I am a postdoc in Mathematics in the West.

I am currently stuck on a research problem, and the things that I am stuck on lie far outside my domain. Hence, I have tried to cold email professors who work in that field about thoughts on my problem, and if they have suggestions.

They don't often respond. What is the etiquette on following up with them? Can I send them a "reminder" email? Or should I just assume that they are not interested in responding?

Also, what is the best way to interest professors in your research? I do believe that my question is important, for instance. Are there certain things you can say in your email that might interest them more?

  • 3
    If you are a postdoc, you should be able to get in touch with people at your (local) university, do that first, even if you think the best expert on topic X is the guy on the other side of the world that can be reached by email only, your question may be answered by "regular" practitioner of topic X sitting next building to you.
    – EarlGrey
    Jan 19 at 14:25
  • 5
    and, reg. "They don't often respond", maybe you did not notice it, but you are soooooo lucky for the few that respond :D !
    – EarlGrey
    Jan 19 at 14:25
  • 3
    Did you try to ask your math question at Mathoverflow? Jan 19 at 16:59
  • @MoisheKohan- Yes, I have
    – matilda
    Jan 19 at 18:52
  • "Yes, I have" Would you bother to provide the link? :-)
    – fedja
    Jan 20 at 20:00

3 Answers 3


Cold emails are easy to ignore and many people do so fairly automatically. They have their own research and other duties and thinking about someone else's issues takes effort and a change of focus. People do it when they know one another and when their focus is already elsewhere (think coffee lounge informal conversation).

But it you have already made contact with someone it is more likely you get an answer. That is one of the chief features of professional meetings: meeting people and informal research discussions.

It is also possible in some cases to make contact with someone through a mutual acquaintance - another professor in this case. Perhaps you can arrange an introduction in this way.

I don't think there is any methodical way to get someone's attention if they are busy - as most people are.

A circle of professional correspondents and, especially, collaborators is extremely valuable for any researcher. Sometimes it is possible to join the circle of one's advisor and expand from there.


I would not send reminder emails to remind someone to do a thing they have not committed to do; this seems quite rude to me. I'm most familiar with this behavior from spam marketing, predatory journals, and university administrators.

Some tips on sending emails:

How should I phrase an important question that I need to ask a professor?


Add to your email subject a term like "URGENT FOR STUDENT" or "YOU RECEIVE AN IMPORTANT MAIL". Next you can manage how to meet the teacher in person, or link with a person who know him, or have once received an answer from a teacher.

Have a good emailing.

  • 4
    I think the first sentence is resulting in the downvotes. I agree with the next.
    – Buffy
    Jan 19 at 14:20
  • 4
    When I receive messages with such headers, I delete these without reading. Jan 19 at 18:35
  • 2
    I thought that the only people who used these sorts of subjects were spam/phishing...
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 19 at 18:40

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