I am a professional software engineer. In my downtime, I enjoy following some of the informal streams about advances in my field (Lambda the Ultimate for example, academic email lists, etc.) as well as more practical practices to keep myself up to date. Some of those practical aspects involve playing around at the edge of my knowledge/skill to try and advance it.

Recently I've had a particularly good idea that I've been able to turn into a workable prototype for something a little novel (as far as I can tell looking into past research). Normally, I would pat myself on the back and go about my life - or maybe post it to a blog. But this one falls into a realm that is almost entirely academic (Type Theory and Parsing). Nobody reading a random blog would understand or be able to extend/expand it into anything greater. On the other hand, I've read enough papers to know that I wouldn't be taken seriously by academics (or even skilled amateurs) without a boatload of formalism, that I honestly don't have (and may be beyond me).

It's been 20 years (and 2000 miles) since college, so contacting my alma mater's CS department seems to be not an option. These questions ask about how to get into doing research somewhat full-time, and their answers recommend actually entering a degree program at a research university. That certainly seems premature when I'm not particularly interested in doing research full time, and odds are heavily against this idea actually being novel or non-trivial to someone with more formal training.

This question is similar, but is asking more of "is it possible? how is it possible?". I know the options, but I also am pretty sure they won't do much, or I can't effectively do them. The answers point out the difficulty of being a solo outsider, which I readily acknowledge, even if I don't well understand how little I know about the difficulties.

So as someone well removed from university, how would I find someone to vet this idea - and in the best of scenarios, help form it into something respectable?

  • I'm curious. How did this end up for you?
    – RubberDuck
    Jun 10, 2017 at 17:32
  • @RubberDuck - it did not. Over the years, I've talked briefly with some skilled engineers and a few generalist teaching professors about the idea. They all found it a bit weird and uninteresting. I found a group at a local university that works in the field, but never reached out. My interest never surpassed my anxiety. So I infrequently work on the prototype. It's a pleasant enough hobby.
    – Telastyn
    Jun 10, 2017 at 19:42
  • I'm a bit sad to hear that. At least it's a pleasant hobby.
    – RubberDuck
    Jun 10, 2017 at 19:45

1 Answer 1


odds are heavily against this idea actually being novel or non-trivial to someone with more formal training

That last line puts you way ahead of most amateur researchers. In my personal experience most of them follow this line of thought. If you're interested in talking about your idea with researchers, look up a prof in the field at a local college and write something like

I'm John, a software engineer with an interest in research in your field. I've come up with an idea I think is interesting and would like to know more about it. I was wondering if you or a knowledgeable student might be interested in helping me understand it better. I know you and your students time is valuable, and I can offer some money if someone would be willing to help me understand this better. (Be sure to attached an explanation of your idea)

I've never had someone offer me money for help in an unsolicited email, but if I did, I would likely find a grad student who would really appreciate an extra $100 for explaining it. There may also be scholarly meet-ups a grad-student could direct you to.

Although it sounds like your expectations are not sky high, don't expect to have discovered anything revolutionary, and please be nice to whomever ends up helping you, and don't try to convince them you are an unrecognized genius toiling away in your basement.

EDIT: You might find math.stackexchange.com or codegolf.stackexchange.com to be useful.

EDIT 2: Any prof you send an email to will likely measure it against this scale for crack-pot ideas.

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