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I am a graduate school applicant and am considering requesting a meeting with a professor while I'll be visiting a city near their university town.

The current e-mail format I have in mind goes roughly as follows:

Dear Professor X,

I am a graduate school applicant at University A. Before this I graduated from University B and have worked with Professor C* on some research projects. I am visiting City D for the next two weeks or so and I would be delighted if you could meet with me for a few minutes to discuss your latest work on topic E. I've been very interested in topic E and have been spending time trying to learn more about it, writing up some notes on this and related topics along the way (which you can find on webpage F).

Thanks for your time. (signed, me)

*Professor X has coauthored many papers with Professor C and they still collaborate frequently.

My question is that would you as a Professor be responsive to an email of this nature? What improvements or extra information would you suggest to add that would make you more likely to grant such a request to meet? Is there something in the above which would make you not want to meet?

Other info: I have never had any contact with Prof X before this. Prof X is a big name and an extremely active researcher in the relevant field.

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    If X is really such a big shot then I'd suggest you to invite C to make a formal introduction; that should make you stand out from the crowd of people who also want to meet X. If for any reason you don't feel comfortable pulling C in, then don't use C's name in this e-mail. Also, don't say "few minutes," say 30, 45, over lunch, whatever is enough for you to do the job. X will likely pass it to his/her assistant and "a few minutes" is confusing. – Penguin_Knight Jan 24 '16 at 21:56
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    Penguin is right. If you can summon C's support for the visit, that helps and you can mention him; if not, don't. However, quite a few great people are quite open to meet even unknown interested students with relevant interests; just suggest a brief imposition on his/her time. It is hard to estimate, but ~30mins might sound about right. And if it doesn't work out, don't worry too much, people can be busy. – Captain Emacs Jan 24 '16 at 22:02
  • You write The next two weeks. That's very late to open up ½–¾ hour in the agenda of a busy professor. Better plan such a meeting at least a month ahead. – gerrit Jan 25 '16 at 11:22
  • When I was applying to graduate school I once did this successfully without C or F, and while almost entirely ignorant of E, and the meeting went well. You've prepared much better; good luck to you! But do keep in mind that X might randomly not reply, and it doesn't mean too much. In that case I'd try again when (if) you get admitted to A (assuming X is a professor at A). – Anonymous Jan 26 '16 at 1:53
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@Penguin_Knight's comment is the best advice in this situation: ask Professor C to introduce you (via email with you in CC) to Professor X and mention that you will be in town and would like to chat. Professor X may not have time to read all the messages she gets from students and other people she doesn't know, so there is always a chance your message -- not matter how well-crafted -- may be overlooked. But a message from a coauthor will immediately stand out and is sure to be read carefully.

This is a very natural thing for Professor C to do (assuming she has a positive opinion of you and your work); you should make the request politely but you don't need to feel that it is a huge favor.

If you leave a good impression, this introduction and the subsequent visit will usually drastically improve your chances of admission.

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    Thank you for your suggestion. Asking Professor C is a bit of a complicated matter but I have decided to go with requesting that he introduce me. Why do you say that it shouldn't be viewed as a huge favor? After all like you said if X agrees it could improve my chances. Is this something Professors tend to do often if they think the student under consideration is good? – user24542 Jan 25 '16 at 15:55
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    @user24542: It's more a favor from C to X than to you. Finding good advisees is (1) important (2) fraught with difficulty. And "So-and-so's been doing great work for me and will be in your area next month. (s)He'd like to meet you if you can spare 30 minutes." is a much easier way of moving a student's career forward than writing a full letter of recommendation. – Ben Voigt Jan 26 '16 at 5:25
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My question is that would you as a Professor be responsive to an email of this nature?

Yes, quite likely.

What improvements or extra information would you suggest to add that would make you more likely to grant such a request to meet?

It's perfect as is. Maybe remove the "a few minutes"--hopefully discussing research would take a bit more than that?

Is there something in the above which would make you not want to meet?

No, although before responding I would probably take a look at your application.

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  • Just remember that your willingness to participate in AC.SE likely shows your interest in communicating with strangers, which may not be the case for everybody. – yo' Jan 25 '16 at 19:34
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Ok, putting myself in your shoes, I would probably do things like this.

First, if possible, I would try to get a positive introduction from my professor. I think that you should try to see if you can get this introduction before you proceed as the willingness of professor C to support you will be crucial. More than likely Professor X's decision whether to work with you will be based on whether Professor C says good things about you. If Professor C doesn't seem like he will have good things to say then Professor x will almost definitely not want to work with you, and you might need to revaluate whether it is worth your time to pursue meeting with him.

Assuming you do end up deciding to go ahead with the email, I would send something like the email below. When doing this make sure you give the Professor a lot of notice as they sometimes have hundreds of emails to deal with.

Dear Professor X,

I am sorry to bother you as I am sure you are very busy. [optional but shows your consideration and respect]

I am a graduate school applicant at University A. Previously, I worked with Professor C* on some research projects at University B. [Add lines with information about the projects' outcomes, e.g., are they soon to be published/ how did they go well?]

As part of my work with Professor C* I became very interested in topic E, particularly your work [example/reference]. You can read some of my notes about this and related research on website F.

I am contacting you as I would really like to discuss your latest work. I will be visiting City D from [Add when you are going to arrive] for approximately two weeks and I would be delighted if we could meet during that time. However, I can also understand that you may be too busy to accommodate me during that short visit, in which case I would be very happy to skype, or talk over phone at sometime in the future.

Please let me know if either option would be acceptable - it would be an honor to speak with you.

Thank you for your time. (signed, me)

Shortened version:

Dear Professor X,

I am a graduate school applicant at University A. Previously, I worked with Professor C* on some research projects at University B. During this time I became very interested in topic E, particularly your work on [example]. You can read some of my notes about this and related research on website F.

I will be visiting City D from [Add when you are going to arrive] for approximately two weeks and I would be delighted if we could meet during that time. Please let me know if this is possible - it would be an honor to speak with you.

Thank you for your time. (signed, me)

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    I vote against the "sorry to bother you" sentence. When students email me with an opening sentence like that, I have to suppress the urge to yell "Get to the point!" at my computer screen. – user37208 Jan 25 '16 at 0:51
  • Concur with 37208. I would add that it assumes a priori that what you're saying is a bothersome imposition -- why lead with that impression? – D.Salo Jan 25 '16 at 1:25
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    @user37208 I would lose a lot more than that. I think this email can be 1/3 - 1/2 this length. – Kimball Jan 25 '16 at 2:53
  • I have updated the answer in response to these comments. – Peter Slattery Jan 25 '16 at 3:19

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