I am applying to do a master's thesis at a German research institute. The institute's website encourages applicants to contact the researchers directly (and does not give more information about the application process). I have been wondering whether initiating this contact over phone could be a way to make a strong first impression, and would make it less likely that my subsequent application mail will disappear in their inbox. The goal of the phone call would be to ask whether their group has an open spot for a master's student etc. On the other hand, I am worried I would be breaking some social code by making such direct contact with someone 'higher up in the hierarchy', or that they would think I am wasting their time by calling in person.

So, my question is: Would it be appropriate to phone a researcher/academic with such inquiries?

I realize this will depend on the person being called, but I think it is still possible to answer whether this is generally acceptable within cultural norms.

Note: Many, but not all, of the researchers list a phone number on the institute's homepage.

  • I'm in the US, not Germany, but would recommend against it for first contact. A phone call leaves no record, but email or physical mail does.
    – Buffy
    Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 20:07
  • Modern etiquette expects that a phone call be agreed upon by email, especially if you do not know the person you are calling well. You can then fix a mutually agreeable time. Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 20:27
  • 1
    A hint is whether the person lists the phone number on their website (especially if the website does not appear to come from an automatically generated system). I know some researchers who even give instructions on the intended use of their phone number on their websites. Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 12:48

1 Answer 1


I don't appreciate being called; it imposes your time schedule on me. Others differ. However, I suspect that email is your safest bet.

The practical problem is that many universities in Germany have been closed due to COVID-19, and the numbers listed will be the work numbers. Either you are calling an empty office, or your call is forwarded to the persons home adress, which may not be what you want.

@MassimoOrtolano makes a good point in emphasizing the unannounced part of a phone call. You could sent an email to make an appointment. I would be fine with that.

  • 2
    Yep, I absolutely hate receiving unannounced phone calls. Moreover, between meetings, teaching and lab activity, I and many people alike are virtually unreachable by phone without an appointment. So, yes, better avoid a phone call. Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 20:15

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