40

I'm a PhD student, from Europe, nearing the end of my thesis. I'm going to the USA for a conference in a few months. A couple of professors (assistant professor level, both fairly young, recruited in the past 2 or 3 years) whose work I'm very interested in teach in the vicinity of the conference venue.

Would it be acceptable for me to e-mail them out of the blue and ask them if they'd like to meet/have coffee to discuss common research interests?

They both do literature like me and care about similar methodological issues. However we work on (and in) very different geographical areas, so the chance of us ever meeting at a regular conference are low.

Is this ever acceptable? Does rank/school factor into it?

  • 4
    In case you do set up such a meeting, here are some very good suggestions for turning such meetings into a successful collaboration. (I assume collaboration is what you're ultimately after?) – ff524 Dec 29 '16 at 6:48
  • 2
    You have nothing to loose, some of such cold calls may work. I would recommend to explicitly comment on some of their papers or work, in their email, and may send some of your papers in your email. If you do it right, it backs up that you done your homework, and you dont just randomly emailing people to look for post-doc positions. – Greg Dec 29 '16 at 7:21
  • 5
    @Dan definitely! For example, there are many people on this site I'd love to meet in person, if we ever happen to be in the same place at the same time. But when interesting people meet (whether with or without collaboration as a goal), often interesting things come up, ideas get scribbled on napkins, and collaborations can result :) – ff524 Dec 29 '16 at 8:12
  • 5
    @ff524 indeed. Too bad many of us hide behind anonymous user names. ;-) – Dan Romik Dec 29 '16 at 8:41
  • 9
    I would not consider email to be "cold calling," since email is asynchronous and the recipient has time to think about the matter before responding. "Cold calling" is when you put the person on the spot with an unexpected phone call, or showing up in person when you have not been invited. – Randall Stewart Dec 29 '16 at 15:31
46

The answer is simple: yes, it is acceptable and common. Don't worry about your rank or about the status of your school. If your email is polite, friendly, is not too long but still includes enough relevant information about you to make it clear to the professors that you and they have shared interests, I estimate that the chances of success (meaning they will agree to meet) are very high — basically the only reasons why this may not work are if the professor is out of town on the day you are proposing to visit, is overwhelmingly busy with other commitments, or is an unpleasant and unfriendly person you probably wouldn't want to meet anyway. Good luck!

  • I wouldn't say it's common. Then again, maybe you (and your research) are more popular than I am. ☺ I would say "acceptable and welcome." – Benjamin Mako Hill Jan 1 '17 at 23:24
  • @BenjaminMakoHill what, you don't get 5-10 emails a day from students from other universities wanting to meet with you? My apologies, I assumed that was everyone's experience... ;-) – Dan Romik Jan 1 '17 at 23:31
1

These are your future colleagues. You will (hopefully) be "running into" them in the future. So "now" is as good a time as any to try to get a head start on the relationships, if possible.

As another poster warned, just make sure that you have something to say, most busy people don't want to "just have a cup of coffee, and, of course, conduct yourself professionally as with colleagues.

4

I find it not only acceptable and common, as Dan Romik wrote, but very welcome and even fundamentally necessary for a successful academic career (for all parties involved!) and a research which really provides progress to society.

You will certainly achieve something even as a secluded researcher in your ivory tower. But you will surely boost the output if you exchange ideas, experiments and results.

I just sent out such a mail and I received two of them yesterday. We will have a small congress in March and I want to use that chance to talk to others and many others want to use the chance to talk to me.

Good research is always "giving and receiving" - you can only do that in constant exchange with other researchers.

I strongly encourage you to do so and to use every future chance to do it again. You may get business cards you put in your drawer for years. But suddenly you stumble across a problem and a contact from years ago proves very useful to solve it.

Make as many contacts as you can. Get in touch with people, exchange ideas with them and always remember: This is beneficial for you and the other party, for the scientific community in general and for our society.

18

Would it be acceptable for me to e-mail them out of the blue and ask them if they'd like to meet/have coffee to discuss common research interests?

It's certainly acceptable, but I don't agree with Dan that it is "common". More frequently than getting mailed completely out of the blue, I get requests from conference acquaintances (although the bar is extremely low - people who I have talked to literally once have no problem contacting me when they are in town), or it is the supervisor of a PhD student who asks me to meet his student who will be in town.

I guess the main points to keep in mind are:

  • Not being disappointed if the professor does not have time or does not even answer. Professors by and large tend to be busy, and your request is bound to have rather low priority. Don't take it personally if nothing comes out of it.
  • Having a clear goal / agenda for the meeting. The one time that I don't enjoy these kind of "let's have coffee" conversations is when the other side who requested the meet-up seems to expect me come up with ideas of what we even talk about. Do your homework, and don't expect them to prepare for the meeting.

Does rank/school factor into it?

"Rank" as in "professor vs. PhD student" may factor into it a little bit (even though it should not). "School" as in "their university is better ranked than yours" will not realistically be a significant factor for most people.

  • 5
    "people who I have talked to literally once have no problem contacting me when they are in town" After having been introduced to several professors several times (always as an unknown person) I am not sure they can really know how many times they talked to someone at a conference. – Vladimir F Dec 29 '16 at 17:03
  • 1
    To add to this: if you want to maximise the chance of a meeting, the supervisor can be used as a mediator. Your supervisor adds always a hint of creditability. Not only because the title and status, but it says that there will be a well written agenda, because he is willing to let you use his name. It is kind of a seal of approval so to say. Nothing more than the dentists worldwide recommend on a toothpaste package, but still something. – user3644640 Dec 30 '16 at 11:20
  • @VladimirF I did not want to imply that people keep track of how often they have met others. I just wanted to indicate that you in fact don't need to be best friends with somebody to ask them to visit their department when in down - a vague conference acquaintance seems to do for most people. – xLeitix Dec 30 '16 at 11:30
  • @user3644640 I disagree. For what it's worth, I would have a much higher opinion of a graduate student sending me a professional and polite email themselves than of someone who gets their supervisor to contact me on their behalf on such a matter. – Dan Romik Dec 30 '16 at 12:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.