I am a first year graduate student in a completely theoretical field. How does one go about collaborating online or otherwise with researchers from other institutes/universities? In particular, if I am interested in a problem or an area which is not very well represented at my current institution, how do I approach researchers from other institutes to start a collaboration assuming I have the basic background to start research? Should I have a very particular problem/idea in mind while contacting a potential collaborator, or is it unusual if I approach a researcher just because I am interested in his work and would like to learn more and work on it with no particular problem in mind?

  • I will sound a bit pessimistic about this, but usually professors are very busy to collaborate with unknown people. Also, they have their own students to help. Once you establish yourself as a good researcher (after having a few good publications under your belt) you can try to collaborate with researchers working on a similar area. Before that, unless you are referred by your advisor, I do not believe that cold emailing people will actually work.
    – Alexandros
    Jun 19, 2016 at 14:28
  • @Alexandros How about collaboration with other PhD students? I think two or three PhD students are capable of doing independent research. Of course, their supervisors must be informed if they want to include the work in their thesis.
    – MOON
    Jun 19, 2016 at 14:39

1 Answer 1


I have found that it is very difficult to start collaborating with people who are totally new to you. Some good ways to find people to collaborate with are:

  1. Tapping into your PhD/PostDoc advisor's existing contact network
  2. Using your advisor's status/fame to get new collaborators (i.e., the advisor handles the initial contact)
  3. Giving talks in conferences and getting people excited about your work.
  4. Talking to people in conferences and finding some common interests for new projects.

I write this as a PhD student with experience in collaborating within physics/chemistry communities.

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