Forgive the question for being silly, but I do not live in the US and work in a different field.

I am developing an application I believe would be a wonderful (free) asset to the study and comprehension of a particular subject (history, which I suppose brings with it philosophy, sociology, and many others really) for students and docents alike.

I would thus like to gather the opinions of any number of actual professionals (maybe pique their interest and earn their cohoperation), who may be kind enough to waste a few minutes, on the concept, which is handily laid out in brief at the project's URL.

A quick look at a few universities' websites made it clear that is not the way, unless I wish to enroll. I briefly considered contacting PhDs through LinkedIn, but it feels wrong.

So the question is: what are the proper (sensible, respectful, appropriate, expected) ways and channels, if any, for a complete professional stranger, to contact a US Professor and hold some expectation that they may react after some fashion (or at least a suspect they may have actually received the message) ?

  • Why the US ? Because it seems like a good starting point. There are so many people and learning institutions in the US. And American history is quite unique. And the geography is vast, it fits well with the concept. Plus, english.

The Answers all raise very helpful points, I wish I could pick at least 3. It being a question about new tech, students may be the ones to pursue. Thanks all.

  • How many professors are you thinking of emailing?
    – Dan Romik
    Oct 9, 2017 at 18:16
  • How many I do not know, but very few at a time. I mean to keep working on the project in the meanwhile anyway, and there is no wish to spam, nor any hidden agenda or product to sell.
    – deg
    Oct 9, 2017 at 18:25

5 Answers 5


Professors are busy, but PhD students are more likely to have spare cycles for you, and probably more open to new methodologies. Find someone that has already some experience, so they can give better context and send them emails. Skip Linkedin, it is mostly an industry thing.

Now, you need to craft your email very carefully to show your recipient that:

  1. You are offering something useful for their research.
  2. You don't want their money.
  3. You know what you are doing, you are not a crank.
  4. You want some actionable response from your recipient. "Hey, look how cool is this" isn't actionable, "whaddaya think?" is, but seems like a lot of work, "would this be useful for your research on underwater waving through the ages?" bit better, "is there a source of data I could apply it to to be useful for your work?" is better. (Note how the last one shifts the workload to you, we PhD students are lazy people).

The last one is important: there are enough people that read some popular science and suddenly know how to revolutionise every field of study; don't be one of them. Show them that you understand the problem at hand, and that you have some unique set of skills to solve it (in your case, may be you are a good programmer with a wide interest in History), and that your tool is actually useful; but don't oversell it.

If you live near a university you should consider checking them out, because then a physical meeting is possible. Your profile lists you live in Europe, you should consider searching there too, because they are more likely to be able to fly you in for a meeting if and when the project takes off.

  • Very useful points. I am indeed half hour from Rome's La Sapienza, and intend to pop over as soon as I have more to show. I had not considered students because I may not understand: is there anything special in the hierarchy, so to speak, about being a PhD student in the US ? I don't remember such a thing over here, back, back in the day.
    – deg
    Oct 9, 2017 at 20:18
  • @deg don't pop, you'll likely find a locked door or busy people, but do send an email. I don't understand what you mean by hierarchy.
    – Davidmh
    Oct 9, 2017 at 20:39
  • Pop figuratively speaking that is. I mean, I can't imagine the university students I remember being the researching force behind anything much. Would a PhD student be a student who already got their degree but is achieving what I would call their specialization ?
    – deg
    Oct 9, 2017 at 20:45
  • 1
    I'm pretty sure that by "PhD student" Davidmh means a graduate student working towards getting a PhD, and presumably a graduate student beyond his or her first couple of years (i.e. already has a Masters degree or has passed PhD exams and is working on dissertation research). Oct 9, 2017 at 20:49
  • @deg what Dave said, avoid undergrads. The good thing of post grad students is that we have a direct line to one or several professors, so if you get one interested, the professor will at least read the email.
    – Davidmh
    Oct 9, 2017 at 21:05

I am developing an application I believe would be a wonderful (free) asset to the study and comprehension of a particular subject for students and docents alike.

Consider presenting it at an academic conference. In my field, there are usually industry booths at the conferences. But there is also often the opportunity to present innovative software with a poster, or sometimes even as a talk.

Don't expect any responses to unsolicited emails marketing your software. These will usually be regarded as spam.

  • That of conferences is an interesting point. Alas, it is not a commercial initiative, and there is no budget.
    – deg
    Oct 9, 2017 at 14:54

Email them, and make sure your email is much more concise than your question here (and try to avoid overly flowery language).

Don't expect a large number of responses, because to many academics such an email will look like spam.

  • I do tend to do that. +1 thanks for pointing it out.
    – deg
    Oct 9, 2017 at 17:52

what are the proper (sensible, respectful, appropriate, expected) ways and channels, if any, for a complete professional stranger, to contact a US Professor

Email is the standard channel for such things.

... and hold some expectation that they may react after some fashion (or at least a suspect they may have actually received the message) ?

Sorry to sound pessimistic, but such an expectation would be largely unrealistic in my opinion and if you hold it you are likely to end up disappointed. The reason is that most US professors get a lot of unsolicited email from many people (some well-intentioned, others who aren't) trying to get them to "waste a few minutes" on their pet projects and offer feedback, encouragement, fill a short survey, forward email to their students and colleagues, try out a product or service, etc. The fact of the matter is they simply cannot realistically afford to reply to all such emails and still keep their sanity. Even just reading all email is impractical when you count the additional daily barrage of administrative emails begging for your attention, and ordinary, genuine work-related email from colleagues and students.

I personally no longer waste even a minute of my time on any solicitation unless it is personally tailored to me (i.e., has my name in the email greeting and some additional content that proves the sender has an idea who I am and bothers to explain why they are contacting me - if they don't, I will assume the email is a mass mailing and ignore it). Anything else won't get even an acknowledgement. Even personally tailored emails may not get a response if they are from a commercial entity trying to sell me something, concern a subject that's clearly of no interest to me (which would be obvious to a sender who actually knows anything about me), or show indications of dishonesty or bad faith (e.g., a sender who claims to have read my latest paper when clearly they don't have a clue what my work is about).

For other emails who are written by individuals who just have something to say to me (and have a reason for wanting to say it to me specifically), I am happy to spend a few minutes of my time writing a short and respectful answer, and if necessary offering a bit of advice or a pointer to some helpful resource.

Hope this helps, and good luck!

  • It does, and you end up addressing the expectations in more or less the terms I too expected. I hold no illusions.
    – deg
    Oct 9, 2017 at 19:03

Email is listed on college directories, and is the standard means of communication. Generally no receipt confirmation is used, and a reply is not guaranteed.

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