I am a graduate student in mathematics, and yesterday I posted a research question on mathoverflow. I was shocked to find a surprisingly amazing response. I was even more shocked to see Terrence Tao answer my question. I now have a few questions about what could happen moving forwards.

It seems to me, in my extreme inexperience, that what was brought up in the discussions for my question could make a nice little paper. I have not written a paper before and do not know how the process works, nor if this is appropriate at this level. I will definitely speak to my supervisor when I meet him, but we work in a completely different field, so the advice would be more general about paper-writing.

And of course, the other issue is that since the answer is written by Tao, and if I wish to write a paper about this, I'm assuming I will need to discuss possible collaboration with him, since a key part of the result is due to him. Or at least, talk about referencing his answer, and getting his opinions if necessary on what I plan to build on his results. But Tao is an extremely busy man, and one cannot simply contact him about a possible collaboration. I feel that would be in bad taste given his stature and my humble position.

I'm hesitant about my options. What would you recommend I start with? Are there other more important points I should be thinking about instead, or am I confused about how all this works?

EDIT I bit the bullet and emailed him. I got an immediate response, so my worries were for nothing. Thanks for the advice!

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    If you can't "simply contact him," what other options do you even propose? Complexly contacting him? Jan 6 at 20:31
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    @AzorAhai-him- I'm referring to something I heard about, that he gets swamped with emails and thus does not respond to most requests out of necessity Jan 6 at 20:33
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    Have you checked whether you can publish a result that was shared on stackoverflow? You can definitely cite it, but publishing it ... I'm not sure how the copyright works there.
    – Our
    Jan 6 at 23:03
  • @Our No I haven't I guess I didn't think of that, nor do I know where to look for that, but I'll check it out, thanks for the suggestion! Jan 6 at 23:30
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    @PaulCusson, I would suggest to mail him directly. I myself is Mathematics PhD scholar and I often mail to famous mathematicians to understand some parts of their paper or seeking their opinion about a question. Many of them answer positively. It is true that Tao is busy, but he might be interested in your question. Also may be he can refer you to contact to his collaborators.
    – learner
    Jan 7 at 10:39

1 Answer 1


Why don’t you message him here on SE something short and ask him if this question is something he’d like to pursue with you as a research project? You know he follows his account here to some extent. Nothing longer than a few lines.

  • Oh I didn't even know one could send messages on SE. Unfortunately on MO there is no way to send private messages. Are you suggesting I do so on academia.stachexchange? Jan 6 at 23:40
  • He might just see this post and figure out how to contact you directly.
    – Bill Barth
    Jan 6 at 23:47
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    StackExchange doesn't have a mechanism for this, by design. See meta.stackexchange.com/questions/431/… and meta.stackexchange.com/questions/57537/… There are some exceptions, like if the user you want to contact uses Chat. Users who want to be contacted can include external contact info in their profile; generally comment requests for contact or dropping personal details in comments is frowned upon and may be removed by moderators.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 7 at 0:17

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