I work on a certain topic on the theoretical side and just came across a publication that I think would be a nice starting point for collaboration with an experimental lab (developmental biology).

I am a second-year student in Europe and my supervisor does not know anyone in the other lab. The question title mentions e-mail specifically as I don't expect to run into these people at conferences or any other occasion.

What are common rules and guidelines you follow when contacting someone for the first time about stuff that they work on and you feel excited about?

How do some of you that are contacted by people like me react to their attempts? And what are aspects to these requests that trigger interest on your part?

1 Answer 1


A collaboration is comparable to a business relationship; both sides need to put significant, continuous effort into making the relationship work, and the benefits are often only realized after some initial time period has passed. Given that mindset, you'll have to convince the prospective collaborator that:

  1. You are a good researcher,
  2. Your idea is worth researching, and
  3. They will significantly benefit from having your cooperation in implementing this idea.

<negative nelly> From my experience, as a graduate student, you will likely find it very difficult to succeed at convincing them of 1 and/or 3 without having the full backing of your advisor. </negative nelly>

All that being said, if you plan on initiating contact via email, simply compose it as you would a communique to a business contact; write professionally, describe the idea clearly and briefly, and discuss how they should contact you to follow up. You will want to convince them of all three in the email, which may be a difficult task. I would imagine you should follow up via phone or in-person meeting, as you would a business contact.

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