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For an early career researcher in physics or science in general, is it a good idea to send a "thank you" email to other authors who cited one of the researcher's papers? Will this be perceived in a positive way and even start a possible collaboration, or it will be cheesy?

Notice that in physics, where people post online versions of papers before publications (on the arXiv), it is very common (sometimes annoying) to receive or send letter to request citations to your own paper when one finds a similar/related but yet unpublished work.

This question obviously applies only to early career researchers who receive few citations per week.

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    what are you trying to achieve by that email? – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Jun 6 at 16:57
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    @aaaaasaysreinstateMonica Maybe to establish a collaboration or just a scientific exchange of ideas. – sintetico Jun 7 at 7:01
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    these are great goals! i would just write that in the email. Maybe just "i've noticed you cited our work, we have potential collab project / i wanna know what you think about X" – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Jun 7 at 17:25
  • @sintetico I don't really understand your criteria for accepting the other answer. You have asked a very specific question and the other answer is beyond topic. – Herman Toothrot Jun 8 at 11:44
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    It's always fine to write an email about their work, even if just to congratulate them on an interesting result. It's even better if you have an insightful comment or a question or a correction, but I don't think it's wrong to write a short note that just says "Hey! I saw your paper and it looks very interesting, well done!". Then you can close by remarking that you're happy your paper contributed to the new development that they achieved (which is presumably the case, since they cited you). – Jakub Konieczny Jun 8 at 11:51
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No, because citation is a matter of transparency to scholarship generally...

No, one does not "thank" someone for citing one's paper. An academic author is obliged to cite a paper when he/she is either placing reliance on or referring to its ideas, content, or argument. An academic author does not cite a paper simply because he/she wants to promote its author. To "thank" such an author would be an insult, in that it undermines the principle of separating the work from the person.

Decisions on whether to cite something should be independent of personal sentiment. Authors often cite work with which they disagree, sometimes profoundly. Sometimes, an author will find himself/herself having to cite material with he/she finds repulsive, especially in disciplines such as history or sociology (e.g.: a scholar writing about Nazi Germany and/or the history of racism may have to cite Mein Kampf -- do you think this scholar would want to be "thanked" by neo-Nazis or eugenicists? On the contrary, if such a scholar were "thanked" by such groups, he/she would probably be worried that he/she had somehow endorsed racist ideology).

...but you can still contact the author if you have something to say

One can, nonetheless, still make contact with authors who cite one's work. The purpose of such contact, however, should be to discuss the ideas, and not to imply any sense of personal debt/obligation (citations are an obligation to the academic community at large, not to the individual being cited). Appropriate examples include (but are not limited to):

  • clarifying any misunderstandings;
  • responding to criticism or counterarguments;
  • asking for further details of each other's methodology/research/data;
  • expressing an interest in or willingness to collaborate; and
  • any other reasonable request/proposal that furthers scholarship.
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    "To "thank" such an author would be an insult" Not true. – Anonymous Physicist Jun 7 at 23:21
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    "principle of separating the work from the person." This "principle" doesn't make sense. – Anonymous Physicist Jun 7 at 23:22
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    "Decisions on whether to cite something should be independent of personal sentiment." True, but irrelevant to the question. – Anonymous Physicist Jun 7 at 23:23
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    I believe that separating the person from the work is a principle and it makes a lot of sense @AnonymousPhysicist. Anyway +1 for expressing an interest in or willingness to collaborate – BlueElephant Jun 8 at 13:47
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Straight answer: NO it's not a good idea

Citing someone is (and should) be neither a favor nor a gesture of politeness. So there's no point to send a thank you email. Thanking someone for a citation seems a way to beg for something. If you want to collaborate send an email explaining why you want to collaborate, or mention that you have read their paper when you meet the author/s. Take pride that someone more senior or expert has cited your work and move on.

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    "neither a favor nor a gesture of politeness" This is not generally true. – Anonymous Physicist Jun 6 at 9:24
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    @AnonymousPhysicist, it may not be 100% true, but it is certainly generally true. I have never seen any citation that seem to me like politeness or a gesture of any sort. – Dilworth Jun 6 at 13:07
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    @Anonymous Physicist it should be true, though. – henning -- reinstate Monica Jun 6 at 13:57
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    I would think it was really weird if somebody sent me a thank you for citing their paper. Really weird. – Jon Custer Jun 6 at 15:08
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    I've received such an email. My first reaction was to wonder why this person was thanking me; if I build on your research, then I have to cite it. My second reaction was to wonder whether perhaps other people had used but not cited this person's research. In that situation, my citing it would not have seemed so automatic and could have seemed worth a thank-you email. – Andreas Blass Jun 6 at 18:17
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No, it's probably not a good idea because they used your paper cited it like they should, so just leave it at that. If you want to do a partnership, then do contact them, but just not for a thank you note.

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I wouldn't do it if the citation is incidental to the main results of the paper. It's not a bad idea to send them an email if you notice that your work played a key role in their study. In that case you wouldn't be thanking them for a citation per se but rather you would be establishing a relationship with someone who has benefited from your ideas and perhaps extended them further in a direction that will be useful to you as well.

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If you want to thank the author(s) who cited you i can see one appropriate circumstance to do so.

You can thank them for pushing your contribution to the topic further or addressing new points of view you were not thinking of. But even this would be somewhat weird for the recipient.

If you want to "just estabilish a collaboration or exchange of ideas" simply ask for that. Directly. No babble around with sweet words. There is also a chance you can meet them at conference, you can approach them there.

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Such a message would have no effect. Sending one would be a neutral act.

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    I generally consider receiving an email to be a negative thing. Unless the contents of the email is fairly valuable to me, I continue to consider it as a negative - I don’t think email is neutral by default. – Tim Jun 6 at 23:36
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    I would interpret such an email as odd, which is on the wrong side of neutral. – Scott Seidman Jun 7 at 1:41
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    @AnonymousPhysicist I’d have nothing against the person, so I don’t see how it’s petty, but yes, I consider receiving email to be a negative activity. – Tim Jun 7 at 9:27
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    @AnonymousPhysicist Please refrain from insulting other users. – user76284 Jun 7 at 18:52
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    @user76284 Unfortunately I cannot think of a milder description of many of the remarks on this page than "petty" which is not an incorrect description. – Anonymous Physicist Jun 7 at 23:21

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