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We did an experiment and the results unexpectedly support a famous theory. I am not entirely sure how to write the full paper or sell the results because I am not too familiar with that theory. And I don't know which journals welcome that theory. I think chatting with that theorist will surely help.

Shall I directly send our results and drafts to that professor, or shall I send a short cover letter first, which concisely describes our results and shows how his theory is supported, and then send the paper only if the theorist agrees?


I talked to my advisor and they agree I could contact this person, but I'm not sure how to start. The theory is famous for its philosophical and mathematical elegancy but one of its important implications is hard to test.

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    What does your advisor say? – Captain Emacs Oct 19 '20 at 13:14
  • @CaptainEmacs Unfortunately my advisor is a very successful empirical researcher who had less mathematical and theoretical training than me. I am on my own for this theory part. – High GPA Oct 20 '20 at 1:23
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    But do they say that you could contact that prof? This is a strategic decision as much as a scientific one. – Captain Emacs Oct 20 '20 at 1:25
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    @HighGPA Maybe it would surprise you, but we get an awful lot of questions here from students who are trying to use StackExchange as a replacement for an advisor, rather than a supplement. Either because they are afraid of their advisor, because they have some ongoing conflict, or because their advisor is completely missing in their duties. That's why Captain is asking. Probably good to put that sort of info in your questions when it applies, like "I talked to my advisor and they agree I could contact this person, but I'm not sure how to start the contact." – Bryan Krause Oct 20 '20 at 1:54
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    I think a lightweight mail about a "potential experimental support of the theorist's theory" and "happy to talk more if there is interest", i.e. a minimum commitment contact, would be best. If the theorist gets interested, you can slowly go into more details, e.g. perhaps arrange mutual "visit" (if under Corona, then per Zoom), discussions, mini-seminars and go from there. Certainly do not begin by envisaging collaboration. Maybe after such conversations, you will know better what you want to do. The other researcher is a theorist, so there is not much danger they could "steal" your results. – Captain Emacs Oct 20 '20 at 13:46
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My advice would be to send a note introducing yourself and explaining what you have done and the results. Don't "flood" the person in the initial contact. It is too easy to assume such mails are from cranks. I guess mathematicians still get letters with "squaring the circle" constructions.

Offer to share further if you like. Offer to collaborate if you like. Say you have some questions if you think you need their help.

But a shorter note is more likely, I think, to lead to more.

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  • Shall I really offer collaboration in first email? Is it too early or sounds too aggressive to you? What is the politest possible sentence to offer collaboration? – High GPA Oct 19 '20 at 12:27
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    You could wait to see what the first mail brings, of course. If it seems too aggressive to you then it probably is. Think of establishing contact as a process. – Buffy Oct 19 '20 at 12:32
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This is a complicated topic and you should definitely ask your advisor. There could be all sorts of potential pitfalls, e.g. perhaps there are caveats/loopholes to your experiment, perhaps you only supported a restricted form of the theory, perhaps the theory had unknown parameters that your experiment helped fix, and so on.

Given the dangers, don't try to navigate this yourself. If it comes to contacting the theorist, your advisor is likely to know more about what to write, as well.

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    Which dangers? The main danger here is to miss a very fruitful scientific exchange for being too shy. – Sylvain Ribault Oct 20 '20 at 8:47
  • @SylvainRibault one should show preparation before writing to the professor, though - which in this case means doing due diligence to make sure that the experiment supports the theory. – Allure Oct 20 '20 at 11:35

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