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As a first-year PhD student, I've been receiving feedback on my dissertation plan from my supervisor and other professors. One of these professors recommended that I contact a professor from a different university whose research is similar to what I'm planning to do. I've done this type of thing before — contacting professors from other institutions — and have always received positive replies. I used the same email structure that I've used before, asking at the end for feedback on my project's relevance and feasibility, which my supervisor recommended me to do. However, I was surprised that this time the reply was negative and aggressive. Could you please help me understand if this professor is just unfriendly and unwilling to help, or if I actually did something to offend him?

This is the structure/content of my email:

Dear Professor [name of the professor],

[Introductory paragraph in which I introduce myself, mention that I'm a PhD student at X University, and mention the professor who gave me his email address and told me to contact him.]

[Paragraph briefly describing my research topic in 2 sentences.]

Since my research is related to X topic, on which you are a specialist, given your extensive research on [mention this professor's specialization], Professor Y recommended that I contact you.

As a first-year PhD student, I am currently defining the details of my research plan. I would appreciate your feedback on my project's relevance and feasibility. If possible, I would like to share a brief one-page summary of my research plan.

Best regards, [My name and affiliation]

His reply:

Dear [my name],

Thank you for your email. First of all, however, I think it would be better for you to learn a more appropriate way to ask a favor from someone you don't know and have never met, especially in the case of a professor, like this time, if you intend to pursue an academic career.

Regards, [his name]

I don't know if this is relevant, but neither I nor him are native English speakers.

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    Before adding a 16th answer, please consider whether you are adding any new information or just saying "I agree with ..." which is what upvotes are for. Commented Jun 27 at 13:33
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    – cag51
    Commented Jun 28 at 6:50
  • 2
    When getting in touch with people with special titles like Dr, Pr, Hon'ble... expect unexpectation. Your email is just fine but in my case i would have not been specially in hurry to give an answer. The reason is that it looks like a copy/paste from a standard model. I would suggest that you drop standards and write following your real style. Otherwise, probably I would have only suggested a meeting without giving much details about the project and even myself. The most important points are the fact that your a student of a teacher who recommended you to get in touch with that professor. Commented Jun 28 at 7:18
  • 1
    One thing you didn't provide is the subject of the e-mail you sent. Sometimes that alone can trigger a bad reaction.
    – jcaron
    Commented Jun 28 at 16:43

16 Answers 16

110

Is this professor being unnecessarily harsh or did I actually make a mistake?

I would say a bit of both. The professor’s reaction does seem a bit over the top. But your email would annoy me. Aside from the minor etiquette issue that you don’t include “thanks” or “thanks in advance” anywhere, which I would probably roll my eyes at (in a good-humored, “young people these days” sort of way), it’s really the request itself for unspecified “feedback” that I find annoying rather than the way it is expressed.

Providing feedback on your research plans is your advisor’s job, not mine. If you want to call on my expertise as an expert in topic X, you’d better ask me a specific question that I can help you with, efficiently and without going too much out of my way. But reading the research plans of graduate students from other universities and coming up with constructive feedback to offer about them? No thank you. Don’t get me wrong, I do love to help people out (and frequently do) but it’s simply too much.

To be clear, you stated that it was one of your professors who recommended that you contact the outside professor, in which case, if I was on the receiving end of the email, my annoyance would probably be directed at least partially at your professor for giving you what appears to be misguided advice. I certainly wouldn’t respond in the manner the other professor did. Nonetheless, I do think your request is too open-ended and probably should have been more focused.

Moreover, if your professors are in the habit of frequently telling you to email people from other universities to ask for general feedback of the kind that it’s really their job to offer (which based on your description may be the case), then my impression is that they are essentially outsourcing their advising duties, which is inappropriate.

Good luck with your thesis and research!

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    – cag51
    Commented Jun 28 at 6:52
46

Your email looks mostly fine and I share the view that the response is needlessly harsh.

That said, instead of

I would appreciate your feedback on my project's relevance and feasibility,

which just bluntly states a request and gives no agency to the other side or no acknowledgment that you are making an imposition on them, you could say something like:

I fully understand that you may well be busy with other things, but in case you had some time to provide some feedback on blah blah, it would be very helpful to me.

You also don't seem to use the expression "thank you" at all in the email. You could e.g. say "Thank you for your time" instead of "Best regards".

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    I think you captured the main issues that would bother me - the tone of the OPs email is more like a vailed demand rather than an opening conversation which can allow the faculty to either engage or not based on their availability. I think the response is a bit stern, but I don't know what other nonsense that professor was dealing with that day, and one more useless demand pushed them over the edge.
    – R1NaNo
    Commented Jun 25 at 13:49
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    I agree. "I would appreciate your feedback" is how I email my advisor when he's weeks behind on reading my stuff. Commented Jun 25 at 13:59
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    @AzorAhai-him- interesting, I didn't read that into it at all. When I'm behind on reading one of my students things, the email I get is generally "Ian, have you had a chance to look at that thing I send you 2 weeks ago, I really need you to do this by X". I actually find false politeness and grovelling as more of a valued demand. I think my brain sees it as passive aggressive. Commented Jun 25 at 18:00
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    Up-voted, but I would even go further than "...which just bluntly states a request." The quoted section is not even a request. It's a statement, and it reads like a demand. Isn't that how a polite teacher, parent, or supervisor would tell one of their subordinates to do something? Commented Jun 25 at 20:50
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    @AgnishomChattopadhyay They are the same. Both are impolite to use when the other person has not agreed to provide any feedback in the first place. Commented Jun 27 at 23:40
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While in agreement with the answer of Ian Sudbery and the answer of Adam Přenosil, let me make a suggestion for the future that will avoid such things and likely increase the probability of positive responses.

Ask the person who recommend another to send a mail themself introducing you to them and saying they would appreciate their giving you feedback. You can be copied on such mails and you can wait to send details of your request until asked, making the initial mail short. It is difficult to ignore mail from a colleague and negative responses are also less likely.

(Yes, I realize this is a frame breaking answer.)

In the current case, however, you could also ask the person who recommended this person to follow up with an email to them after making them aware of the history. They may not want to do that and it might amount to nothing, but the response was inappropriate. You can't call them on that, but a colleague can. It reads like an immature response of an arrogant person. You bump into them occasionally in academia, I'm afraid.

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    It reads like an immature response of an arrogant person. --- This fits with how the response felt to me, rather than "unprofessional" or "harsh". The word that went through my mind was "pompous". That said, perhaps "I would appreciate your feedback on my project's relevance and feasibility." came across as seeming to ask for too much up-front, and maybe a slightly softer approach would have been better (e.g. "I am very interested in any suggestions for my project's relevance and feasibility that you might have."). Nonetheless, I still think the professors reply was "pompous". Commented Jun 25 at 13:51
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    This is excellent advice. I would never tell a student to randomly cold contact someone.
    – Elk
    Commented Jun 25 at 15:20
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    I tell my students to get in touch with various colleagues at other institutions all the time, and I honestly don't feel like spending the time doing it for them. I always tell my students to let my colleagues know that I sent them, however (just like the OP did), so it's not out of the blue.
    – Sverre
    Commented Jun 25 at 15:36
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    @Sverre For me, it would depend on what sort of pre-existing relationship I have with the colleague, and what sort of political capital may be needed in the exchange. There's plenty of people who know me and where "RM sent me" would be more than sufficient in-roads. There's also many people who I've no contact with, and where me versus a student cold-calling would be equivalent. But there's a number of middle-ground people at the acquaintance level where an intro from me could potentially finesse the situation and leverage some political/interpersonal capital to grease the wheels.
    – R.M.
    Commented Jun 25 at 19:52
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    Whenever my supervisors have put me in touch with someone they already know, they have emailed the person they're putting me in touch with and cc'd me to make the introduction.
    – deee
    Commented Jun 26 at 8:47
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Your email look fine to me. I might have structured slightly differently if it were me. Its slightly on the long side, and you have to read all the way to the end to find out what you are asking for, but its a minor and common flaw.

I don't think you've done anything wrong, and the reply is, in my view, unnecessarily negative.

I would, however, it careful about how much to interpret from this. Perhaps the person in question has had a lot of requests on their time recently. Perhaps something is going on in their lives which is making things difficult at the moment. Either way, these are not your fault.

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    +1, even though I would choose a slightly more negative wording to describe the reply than "unnecessarily negative". Commented Jun 25 at 11:23
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    @lighthousekeeper unlike the proffessor in question, I try to keep my public responses to things polite, and not unnecessarily negative. Particularly as we won't know what is going on in this person's life. Commented Jun 25 at 11:27
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    All that said, I can understand that the professor had little interest to provide what is effectively gratis PhD supervision to a student they have never met. I don't know why they felt like they needed to lecture OP about it, but that they didn't want to do what OP asked for is understandable in my opinion.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Jun 25 at 11:33
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    @xLeitix Sure, I don't deny that. But there are different ways to decline to help. Personally I'm generally gratified if someone is sufficiently interested in my work to ask my opionion about something related (as long as it is related, and not, for example, actually nothing to do with my work). Commented Jun 25 at 11:38
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    A non-impolite but appropriate word would be "unprofessional". The lack of willingness to help is understandable. However, telling off a student without actually explaining what they did wrong is not. People may behave unprofessional for all sorts of reasons, some of which would be seen with sympathy if they were known to the receiver, but that doesn't make the behavior less unprofessional. Commented Jun 25 at 12:14
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This may be a cultural thing1, but your email seems to be primarily a time sink.

It is not until the fourth paragraph that you make it obvious what you actually want. Even then, you are not actually asking for what you want but merely stating you would appreciate their time investment. Even then, this is for a vague task at an unspecified time since you do not provide the thing you want feedback on.
An unfavourable reading of your mail is that you have not bothered to invest any more time than the bare minimum, yet expect them to volunteer to committing to an unknown task completely up to your own discretion. Whether that makes a harsh reply justified may depend on how bad their day was going, but a negative reply seems not unjustified.

If you want feedback, ask for that clearly. If you want feedback on something, provide that something.

Don't state you would appreciate to ask. Just ask.


1Talking from the view of German efficiency.

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    Yeah I'm surprised by the suggestions to add more groveling. My main issue with the email is that it's not actionable. It asks the prof to write back and commit so he can actually get the materials to turn it into an actionable task. On top of being an open-ended review instead of a specific question.
    – Fadeway
    Commented Jun 26 at 13:41
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    Good point. And really, the amount of work that would be needed would be dependent on the status and quality of the proposal, so they'd have to agree on that before seeing it.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Jun 26 at 16:38
  • That the response begins with a completely disingenuous, "Thanks for the email." I wonder if brevity and directness is really the problem here :)
    – AdamO
    Commented Jun 26 at 20:01
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You received an unnecessarily rude reply to a slightly irritating request. Commenting on the feasibility of your research proposal is your advisor’s job, and if your advisor is not also an expert on the topic, you are in the wrong place. If your advisor is an expert but there is some minor aspect of the proposal that they are not sure of, perhaps they should be the ones emailing for more specific advice from a colleague that they know and trust.

Your individual request seems harmless in isolation, but I have recently been hearing from more and more students who I don’t know at institutions on the other side of the world that have nothing to do with me, all requesting and seeming to expect increasing amounts of my time and energy. I don’t know whether this is a new phenomenon as young people are growing up more assertive or if it is simply new to me as my own profile rises. I get high school students sending me lengthy questionnaires that have been poorly researched and will me take days to answer well and correct all their misapprehensions. I get undergraduates sending me their draft research reports and asking for feedback. I get recent PhD graduates sending me their draft funding proposals and asking for help. At first I said “yes” to all of these requests, but rarely received any thanks or acknowledgement of the time that went into it. Your request would just seem another vague and open-ended request for my time. To be honest, unless I knew your advisor, I would probably just ignore it.

So, no, you personally did not really do anything wrong. You are following your advisor’s instructions. But your email does come across as a little entitled — you write as if you expect some stranger to give their time and expertise unrecompensed, and as if you do not realise how much of a favour you are asking.

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    From OP it does not sound like it was their advisor that made the recommendation to reach out to this person, rather some other professor.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jun 26 at 13:51
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The external professor's email was rude. But I think he or she is right to decline to assist at this point. He or she is right to call out your request for what it is: a "free favor". Just like photoshop experts and cake decorators expect to be paid for their art and hate getting conned for free work, professors are often victims of the "oh hey can you just..." e.g. providing free reviewer services for journals, being keynote speakers at half-baked conferences with no honorarium, etc. Their only tangible obligation is to their current departmental role - they mentor their students, teach their courses, sit on their committees and of course, win grants for their department.

From what you have outlined, it does not appear you are anywhere near calling in external help. You were thrown into an unbelievable predicament. Your advisor sadly was incorrect in asking you to reach out externally. Perhaps you sensed this already, or perhaps not. Then, there are two "hard truths" to get up to speed on.

  1. Your mentor is not an all-knowing god.
  2. Thinking critically and pushing back, even against seniors/superiors, is an appropriate and successful strategy for a future PhD wielder.

If all you have so far is a one-page summary of ideas that just needs external eyes, you may still be in the lit review stage, or outline. Point is, there are several additional steps before calling in external help. You technically have access to all the literature this other professor has published, and if you have read it and understand it as it relates to your proposal, why can't you ask a more targeted and direct question?

Case in point, I would bookmark that this external professor was extremely rude, but I would respond cordially and explain that you understand they are busy and you will work closer with your current mentor and reach out later when you have a better understanding of the connection between your mutual works. (then don't reach out to them).

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  • OP's advisor was not the person who suggested that they reach out to this outside professor.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jun 27 at 1:58
  • To make things worse, OP was implicitly asking for a written statement with some accountability. This statement might be quoted in potentially bad future contexts, e.g. he could pull the card "But I have proof that the reputable professor XYZ had approved my research plan!!" at a poor PhD defense. People don't want to hand out such statements without good cause.
    – GDumphart
    Commented Jun 28 at 14:26
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Expanding from a comment:

Your request has several problems:

  • It is sort of open-ended, in the sense that the recipient doesn't know the situation and quality of your proposal, but they have to agree to it before seeing it.
  • But the amount of work is sort-of-fixed. I mean, I can agree to have an informal chat with you for, say, one hour about your research. Depending on your situation and my expertise we may go on one direction or another, but the commitment is time-boxed. On the other hand, reviewing a proposal kind of implies going through the whole thing in a certain amount of detail.
  • You are asking them to have some level of responsibility over your work. Let's say they say it is fine, but your committee fails you. You may think it is their fault. Similar to asking doctors online to diagnose you for free: even if your symptoms are v ery clear, and they can be rather certain of what you have, giving you a diagnosis puts some undue responsibility on them.
  • Opinions on things like feasibility depend on your expertise. My PhD was in bioinformatics, and if someone asked me about the feasibility of an idea, I could confidently talk about the informatics side of it, but I would definitely miss if there is something intrinsically biological that makes it harder or easier. Someone that knows me well would be able to take my comments into context and find a biologist to complement; random stranger, I am not sure.

On the other hand, I think you aren't far from doing something sensible. You can ask for feedback on specific parts, ideally something the person you are writing to is an expert in. That makes it a collegial discussion -- rather than yet another teaching duty --, and allows them to put in as much time as they wish. But it has to be narrow, and ideally you need to include enough detail so they know what you are working with.

That said, I think he was unnecessarily rude.

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If I were the professor. I wouldn't feel offended in the slightest. I don't like comments here who give you responsbility with all due respect to them. The fact the professor didn't even explain what make him offended make him look self-centred. I think you should avoid him if possible. He doesn't seem like a healthy guy to work with.

Some people say you should add thankness but I disagree. You used other words like "I appreciate" which are alternative ways to be polite.

What I find it the best proof that this professor is the one with bad attitude is him not explaining why he felt offended and try to belittle you by saying "before you become academic". That to me looks like a red flag of emotionally immature person. He could be not. We didnt see your work. In case you send him some big workload then he has the right to feel offended and and taken advantage off. We not knowing that and ignore it make us sympthesize with you more. Also the fact that your first professor send it to you could mean you are demanding and he went to get rid of you. These are my genuine thoughts and I don't mean any disrespect.

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    The professor from the other university has every right to give short shrift to demands on his work-time from non-students of his group and especially to students outside his very university. A PhD student first recourse is to themselves; there second to their supervisor; their third to the group; and their last to colleagues and staff outside their own group. but at their university.
    – Trunk
    Commented Jun 26 at 20:00
  • @Trunk that does not give them license to be a jerk.
    – Aqualone
    Commented Jun 27 at 10:42
  • Would anything less than a short shrift response give the the enquirer pause for thought or self-criticism ? If it was myself, I'd get on the blower to that student's HoD and tell him or her what I thought of OP's supervisor.
    – Trunk
    Commented Jun 27 at 10:46
  • @Trunk He has no right to be a prick. and the belittling remark is straight-out rude. The only way to excuse it is if the studnet send him some big workload that would make OP looks very entitled. But it wasnt the case. based on his message it is because he think op is not polite enough. No one should accept such remark on him.
    – llmm
    Commented Jun 27 at 19:54
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    If it was the first such email, he might laugh it all off. But maybe this professor gets a lot of these (on top of all the PhD studentship applications, fellowships spec letters, CVs from prospective staff, etc) PLUS all his usual correspondence he'd hardly be human to endure it all. Especially when the correspondent is an academic ward of another institution.
    – Trunk
    Commented Jun 27 at 23:15
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I do not see anything wrong with your e-mail. It might be a bit lengthy, but it certainly is not offensive.

What is offensive is the answer. Never would I have expected such an e-mail from somebody in his / her position. Even if s/he felt annoyed for some reason we do not know, s/he could have answered much more politely.

Do you have a good relationship to the person who recommended him/her to you? If so, I would show them the e-mail. Perhaps the situation can be clarified.

Apart from that, just forget about this e-mail. Some people do not deserve keen and gifted students.

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  • OP said "him"...
    – no comment
    Commented Jun 27 at 10:20
4

The professor is being a jerk.

Sure, your email could have been better, and as discussed in the other answers, it is also debatable whether it was even a good idea (from your supervisor) in the first place, to be contacting this professor in this situation. But this doesn't change the fact that the professor was being a jerk.

If he didn't feel like it was worth his time to reply, he should have simply ignored you. If he wanted to help but didn't know what to say, he could have simply asked, even a one sentence reply like "thanks for contacting me, but can you be more specific and state any particular questions?" would have sufficed. If he really wanted to educate you on email-writing etiquette, he could have done it in a more polite way. The fact that he took the time to write a reply like what he did, means that he did it out of spite.


Now regarding how your email could have been improved: it definitely helps to be more specific. Ideally ask specific questions, or at least include concrete information. Instead of saying "If possible, I would like to share a brief one-page summary of my research plan", you could have tried to condense the summary into a couple of paragraphs and included it in the email itself.

Beyond that, it is hard to say anything at all. What looks polite to one person may not look polite to another. For example, some people think that "thanks in advance" is a good phrase, while others find it obnoxious, since it assumes that the request will be answered in the future. (And to some people, even a "thank you" without the "in advance" part may seem rude.) The only useful general advice is perhaps (1) try to be polite in general, whatever that means to you, (2) be concise when possible, and (3) if you're not confident in your English abilities, get feedback from a native speaker.

1

In alignment with most other answers, let me state that the professor was indeed rude. I might not be happy to receive an email with additional work, but there is still more polite ways to respond..

The one thing I would like to add is that your email misses two points.

  1. flattery: as others stated, e.g. Scott Seidman in his comment: you missed pointing out that you did your research. A sentence like "I read your paper X, and it sounds like your research is highly valueable for my own." not only shows that you read up on them, but also strokes their ego a bit. Of course you can extend on that by some more direct flattery. "Your results on topic Z are really significant to that area!"...
  2. future collaboration: now this is the main point I want to make. Give them an incentive! Extend the previous sentence to "I read your paper X, and it sounds like your research is highly valueable for my own. I was thinking of combining your technique with Y, would you be interested on collaborating on this in the future?" and suddenly he has a stake in your research.

Now that he has something to gain from your academic future (even if only hypothetically), continue with your question.

Should any of that be necessary, in order to not receive a rude negative email? No! But if your question is on how to prevent it in the future, this might help.

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    The effectiveness of flattery is cultural, and based on my experiences appears to be more Eastern than Western culture leaning. Personally, that type of flattery when being contacted by students or postdocs (usually from Eastern countries) makes me cringe. I don't know where the OP is, and perhaps flattery is culturally appropriate in that area, but not always. Similarly the offer of collaboration is field dependent. In some fields students navigate independently and collaborate whereas in others the collaboration is driven by the head of the research group.
    – R1NaNo
    Commented Jun 27 at 13:54
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    @R1NaNo While falttery is cultrally specific (and personally I find it cringy), the student demosntrating that they've done their research (by, for example, stating the paper of mine that they think is relevant to the research proposal they'd like me to look at) is probably universally a good thing. Commented Jun 27 at 18:41
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    @IanSudbery of course, it's good to show engagement with the topic and place some context for the otherwise cold email. I just don't want anyone referring to my research group as "esteemed", as I assume they got the wrong person.
    – R1NaNo
    Commented Jun 27 at 19:39
0

I agree with other commenters that your email was slightly out of line, but not terribly so, and you can't be blamed for following your advisor's suggestions as a first-year student. The professor's reply strikes me as both rude and unnecessarily vague.

I agree with the highly upvoted answers, so I'll just add a couple pieces of advice:

  • Include your research plan as an attachment. That way, if he decides to do the favor you're asking for, he can do it immediately and then forget about it. Asking someone to commit to do something in the future, even if it is just to respond to an email, is a bigger ask in my opinion.

  • Ask a more targeted question, and phrase it in a way that you don't necessarily expect a reply. For example, instead of

I would appreciate your feedback on my project's relevance and feasibility.

try

If you are able to read this, and see any issues with my project's relevance and feasibility, or have any other comments, would you please let me know?

  • As others said, "please" and "thank you" go a long way.

  • Finally, don't expect to always get positive replies to emails like these. The professor was unnecessarily rude, but in my opinion not replying, or sending a reply such as "I'm afraid I'm not available to read this at the moment, but best wishes on your research" is perfectly polite on their part.

-1

I think yes.

You email is slightly rude as mentioned by others that you basically did not use any word like 'thank you' and it sound the professor is obliged to help, which is not true.

However, I think most professor would consider you are junior ( year 1 phd) and will use a 'forgive' attitude, instead of responding you in this way. At most, I think the professor may ignore your email.

Next time I think you may ask your advisor, or some more senior people to read you email.

-2

Email quality is beside the point.

I think your approach to this professor outside not only your own research group but outside your own department and even university is totally wrong.

It simply isn't their responsibility to take emails from newbee PhD students of other universities let alone provide any kind of feedback to them. They have enough academic work of their own (including their own PhDs) to take care of and likely enough demands on their spare time too.

Bad as your approach to this professor was, I can't understand why your supervisor okayed your idea of making this approach. Even if there was a danger of research overlap it is surely either:

(a) Something you just learn to live with as a natural hazard of academic research: remember we do not know all researchers in our field, there may be many who aren't listed by the research council indexes or who want to work secretly;

or

(b) Let your supervisor take care of if there is such significant expense involved and he doesn't see the sense of wasting funding repeating work being done elsewhere.

You have cast yourself as a sort of fool even though in your case it is really down to youth and naivety about the "business" and personalities involved in academic research. Do you realize that your supervisor and others in the department who encouraged you to do this can deny any involvement, say it was a solo-run of a young PhD ? More importantly, do you realize that - officially at least - they, not you, will be believed ?

I think it's time you had a frank discussion with your supervisor and said that from now on you will depend on yourself and him alone to make decisions on the originality and success potential of the proposed program. If he is concerned about being gazumped or beaten to publication by others in the field the he would be the better person to think about this and make whatever approaches to other research groups as may be needed here.

You signed up to do a research project leading to a PhD. You did not sign up to be a feeler-out of colleagues in other departments or a promoter of your supervisor's status in general.

Get down to your day-to-day work and stop looking for excitement and quick-kill glory. There isn't any such thing in academia.

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    Indeed. It may seem "sad", but, if we think about it, senior people at other universities are already fully committed to their own students and projects... and they do NOT plan in any way to have "excess capacity" left over. Serious people tend to plan fully-committed near-futures... (Sure, the response was rude, but vaguely reflected reality...) Commented Jun 26 at 20:56
  • 1
    The professor in question may well not have time to help, but that absolutely does not mean that the question was "totally wrong". I reach out to others for help with things outside my expertise all the time, and people reach out to me about things within my expertise but outside theirs just as often. That's how OT works when you are expected to follow wherever the science leads, irrespective of the techniques required. That's not to say we all have a responsibly to help all and sundry irrespective of the cost, but the idea is wrong to even ask is just as harmful. Commented Jun 26 at 22:24
  • It was not OP's supervisor but another professor that suggested they reach out to this additional professor.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jun 27 at 1:57
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    @BryanKrause ... I used the same email structure that I've used before, asking at the end for feedback on my project's relevance and feasibility, which my supervisor recommended me to do ... Looks like the supervisor was at least aware and unobjecting to all this.
    – Trunk
    Commented Jun 27 at 10:40
  • 2
    As I also pointed out above, my contract specifies that knowledge exchange and disemination is part of my job - both within the university, across the acdemic community, and with members of the public. Helping others with the things I'm an expert in is literally part of my job. Now, there are many things that are "part of my job" as my bosses would like to see it that I don't have time for. Priorities must be drawn up. I might glance over a 2 para summary of an idea and say if its feasible without specialist supervision, I probably wouldn't have time to look over a detailed 1-2 page proposal. Commented Jun 27 at 13:28
-3

if this professor is just unfriendly and unwilling to help, or if I actually did something to offend him?

This professor falls in the category of the megalomanic asshole who sees himself as a demi-god. You will find such specimens in the Academia zoo. Handle with caer because his fragile ego may break and spill its guts on you.

That's for the professor.

Now to your letter.

If I received this I would look on the other side of the paper for the one-page summary, do a French pfffff (or rhoooooo), and reply to you yes, sure, send it in but please keep it condensed.

It is better to send everything at once than lose time in email ping-pongs.

TL;DR: make your request self-contained and prepare to meet assholes in Academia (there may be more or less of them depending on the topic you are in*)


* That itself could be an interesting study, compared with a random population, CEOs, middle-managers and a few jobs


EDIT -- Looking at the downvotes, I find it interesting how much leeway such people have in power interactions. In normal life, you would not assume that such answers of people full of themselves are acceptable. Here, because he is a Professor, suddenly other criteria apply.

EXTRA EDIT -- I know the word rude ("I do not have time for you" is rude). Someone who states that because you are writing to a Professor you are expected to show special diligence is, well, you know

11
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    Your attack only adds unnecessary noise to your answer. If you switch the relevant information to appear first and then place your rant afterward, I may consider removing my downvote.
    – The Doctor
    Commented Jun 26 at 13:37
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    I downvoted. The professor was brusque and rude yes, but falls very far from "megalomanic asshole who sees himself as a demi-god," especially given this is an L2 interaction. Commented Jun 26 at 13:51
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    @AzorAhai-him- I do no know what an L2 interaction is but I find I think it would be better for you to learn a more appropriate way to ask a favor from someone you don't know and have never met, especially in the case of a professor, being straight from a megalomaniac asshole. The fact that he is an (angelic orchestra) Professor requires special treatment according to him. It does not, he is a normal human being who happens to be teaching. No special deference is needed.
    – WoJ
    Commented Jun 26 at 15:14
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    @AzorAhai-him- (cont'd) I could never thing of sending such a message stating that since they are writing to a (super senior exec title) they should start by kneeling and using words that would tickle my pride. Seriously - let's stop this idea that being a professor requires others to pray in front of you. This is ridiculous and ridiculed outside of academia.
    – WoJ
    Commented Jun 26 at 15:14
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    Sorry, it's shorthand for "second language." I never claimed any of those things you are stating. Again, yes the prof was rude, but the point of mentioning his job is to say that he is a busy person and has responsibilities that don't include OP. We can agree he's rude and disagree as to the degree. I think if you have such an issue with professors, you might find a different website. They come up here a lot. Commented Jun 26 at 15:16

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