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This question is quite premature for the current state of my studies, but I already have a few people in mind to which this question applies.

In Academia, would it be considered normal to approach a researcher you respect (who's work has great personal value or interest to you) and suggest that you would be interested in assisting with their future research efforts? In this case, I'm speaking less about full collaboration/co-authorship, and more about being willing to assist with the 'grunt work' of a given research project, purely out of interest in the subject matter.

Would this be construed as insulting to the researcher?

Is this sort of offer commonplace?

Is there an expectation of credential equality in this situation? For example, would it be inappropriate for an Undergraduate student to make such an offer to a PhD?

  • Welcome to Academia.SE. Have you checked out the cother collaboration questions? There are a lot of good collaboration posts already here. Perhaps this one will be helpful academia.stackexchange.com/questions/2707/… – Ben Norris Dec 16 '13 at 19:02
  • @BenNorris - Thanks! I did check out a lot of the collaboration questions, including the one you pointed out :) I was thinking that, perhaps, my specific question was distinct enough that it may have a different answer, in that it concerns less of an equal-footed official academic collaboration, and more of a personal academic interest. Perhaps I'm overthinking the difference between the two situations? – darkside Dec 16 '13 at 19:19
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To show interest is never wrong so from that point, I think such an approach would be fair. What complicates the issue is the picture of prerequisites. When you approach someone, does not matter at what level, you need to show how you can be of interest. What that entails is showing you have the background (courses and scientific literature) that allows you to be efficient help. I think this is where the plan is most likely to fail because the recipient of the request will not likely be interested in taking on help that needs much coaching to function. If your request is within the department where you study, matters might be easier but if you contact someone in another university of perhaps even department the difficulties may arise.

So, I cannot see anyone being offended by a request such as this. The problem lies in seeing how you can fit in and be a contributor without to much costs (in terms of e.g. time) for the researcher or research group. However, a personal visit is far more likely to lead somewhere than a letter or E-mail.

Requests such as these are not uncommon but in my experience have most often been very uninteresting. Again, some have visited which has provided a very good possibility to assess the common interests and in what way a possible "collaboration" would work.

As for the last question, I cannot see a problem except that a PhD student may not be in a position to bring in an external person into a project that in essence is run by their advisor. A PhD student, on the other hand, may be a good way into a research group since they may be open to a meeting more readily than a busy project leader.

So, showing interest is good but you need to be able to show clearly what you bring to the table to wet the appetite of the person you target.

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