take a couple of weeks to formulate a response? If he was confused about the level of supervision and the nature of the collaboration, he might be taking time to discuss with a colleague or contacts from that country. I suspect your answer of ghosting is more likely though... – Poidah Aug 25 at 21:48
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told me to add one line asking if someone else could be suggested

I would like to take a different perspective and reframe the issue as an issue about networking and also about investigating the networks present in a narrow field of endeavour.

If the field is so narrow and there is only one recognized expert in the field, ie. the person you emailed, then you have to appreciate how difficult it is for him to engage and represent such a narrow field. He would be working extensively and focused on growing the knowledge of his field rather than expanding his networks. So investigating his networks for other co-supervision would be worthwhile. What conferences has he presented in, what are the other sessions and authors in that area? Who are his collaborators? His co-authors on papers, what skill-sets or areas that make his work interesting?

There may also be institutional barriers or other structural barriers that would make co-supervision difficult that you may not have appreciated. Does his institution allow international co-supervision? Is this acknowledged in his institution? As ZeroTheHero said, most institutions require a lot of paperwork and approval before co-supervision is permitted. What are the rules around co-supervision for your institution? What are the administrative demands and expectations? Has international co-supervision been done before? What will the impact of timezone differences be? All these issues are important barriers to co-supervision that will take him a lot of time to figure out even before he emails you.

Lastly, have you thought of collaboration instead? This may be more reasonable as the administrative burden is far less and you are able to do all the work with your current supervisor. Have you also thought instead of potentially doing your postdoc with him instead? All these options are far less "heavy" as Buffy as said.

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    about your first point, that is the reason we asked him in the email about colleagues. About the second point there was a poor choice of words in my question because I've tried to make it concise, so probably I shall edit it. We proposed collaboration. It was just a single line that said "well if you could co-supervise that would much better, but that's not needed*. The scholarship pays for a PhD student to stay one year working in the group of another researcher just in a collaboration, without requirement of signing a co-supervision. – user1620696 Aug 25 at 15:13
  • Thanks for clarifying. That scholarship configuration is not common, so that is a very important distinction. A free year of collaboration with your scholarship though a great opportunity might entail a lot of coordination and be quite administratively time-consuming, so clarification with the other institution may be worthwhile. Some universities will still expect fees etc even if it is just free sponsored labor. – Poidah Aug 25 at 15:48
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    "then you have to appreciate how difficult it is for him to engage and represent such a narrow field." -- I don't appreciate people who has legitimate reasons to turn down a suggestion, as you've justly explained, but choose instead of articulating briefly these reasons, simply to ignore in a rude manner scholars who send them messages. – Dilworth Aug 25 at 21:07
  • Thanks @Dilworth. I guess I am saying the prof may not be ignoring but working hard to get an answer and possible reason why he could be investigating viability before answering. I am trying to be optimistic. Sometimes being positive and emailing even you are being ghosted may still allow for possible collaboration in the future. If he goes nuclear and express the very reasonable hostility, he may burn bridges permanently and not be give the prof a way out later on. But my feeling is that academic ghosting is happening as you suggested. – Poidah Aug 26 at 0:29
  • Certainly, the OP should not become hostile. It is good to be optimistic, but I find the odds that your explanation holds very small. There is only a negligible chance that the professor "is working hard to get an answer". It is more probable that the professor has decided to ignore the OP, and haven't thought about it more than five seconds. The OP needs to send another gentle email, or ask his advisor to do that. – Dilworth Aug 26 at 12:21
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First, we cannot know the precise answer obviously. In theory, the professor may have his/her own reasons for not answering. But using some common sense my answer is that it is highly probable that the answer to your question is "Yes! The professor is declining a cooperation".

Unfortunately, it is very common for academics nowadays to simply not answer emails. I find this behavior rude and unacceptable, unless the emails are spams, or the said academic simply receives thousands of emails each day in case he/she is a well known public figure. But in most cases, academics can and should answer reasonable informative questions, like yours, and they choose not to, simply because they can.

I call this unprofessional behavior "academic ghosting!".

The reason why, probably, the professor has chosen to ignore you is most probably this: he/she does not know you, and does not find your suggestion attractive enough for them, or risk free enough (that is, they don't know if your are a serious enough researcher, etc.). If you are talking about cooperation with you staying in your current university, then the professor does not view this as an attractive deal for him/her, due to many administrative and other reasons.

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I would suggest emailing with multiple people at once for practicality. People can take a lot of time to respond or simply do not respond. Couple reasons might be,

  • They might be on holiday (I have seen academics who do not even check their mails in vacation)
  • It might be ignored
  • It might get tagged for spam
  • The recieving end might be talking their time to consider

I had similar issues when I was trying to find speakers for certain events. I might be practical to add a time limit. Something along the lines of "if you could reply within a week it would be really helpful".

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    If I got a "reply within a week" from a student asking me for a favour like this, it would rub me the wrong way for sure. Even considering accepting a PhD student at another university as an advisee takes much longer than a week. The admin involved alone... – GrotesqueSI Aug 24 at 20:12
  • @GrotesqueSI I was refering to "reply" as a literal reply. Not as an answer. Something along the lines, "I will consider this by X date" would be a reply. – Boaty Mcboatface Aug 24 at 20:44
  • I have seen academics who do not even check their mails in vacation ... a bit of an odd phrasing here. People should not be expected to check email on vacation. – Azor Ahai Aug 24 at 22:29
  • @AzorAhai I don't know anyone who completely disconnects from their email on vacation. So those that do would be pretty unusual around here. Certainly people may not want to think much about work or deal with non-emergency administrative issues or prospective students. – A Simple Algorithm Aug 25 at 16:12
  • Agree with @GrotesqueSI, you cannot say this in an email. The professor should simply reply. Some professor choose not to. This is an unprofessional behavior and I would also think twice before engaging in cooperation with a professor who does not have the dignity to reply to simple emails like this. – Dilworth Aug 25 at 21:10

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