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There is a group that I've been interested in for a while because we share some of the research interests and because of the very ingenious approach used by its PI. Lately, they published a paper in exactly the same field I work in (but with different models objects).

I feel really eager to react, and I have some considerations about their results, parallels with our work, ideas for future research etc. However, I'm not actively applying for a post-doc, nor do I have any specific (that is, supported by funding) propositions for collaboration. However, I would like to get the conversation started, ideally leading to some kind of common project. It's not a typical cold-call, since

  1. the paper in question cites my group's work,
  2. I've met the PI at a conference and had a brief talk, and
  3. I studied alongside two of his postdocs at a practical course.

We are separated by the ocean, so the communication will have to be via e-mails of some such.

So, how should I approach? E-mail, commenting on ResearchGate, writing to those postdocs first (even though they weren't involved in this particular peace of research)? Specifically, how can I formulate the concluding, "so what" part of the letter?

  • I think email is always the right way to start a scientific conversation if you have something to say. – Googlebot Jul 26 '17 at 14:28
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I think you are greatly over thinking this exchange. Conversations don't start unless someone speaks, so a simple, "I have read your most recent research/paper/chapter with interest and..." would do for a simple opener. I would go with a direct email as with a good email signature on the bottom of the mail, they will then have all your contact details should they want to get back to you.

You say have some past contact with this person - so also mention that in the email to try to jog their memory of you. If as you say you met at a conference, they may have met many people in a short time, so try to be specific. I would go direct to them and not the other post-docs. The PI is the person you want to work with presumably, and they are simply another human being - not some ethereal creature that cannot be spoken to by mere mortals!

I would not immediately hand out all your best ideas in the email, but you should allude to the fact that you have some interesting findings/alternative considerations etc. that could be the start of some future work that could build upon their recent successes. By doing this, you are encouraging them to respond to find out what you are thinking, and you are indicating that you are interested in completing some future work with them.

Either way, I suggest that the only way forward is to just start the conversation! They will not know of your interests in future work and collaboration if you don't let them know.

Sending an email is direct, but not exactly uncommon nowadays so is considered an acceptable form of cold or in your case, 'lukewarm' calling.

Best of luck.

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I have some considerations about their results, parallels with our work, ideas for future research etc.

So use this as a starter. Write/ask about their paper and get a discussion going. In my experience this will very often automatically lead to a collaboration of some kind, like a follow up paper or a whole joint project.

As an alternative I would recommend that you talk to your supervisor, what he thinks about the group and if he would think starting a collaboration would be worth a try. Maybe he will then start to initialise the communication.

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