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As I mentioned in the title, I was wondering if it's possible to collaborate with professors on any research paper if I have graduated and now working in the industry?

Here are a bit more details on why am I asking this and maybe you can provide alternatives too: While in college, I wasn't very active in academics and I also changed my stream (From Chemical Engineering to Data Science) after graduation. So needless to say that I never existed as far as the professors were concerned. But now I have done a lot more work and currently aiming for an MS/Ph.D. in the Data Science field. But one thing that keeps coming back is a recommendation letter from Professors.

I believe that if I have a few publications in my name, it'll make my profile much stronger but it'll add even more value if it's in collaboration with college professors. Not only will I get a research paper, but I'll also have a good recommendation. So I was wondering if it's even possible to collaborate with them since now I'm not a student anymore? If yes, then in what capacity, do I approach the professors?

P.S. I know that I can reach out to college professors for a recommendation without collaboration but those letters will be very generic. I have much higher aspirations and I need to have a very strong recommendation letter, and the only way to do that is to work with a professor.

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  • What country is this? India? How long since you graduated? – Buffy Apr 2 at 12:32
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It is absolutely possible in principle. What I wonder in your case is what do you have to make it attractive for the professor? I as the professor surely wouldn't be interested in collaborating with somebody in order to make their profile stronger or give them a better recommendation. What do you have to offer that is attractive for the professor? An idea? Access to industry money? Interesting data or an interesting problem?

I am a statistician and have been involved in projects where I was contacted by people from industry who wanted my statistical help dealing with their data, in some cases with potential to publish together, and/or pay. When I liked the problem and had some spare time for this, I did it. Actually in many places industry collaboration also can make the professor's CV stronger or give them a relevant recommendation letter applying for grant money and the like.

Edit, replying to the first comment: The situation is somewhat different if rather than having something to offer that the professor doesn't have (like data, money, or some relevant expertise in a different field or of the background of an industry project) you want to work in the professor's area on their problems. Personally I'd be rather skeptical of such a thing, because it is somewhat risky to have somebody working for me whom I don't know and who has no contractual obligation to do that, so I may invest some time but finally results/a publication may not materialise.

Note that "the professor's projects" can have various shapes. They may have money, a group and a work plan to which they may be committed (including contractual obligations), which doesn't give anybody from outside the chance to just jump in. On the other hand, they also may have some flexibility to do spontaneous projects (as I can do working on industry projects). I can imagine positive responses particularly in case that you propose something interesting enough that the professor can see your competence and expertise. The prospect of having a collaborative publication with just giving occasional input in quite limited time may be attractive for some. Also there are young researchers who need to build up a better list of publications themselves, without already having research students or a team, who may grab such an opportunity. My subjective probability for getting a positive response would be far lower than 50%, but getting one out of ten attempts or so doesn't seem unrealistic. The best way is maybe to propose something specific related to their interests, and if your letter/email looks good and competent enough for them, you may have a chance.

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  • Okay, let me just add that "provided I come up with a relevant topic that professor is already working on and I have the skills and experience to execute it". In such cases, as you said, it should be possible in principle but my question then is that in what capacity do I approach the professor? Is there such a thing where professors allow outsiders on their projects? – mnis Apr 2 at 10:38
  • This is very, very individual. The professor will have their own plans in which of course you don't feature, so why would they change that? I can imagine professors exist who'd be happy to have somebody working for free on what they'd be happy to have done anyway, and they get their name on a paper just giving a bit of input. I also know many would be very skeptical about being contacted in this way out of the blue. Because they will have to invest some time before there's any product, and there's no guarantee that the product will materialise. There are no rules. – Lewian Apr 2 at 11:00
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    The general problem with "offering skills" without having a contract and an appointment procedure is that there are no guarantees. In the beginning the professor has no idea how this will turn out, and no security. It may seem quite likely that they will waste their time, whether that's true or not. This will make many skeptical, but as I wrote, you may be lucky. – Lewian Apr 2 at 11:32
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    PS: I should add that in such an informal collaboration you run the risk of this being dropped at some point by the professor as well. – Lewian Apr 2 at 11:57
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    You having an idea and be willing and able to work on it does not attract me. You working in a company can give you access to resources or data to which I don't have access. That might be attractive. If you want to get something from somebody then you have to look at it from their position. We can get cheap labor at the BA level quite easily, and they are our students so known quantities, unlike you. What you have that our students don't have are your industry contacts. So use the strengths you have. – Maarten Buis Apr 2 at 13:06

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