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I contacted a professor by email in order to introduce myself to him and ask for a research position in his group at some point in the future. He expressed interest in me, but, when we finished our email discussions, he said "keep in touch."

I'm confused about what this means. Specifically, I mean, what should I talk to him about prior to me getting any kind of offer, etc.? How often should I contact him? Basically, I would like to know:

How do I "keep in touch" with a potential advisor prior to getting any kind of research offer?

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    Isn't "Keep in touch" a common english parting phrase? I personally wouldn't read anything more into this than that the prof. is interested in hearing from you again at some point in the future. – xLeitix Jun 29 '15 at 16:06
  • @MadJack That's what I mean. Thanks. Is there any suggestions? – zhangwfjh Jun 29 '15 at 16:21
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    Professors are just people. They mean the same thing by ordinary English phrases as everybody else does. – David Richerby Jun 29 '15 at 20:25
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    @DavidRicherby Which, to be fair, is often not all that discernible! – OJFord Jun 29 '15 at 22:15
  • Please make sure that my edit maintains the spirit of your original question. If you don't like it, you can always roll back to a previous version. – Mad Jack Jun 29 '15 at 23:33
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When a member of academic staff says "Keep in touch" to a leaving student or researcher it often means "Keep me informed with major events in your career or family". Yes, it probably has the expectation of an email, but not too regularly.

They are probably interested in where you might be working when you have left and want to be informed of how to contact you when your contact details change. I sometimes get an email from students who have left 5, 10, 15, 20 years in the past. They tell me "I now work for XYZ corp as VP of ABC, how are things back at the University?", or "My child is applying to study with you, is Prof. PQR still there?". It is all good to know.

There are other times I might used the phrase in an email with someone. If I was telling them that I was the wrong person to contact about an issue, or that this is the wrong time to discuss an issue; in other words, if I was refusing an answer, I might add "Let's stay in touch" to indicate I was not refusing all contact for all time. Sometimes students mistake a refusal to answer with an end to all communication. For example, at this precise moment in time I know all graduates results but could not answer any questions about progression to a Phd programme as that might imply what the grades may be. In that case it would mean, "At the appropriate time you will have the information you need.." or similar.


This paragraph added based on further details in the comments.
Result discussions are currently embargoed till transcripts are officially released.

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  • Thanks. But he mentioned that on the condition that I want to be a Phd student with him. – zhangwfjh Jun 29 '15 at 15:54
  • @zhangwfjh I'm not sure that I understood you...... – Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩 Jun 29 '15 at 15:59
  • I am not a student of him who's gonna leave, instead, I plan to be his student and also he shows his interest. Then he told me to "keep in touch" – zhangwfjh Jun 29 '15 at 16:03
  • @zhangwfjh - I've added another paragraph. – Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩 Jun 29 '15 at 18:07
  • OP is seeking answers about how to "keep in touch" with a potential advisor, not someone they've already worked with. – Mad Jack Jun 30 '15 at 1:10
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As a professor, I am always happy to know when my students are successful, and this is a great time to "keep in touch".

If you are start graduate school or a good job, I definitely recommend e-mailing professors who wrote you recommendation letters or who were otherwise especially helpful. You don't have to, but it will be appreciated. This goes especially if you would be willing to talk to younger, current students with an interest in following your footsteps!

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    OP is seeking answers about how to "keep in touch" with a potential advisor, not someone they've already worked with. – Mad Jack Jun 30 '15 at 1:10
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In which country is this? What kind of research position are you talking about? How far in your studies are you?

For example, in the USA it is common practice that you are not directly involved with your advisor in the first few years of your PhD study, isn't it? In that case "keep in touch" could mean something like "let me know if you have been accepted for the PhD study at my university, and if so, come early in your first year to discuss how you could best get involved with my research group and to get advice about the subjects you should take in addition to the compulsory ones".

On the other hand, in my country, people apply to do a PhD with a specific advisor. "Keep in touch" could mean "come back with a draft of a thesis proposal (and do not submit your thesis proposal without consulting it with me first)". Or it could mean "let me know if your interest is serious (it's OK if you have been just asking)". Or if you still have a year or more of your Masters to go, then "keep in touch" could mean something like "feel free to turn to me for advice on the kind of experience that you should gather before entering my research group; finish your Masters as quickly as you can and turn back to me when you are ready to discuss the actual thesis proposal". (For example, if you are unsure whether you should rather take subject A or subject B in the final year of your Masters, you could send an e-mail asking which would be more relevant to the kind of work you would be doing with your future advisor.)

If you are already doing research, maybe you could send some interesting bits of your research before it gets published. And reading the papers of your chosen advisor and asking good questions about them (you will have to do this anyway if you are about to start working in their research group, so why not show some initiative?)

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I'm not in academia, but if I received this kind of request, I would ask if there is a social media outlet they subscribe to. If the relationship was purely professional, I would probably lean toward LinkedIn. If there was more friendship in the relationship, I would lean toward Facebook (or both).

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  • I'm not sure that connecting with a potential student on a social networking site would be considered a "good idea." – Mad Jack Jun 29 '15 at 22:33
  • @MadJack Of course the usual caveats of using social media would apply. – Digital Trauma Jun 29 '15 at 22:36

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