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I am currently doing a research project and I have found some mistakes in the paper of the professor whose work I am extending. I feel that it would be best if the professor is willing to co-author my paper. There are several reasons for it. First of all the professor is a PC member of the conference in which I am willing to publish. So, the error which I am referring to can hurt his ego and I am afraid of negative review because of bias. Second of all, if he is willing to co-author, my ongoing work can definitely improve and I will have a higher chance of acceptance. In that case, he wont be reviewing my paper as he is a co-author.

But the professor is from a different university and previously there was no collaboration between their university and ours. I am not a professor but merely a graduate student. What should my best course of action to collaborate with him? (He is a very high profile professor)

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    Can your supervisor put you in touch? Otherwise I think you just have to email him. – astronat Jul 12 '17 at 21:30
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    First of all the professor is a PC member of the conference in which I am willing to publish. — Careful. At many conferences (especially in theoretical computer science), submissions from PC members are forbidden. At others, submissions from PC members are allowed, but held to higher de facto standards. – JeffE Jul 13 '17 at 3:18
  • I am more afraid of getting a rejection because if the professor is not a co-author he will definitely review my paper and most probably give a negative one. If he is a co-author, however, we can put his name in the conflict of interest, so that way there wont be a problem. The only issue is whether it is wise to contact him or submit the paper to a different conference without him. – user3086871 Jul 13 '17 at 8:53
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What should my best course of action to collaborate with him? (He is a very high profile professor)

Your best course of action is to email him, explain the work you've been doing, and politely suggest exploring the possibility of a collaboration. However, you need to seriously work on your mindset before writing the email, because right now I feel like the reasons you are interested in the collaboration are not good reasons - you seem to be interested in the reputational benefit of having him as a coauthor and in the fact that if he is a coauthor then he can't be the referee for the paper; in other words, your collaboration offer will not be based on a genuine interest in the intellectual contribution this "high profile" professor can make to the work, and therefore I would say it is not being made in good faith. If I were the professor and got wind of what your motives are (and it may not be so easy for you to hide them, even if you try to phrase the email dishonestly, which in any case I would not recommend doing), I would not only refuse to work with you but would also develop a poor opinion of you that could be long-lasting and would be hard for you to correct.

To summarize, you are putting the cart before the horse here. You should contact the professor if and only if you are genuinely and in good faith interested in an intellectual collaboration rather than a mere formal coauthorship. Even then, keep in mind the professor may refuse your offer, because he is busy or for any number of other reasons (or for no reason at all). Your offer should be phrased in a tactful way that leaves your dignity (and any potential interaction you may have with the professor in the future) intact in the event that he is not interested in your offer. Good luck!

  • Good suggestion. I will take it. I think I am going to submit my paper to another conference then. – user3086871 Jul 13 '17 at 14:37
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I would argue it could be appropriate to contact this professor. In general, it is great when you can work with the original author to make sure that you both understand the points of agreement, and collaborate on a future paper. When authors are willing to do this, it is much more efficient and pleasant than dealing with criticisms at the referee stage. When a new collaboration happens, it can lead to a much better paper! My best-cited paper happened because of something like this when I was a graduate student.

An example of this happening recently in the field of olfaction research:

HOWEVER

You need to perform significant "due diligence" before you hassle a professor about potential errors. You are asking them to devote a lot of time and effort to your criticisms, and take seriously the possibility that you are right and they are wrong. If you list three potential errors, and the first one is something where you show a trivial misunderstanding, they might not devote time to the second and third. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Make sure your advisor agrees with your analysis of the mistakes.

  • Double-check to see if the other research group has addressed this point - either in a correction to the paper, a note on their website, or in a later paper on the same topic.

  • Ensure your email is as clear and polite as possible (again, your advisor should give you feedback on this, to make sure your points are coming across clearly)

  • If the errors are simple typos / potential misprints that don't affect the conclusion, don't make that the major point.

Edited to add: It also helps if your advisor knows something about this high-profile professor. Some people are very hostile to any criticism, or just don't talk with anyone below their "level." In my successful collaboration, my advisor knew the other professor, at least to say hello to.

  • that's the problem, my advisor does not know the professor in person, and there was no previous collaboration either. So, I was thinking what should be my best approach. I can do what you did or I can submit the paper in another conference in which he is not a PC member. – user3086871 Jul 13 '17 at 8:50
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Personal responsibility dictates that if you know enough about their work that you are able to extend it to new applications, then you should work on your own, reference their results where necessary and without making any assumptions about their opinion or insisting that they take time away from what sounds like a fairly busy schedule, proceed on your own. If you have quick questions about specialized knowledge that's probably the best way to correspond.

In all likelihood, unless you have an equally sterling reputation, they'll ignore you; however, their opinion will likely be part of the refereeing process if you want to submit something related to their work to a conference with which they are affiliated. Don't commit the faux pas of trying to chase them down like they owe you something, especially if you think their work has problems. You're responsible for your own career and your own decisions.

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    This is a little harsh. It can be very responsible to form a new collaboration to fix a result in the literature! Other people don't owe you anything - but you are all researchers, trying to improve the collective understanding. It's a lot easier to do that by email than to submit a paper, have them write a paper in response, etc... – AJK Jul 13 '17 at 17:52
  • In your experience, what would happen if one member of a collaboration is less qualified and tries to correct the work of a more high profile individual? Be honest. – user1329514 Jul 13 '17 at 23:45
  • I've never had a bad response, personally. Maybe this is because all of the corrections have been reasonable - or maybe I just haven't dealt with a sufficiently jerkish senior prof! [They exist, of course.] I am fairly cynical about the social environment of academia, but you have to, at some level, believe that researchers care more about whether results are right rather than who has more prestige. If I didn't believe that, I'd quit. – AJK Jul 14 '17 at 1:08
  • Life is short. One of the authors died when they were writing one of the textbooks I'm using. Parts of it had to be rewritten after the fact and there are still glaring mistakes. The bottom line is that I'm working on my own judgement, and I would be miserable if I wasn't. – user1329514 Jul 14 '17 at 1:42

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