From your experience, what are some of the best ways to approach potential collaborators via email? Specially for post-docs approaching faculty members (not to join their schools/groups) but to work on possible ideas for proposals/publications. For instance, Post-doc A who works with advisor B has a good idea for research that is very far from his advisor's field. Thus, Advisor B encouraged Post-doc A to seek other collaborators. Since meeting at conferences is not possible, for some reasons, communication via email is the method of choice. How can Post-doc A approach a faculty member with his/her idea while making sure s/he gets the right to his/her ideas?

  • I think "cold-calling" someone to propose such a collaboration is not usually too likely to be successful. Can you arrange an introduction from advisor B or some other mutual acquaintance? LinkedIn could be useful in this regard if B doesn't really know the person. If you have no mutual connections ... good luck! And if you do ... good luck! Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 21:42
  • @FredDouglis thanks. But Both advisors don't know each others.
    – The Guy
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 21:53
  • Then can you find someone else who knows both of you? Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 22:04

1 Answer 1


In my experience, approaching potential collaborators via email is an essential part of having a successful research career. Even if the person you are writing to does not know your advisor personally, probably they will know your advisor's name, your university's name, or some person in common. I try to lead with that, to show them I'm not a crank. Then, I mention how I came to learn of them, e.g., which paper(s) of theirs I've read and liked. Flattery does help, in my experience. Lastly, I get to the idea that I want to talk to them about. Usually this is MUCH easier in person, and in my experience if I mention that I'm going to be nearby, they will often invite me to visit and discuss the research. If that's impossible, then instead of launching into the idea in the first email, I'd invite them to opt in to hearing more. Here's an example:

Dear Professor X,

My name is David White, and I was a student of Mark Hovey. I've also written papers with Donald Yau, who I think you might know from grad school. Recently, I came across your paper "Awesome math stuff for awesome people." I was so excited to learn that someone else was interested in these topics, too! I really enjoyed how in Theorem 2 you reduced to the case of pseudo-awesomeness. I did something similar in my thesis, available at ...hyperlink... While reading your paper, I had an idea that would link some of the results from my thesis into the structure you've built, and might be able to extend some of your results in the direction you mentioned in your introduction. I'll be passing through Barcelona in mid-May and would love to drop by and chat about this. Will you be around and open to meeting? Even if you're not, I hope to meet you someday at a conference, and happy to talk more about my idea by email. Best Wishes, David.

Your mileage may vary, but messages like that have led me to most of my collaborators, probably about nine people I've written papers with and another 10-20 who have invited me to visit, give a seminar talk, and chat, even if no paper emerged from it. Others have also written me messages like that, too.

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