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I am a graduate student in a US chemistry department and found a class (mechanical engineering) that would be somewhat helpful for my research but is out of my discipline. I'm not familiar with a lot of the methods used and so I was considering emailing the professor to see if it would be possible. Would this be ok to do?

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    Instead of asking the professor to see if it would be possible, I suggest asking for resources so that you can learn the prerequisites by yourself. This strategy is more likely to receive a positive answer and helps you prepare for the class.
    – shadow
    Sep 4, 2020 at 6:58

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I get multiple emails about this every year, so I certainly consider it normal. It's my impression that most faculty will.

Before you do that, see if the syllabus is available to you somewhere. That will show the professor that you did some due diligence on your own, and may even answer your questions. Also note whether or not the class has a firm prerequisite listed - if it does that may make this more challenging. If it does not then that suggests to me that you've got a better chance at success.

If you're still not comfortable asking, or the professor doesn't reply, you should be able to get help with this from your academic advisor. They may be able to secure the past syllabus for you also, so if you prefer that route it might suffice.

Another suggestion is to consider asking about auditing the class - if it's outside your department and isn't necessary for your degree, maybe that would be enough to help you with your research. A related element would be asking to take the class pass/fail, depending on your university's restrictions on such a practice. That would allow you to take the class and, even if it's a struggle, all you need to do is pass in order to come away with what you need from it.

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I believe so. I would provide some specifical information on the e-mail: I would tell them all the classes I've taken that are more or less (since you have a different area of studies) related to their subject so that they could know exactly what you knew, any relevant internships or experiences, why I was interested in taking the class, and I would specifically ask if he could advise me on some materials to read / study beforehand in order to go more prepared to class.

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  • Thank you for the reply. The main issue is that I have very little relevant coursework so I know that getting through the class would be a challenge but if at all possible I would want to do it. There are very limited relevant courses for my research and I'm anxious about having to tell my advisor that I don't think it would be manageable.
    – Victor
    Sep 3, 2020 at 16:17
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I think it's perfectly fine to email the professor and ask him about taking it with limited prerequisites from your end. I'm an undergraduate student (in ECE), but I've taken multiple ECE/Math/Physics grad courses after emailing respective professors and convincing them I can succeed in their courses despite not having official prerequisites (read Jeff's and Johanna's answers for how to do so).

Do note that there may still be departmental holds/ registration requests you may to remove/make respectively in order to register for courses outside of your major/field of study, so do ask the professor if such issues are also relevant to your particular situation and how to handle them.

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