I am doing an integrated Masters course as part of my undergraduate degree, and we have been asked to select the top 6 projects from a list of ~40 projects. We will then be allocated projects (and supervisors) based on these 6, and our previous academic performance.

Is it appropriate to ask project supervisors for the email-addresses of some of their current students? I would then contact their current students and ask what their supervisor is like to work with.

Would most supervisors take this poorly? Would I jeopardise my relationship with them before even starting my Project?

  • 14
    Did you check if the students' email addresses are already present on the supervisor's lab web page?
    – GoodDeeds
    Oct 11, 2020 at 12:55
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    @GoodDeeds This wasn't something that I had considered, but I have since been able to find a handful of contacts this way. Thanks!
    – Harrison
    Oct 11, 2020 at 13:22
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    If you are in USA, I guess, this is something related to FERPA.
    – Bumblebee
    Oct 11, 2020 at 21:14
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    I seriously doubt FERPA would come into this. FERPA only protects educational records, whereas this would be considered "directory information" (see here).
    – cag51
    Oct 11, 2020 at 21:18
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    @cag51 A specific student's email address may be directory information, but the list of students taking a specific class is protected (which is why my department requires me to BCC my students every time I email them, though that's common sense anyway). Similarly the list of students working with a specific supervisor might be protected, but I'm less sure about that.
    – user92734
    Oct 11, 2020 at 22:34

3 Answers 3


In many places it would likely be viewed as improper. I suggest that you don't do that. Instead, ask the supervisors to pass on a note from yourself to their advisees/students/whoever in which you describe what you want to do and providing contact information for yourself. Make a plea for participation, if you like.

But giving your contact information indirectly to others is vastly different from "harvesting" contact information indirectly.

I would treat your request as stated as improper and wouldn't comply. But I'd be happy to let people know of your project.

  • 12
    I downvoted. Maybe this is a cultural thing, but think OP's request is completely reasonable. I'd ask my students if they were ok with it before passing on their email addresses, though. Oct 11, 2020 at 14:35
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    @astronat, but the one asking the supervisors has no control over whether the students will be asked first. It could set up a problem that should be avoided.
    – Buffy
    Oct 11, 2020 at 15:40
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    Upvoted. If for nothing else than compensating the downvote. Maybe in some locations it is reasonable, but Buffy is completely right that "in many places it would be viewed as improper". This is not a question for a general discussion or contact, or visit. This is "shopping question" to use SE parlance. I would find it intrusive if I had not invited that person to visit my group myself. Oct 11, 2020 at 19:22
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    It's totally unreasonable, and in many countries giving you these email addresses would be illegal.
    – gnasher729
    Oct 11, 2020 at 22:19
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    I think there is a big difference between students (UG/masters) taking a class, and students (PhD) working as researchers in a research group. Oct 12, 2020 at 21:57

In part to make a counter-point to the (good from a different angle) accepted answer, I would argue it is not only desirable, but in fact smart from the point of view of the OP. Emails might not be the ideal communication tool (e.g. legally), but finding out how a given teacher performs from their former students is a very good idea. I have personally strongly advised potential PhD candidates to speak to former students, and it has been very profitable IMHO, at the very least to me (in as much as it has convinced applicants to carry out a PhD under my supervision), but hopefully to them as well! Choosing a prospective PhD supervisor is the most important and (more often than not) random decision that a student takes, so any access to prior information is useful. Indeed, you should get from a former student information which might not be accessible elsewhere, such as "is their style supervision appropriate for me?"

I am aware it is not exactly the context of the OPs' question, but believe it could still apply at the level of a M2 course?

So in short I would personally regard a request for such information as positive, I would ask my former students if they are happy to speak to the applicant, and proceed accordingly.

PS: Since others have mentioned variability with countries, my experience is European.


A better strategy is to search through the professor's websites, publications, department website, and thesis databases (such as Proquest Disstertations) and look up past students' contact information yourself. Then email the former students directly. Former students are likely to be more informed that current students. There's also no need to ask the professor's help if the information is already online.

I strongly disagree with Buffy's suggestion that it is improper to ask a professor for students' contact information. It may be improper for a supervisor to give out contact information without permission, but it is not improper to ask for it.

  • 2
    Again, this is location dependent. If I (in Europe) receive such a request, I would automatically think I am being asked to do something illegal (violating GDPR), so yes, I would see it as an improper request. I would still try to help without breaking the law, e.g., by forwarding OP's email to my students and telling them that they can contact OP if they wish to do so.
    – wimi
    Oct 13, 2020 at 7:56
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    @wimi Would you expect students to know about GDPR? This certainly is not a europe-specific answer. Oct 13, 2020 at 9:28
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    Well, the introduction of GDPR was a big deal in the news, and when it happened, virtually every service had to update their privacy policy and explicitly ask for consent to keep using the data they had from us. We all got a rain of emails... In any case, I am just saying that the request would be "improper", not that this improperness would lead me to think less of the student or treat them differently from other students. When I see all these "is it appropriate...?" questions, I always wonder "and what does the asker expect to happen if it's not?"
    – wimi
    Oct 13, 2020 at 9:43

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