I am planning to attend a prestigious conference in the near future, and I was wondering if a certain professor who I wish to meet and I would love to do my phd degree and research under his supervision will be attending this conference. So is it appropriate to ask him (by email) if he plans to attend or participate in this specific conference? Or are there other ways to know this information?

P.S. My research interests are an exact match to his research interests.

  • As an alternate source, most conferences publish a list of accepted papers once the decisions are made. If he is a (co)author of one, the chance of him attending goes up considerably. – Mangara Jul 14 '14 at 11:44
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    What is the point of asking him? If he is not going to attend the conference, you are not cancelling your own attendance, right? If he is there, find an appropriate moment and talk with him. If he is not, then contact him by email about PhD opportunities. – greenfingers Jul 14 '14 at 12:14
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    Why are people so afraid of professors? He's just this guy, you know? – JeffE Jul 14 '14 at 12:55
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    @greenfingers If it's even a moderately large conference, or the professor is very popular, they may not meet unless they actually arrange a time and place in advance. – JeffE Jul 14 '14 at 12:57
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    @Mangara : with budgets getting tighter, I've seen an increasing number of presenting authors who only show up for a day out of a week-long conference ... so even if they're presenting, they might be hard to track down. – Joe Jul 14 '14 at 13:14

My two favourite techniques for stalking potential business contacts (including professors):

  1. Email them asking questions about their work. Once you've built up a bit of rapport, then you can move on to asking about meeting in person.

  2. Check conference programmes to see if they are giving a talk/seminar/poster, and visit them in person then.

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  • Note that Famous People® tend to have crazy busy e-mail queues and may not respond to you, especially if you are asking particularly naive questions. Don't feel bad if you don't get a response to #1. Usually they are much more responsive at the conferences themselves where there are less competing pressures. – RoboKaren Jul 15 '14 at 3:00

Absolutely! Go for it. Just send an email briefly introducing yourself and your research interests. Say that you're interested in doing a Ph.D. with him. If possible, ask a question or two about his work to show that you've done your homework and aren't just emailing people blindly. (How feasible this is depends on your field; in mine, ecology, it was pretty easy.) Then, mention that you're going to be at the conference and would like to meet in person if he also plans to be there.

I know this is nervewracking, but really, professors don't bite. The worst that can happen is he might say that he doesn't have funding or time for more grad students now. That's disappointing but not the end of the world (and there may be an opening next year). I used this approach, minus the conference part, when emailing prospective graduate advisors and it always went over well.

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Of course it is OK if you ask him politely; but, if I were you, I would add a little about what I am going to talk to him when I see him at the conference. I do not think it is a good idea to say that you want to talk about your PhD supervision; write to him that you are a researcher, like his research background and want to discuss mutual research interests and ask your questions.

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    Describing yourself as a "researcher" and saying that you want to "discuss mutual research interests" without mentioning that you're looking for a PhD advisor sounds deliberately evasive. Trying to start a relationship that's based on trust and integrity by telling white lies doesn't seem like a good idea to me. – David Richerby Jul 14 '14 at 19:35
  • I thought if he send an email with an admission request may discourage that professor; as every day, faculty members receive many similar requests and this may cause the the professor not even open his email of read his request. – Enthusiastic Engineer Jul 14 '14 at 19:52

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