For context, I am an undergraduate at a T20 school. My summer plans fell through and I am currently in the process of figuring out what to do. For personal reasons, I would like to spend the summer at home, and I noticed a professor is researching a topic I am interested in at a university in my hometown. Would it be frowned upon to cold email them asking for introductory papers/ a possible reading course on the topic over the summer? At my university, such reading courses are not unheard of, and I was wondering if it would be out of line to propose such a project and if this is a common occurrence. I know situations like this are not uncommon for laboratory research, but I understand reading courses are very different in terms of professor engagement.

  • 1
    Does the professor have an open REU? Mar 27 at 6:25
  • 6
    What exactly do you mean by “reading course”? Are you in the US?
    – cag51
    Mar 27 at 6:55
  • @CameronWilliams Wouldn't be discouraged due to the lack of one. My advisor had hordes of undergrads each summer and it was never advertised and almost never through a formal REU.
    – user71659
    Mar 27 at 20:58
  • @user71659 Oh indeed, I was more directing OP's attention to this possibility. Mar 27 at 23:57
  • @CameronWilliams the professor does not have an REU and has not advised undergrads since 2019.
    – abc2003
    Mar 28 at 4:56

3 Answers 3


I don't know how common this is, but I can't imagine why anyone would object to your doing this. I think it shows a lot of interest.

Professors in the same field know each other. They read each other's papers, they go to the same conferences, etc. Depending on how narrow your reading list is going to be, they may know each other well.

The only potential pitfall (and it's kind of remote) that I see is if the t professor you write to really hates a professor at your school. This does happen. But even then, I'm not sure what bad things could happen.


You can certainly ask for a reading course or an independent study. However...

Cold emails from students at another university are easy to ignore. So...

If you can make a visit in person for the ask, then it is more likely you will be heard. Take some document that gives details of your qualifications. Something like an informal CV on one page would be fine. Or...

Ask a professor at your own institution to introduce you to the other person and make the request on your behalf, perhaps sending that short CV as well. It is much harder for people to ignore mails and requests from colleagues than it is from students.

Most universities have procedures for independent study. And most have a way to accept a course taken elsewhere.


Perhaps the other professor should be approached by your own professor (where you are enrolled).

I think they would be more likely to agree to a request to take you on for the summer from a colleague at another univeristy, rather than a cold request from some student they never heard of.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .