If an academic researcher wants to ask research related question or to start a collaboration etc. with another academic researcher, it is usually a matter of a polite and specific email. I have seem such initiatives from academic researchers towards industrial researchers (e.g., a postdoc asking about technicalities of a paper written by a Google researcher directly to the Google researcher). Is such research correspondence, without any prior research contracts/agreements between the academic institution and industrial researcher's company, also common from the other way around (i.e., an industrial researcher initiating a correspondence to an academic researcher)? How about research correspondence between researchers in two different companies? I am thinking of transiting to industrial research from academia and genuinely curious about this.

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    Any type of contact is possible. However, do remember that if you do not sign a mutual non-disclosure agreement, anything discussed might be used and exploited. Accordingly, it is always best to have one signed beforehand if you wish to discuss something original and important. Anyway, collaboration between academia and industry, if well conducted, is truly beneficial for the advancement of knowledge. Jul 26, 2016 at 7:34
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    @GiuseppeBiondi-Zoccai, so does the industrial researcher have to ask the academic researcher to sign a form before starting a conversation? From the academic researcher's point of view, wouldn't it be strange to receive an email from an unknown researcher with a research question and also a request to sign a form? Not questioning the system, just curious how it works and how common it is.
    – John
    Jul 26, 2016 at 14:23
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    Even academic researchers may have confidential projects or may consider filing a patent application. It depends on the risk that your idea is exploited by someone else. In my experience, if people ask me to sign a NDA (non-disclosure agreement) it means they want to talk seriously about something new, so I am actually impressed favorably. Jul 26, 2016 at 14:25

2 Answers 2


Disclosure: I am a researcher working in industry.

I think that the rule of thumb is: make it as simple as is wise, but not simpler (paraphrasing Einstein).

Always make it clear who you are (name, company, etc), and what your intent is (e.g., better understanding of a paper, creating your own implementation of an algorithm in a scientific publication for research purposes only, developing a new product based on a scientific publication, writing a patent, etc).

Be open and honest (e.g., do not claim that you just want to understand something, when in reality you want to use it in the development of a product).

If you are asking about quite generic technicalities (e.g., something you might also publicly ask to a speaker in a conference), you might just drop an email and ask. As long as you do not disclose any confidential information, and you do not expect so from the researcher, you just can ask the question.

When you do need to disclose confidential information (e.g., specifics about a product your company is developing), you will need to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement).

Also be aware that if you are asking the academic researcher to do work for you beyond just answering an email, or provide you with something of value (e.g., working code belonging to a scientific publication) a monetary reimbursement is in place.

For the latter two items it is quite likely that you will need to involve other people within your company (the legal department, a budget holder, your boss, ...) before reaching out.

  • thanks for the answer. How about industrial researcher to industrial researcher communications/collaborators?! Is it still possible though I am sure legally would be more involved?
    – John
    Jul 29, 2016 at 3:21
  • @John: it depends about the specifics. Suppose you (as an industrial researcher) want to contact another industrial researcher regarding one of his/her publications. If he/she works for a direct competitor, it becomes difficult. If not, then it is similar to contacting an academic researcher. Jul 29, 2016 at 7:29
  • FYI (re: paraphrasing Einstein): quoteinvestigator.com/2011/05/13/einstein-simple
    – Kimball
    Aug 4, 2016 at 0:16

I don't think there is that much difference between academia and industry except that in industry you probably have to clear it with your boss and/or IP lawyers before you mail ideas out of the company. I have received "cold" contact emails from industry, sure, not that many I've been able to act on though. I think the problems are pretty much the same: how much time does someone have, do they even read their email or not, etc. You will get lots of variation both inside and outside of academia on this. If you have enough money to pay for a PhD student for at least a year, then you will probably have not too much trouble getting someone's attention in academia wherever you are coming from, if you've done enough work to be sure you're approaching the right person / someone actively researching the area you need.

The other easy way to get an academic to collaborate with industry is to hire them as a consultant. But again, it has to really be their area, and they have to have time available, so you need to do research. But if you get the wrong person, they may be able to suggest someone else or at least something to read (if the problem's already solved so no longer of academic interest.)

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