I am a graduate student who is currently working on a project with another student and some professors which will soon lead to the publication of a paper with my name on it. As someone who would like to become an academic, I am obviously very happy about both the opportunity and the paper.

Unfortunately, these professors' area of interest, and the topic of the project, are not something I want to specialize in long-term. While I was happy to work on the project, I would like to somehow pivot to working on projects with other professors in the same department whose areas of interest are more interesting to me.

If possible, I would like to know what other professors in the department are working on and if they are interested in collaborators. If not, I'm interested in what one specific professor is working on since his area of expertise is what I am interested in. We spoke last on friendly terms, but this was more than a year ago, and I do not know what projects he is working on, or if he is looking for collaborators. I am currently studying at a different university and cannot talk to any of them in person.

Is there a way to ask the professors I am collaborating with about who else in their department is looking for collaborators on a project without coming across as rude, ungrateful, or as if I do not value their collaboration, and ideally without jeopardizing my position on future projects with them in the event that I still have time to do so or do not find a project I am more interested in to collaborate on? I have no complaints about working with them: this question is purely a matter of my personal interests.

1 Answer 1


No need to pivot. Let me tell you something I've learned as a PhD student: it's a big world out there. You can collaborate with anybody you want to! As often, or as little, as you'd like. So, if you've done a paper with a few people who you liked working with, and it'll soon be published, then great! My hat's off to you. But, why need to ask permission to work with others? If there's somebody in your department or elsewhere, who you feel like you'd work better off with, then just reach out to them. Pitch an idea for a paper to them.

Academia is partly about being able to study questions that interest you, and you don't need to burn bridges or ask anyone else for permission to do just that. So, ask around. You'll form more opportunities like that, trust me.

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    Well, depending on who is paying your salary/stipend - they usually want work done on the project(s) supporting you.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Apr 17, 2023 at 16:31
  • Yeah it's field and context dependent I imagine. In my experience at least, my advisor doesn't really hold my hand very much, and I like it like that. He lets me work on what I want to work on, and we collaborate on papers together, but nobody's ever forbade me from collaborating with anyone else. In other words, no one "project" that supports me, I make my own projects in my field and assist on some my advisor works on, but my experience may not be the rule. Commented Apr 17, 2023 at 16:56

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