9

I noticed that at least in my field, sometimes professors say to students, "send me the [research] paper when you're done with it, I'd love to read it [and give comments]". That is usually taken as a compliment that the professor is interested in the student's work, especially if the professor is famous.

Is it appropriate for students to say that to professors, especially if they're genuinely interested in the professor's research? Or could it be seen as pretentious?

For context, I'm a social scientist, and my discipline is not grant-driven at all, so it is very common for students to not work with their advisors on particular projects (e.g. they work with other graduate students, or other professors who are not their advisor)

  • 4
    Definitely okay in mathematics. I don't think grant-drivenness has much to do with it. – darij grinberg Nov 15 '17 at 2:37
  • 4
    Not in my field, where comments on a draft manuscript don't justify authorship, even when the professor is famous. – wwl Nov 15 '17 at 2:43
  • 4
    Whether comments justify coauthorship depends on the nature of the comments. If they're just corrections of typos, then certainly not. If they add substantial scientific content to the paper, for example finding and correcting serious mathematical errors or improving a major theorem of the paper, then yes. There are, of course, lots of intermediate cases that can require discussion. – Andreas Blass Nov 15 '17 at 2:55
  • 1
    @Andreas comments can sometimes justify consideration for coauthorship, but an author would usually be free to not use unsolicited comments from others about how to improve their paper and not offer them coauthorship. Giving someone coauthorship because of substantial comments they made only becomes an ethical duty if you choose to make use of their comments. Of course, the comments can reveal that your results are incorrect or already known, in which case you cannot ethically ignore them, but in that case the response is not to give coauthorship but to scrap or completely rethink the paper. – Dan Romik Nov 15 '17 at 3:58
  • 1
    @DanRomik I agree; if you get substantial comments but don't want a coauthor, you can ignore those comments and proceed on your own. If the comments you ignore were important enough, the commenter could then develop them into a separate paper (citing yours). – Andreas Blass Nov 15 '17 at 15:53
7

It's not practical or appropriate for a student to impose on the professor a burden of remembering to send them something at some undefined future time.

More generally, any request of a professor of the form "Do X at time Y" where Y is more than 5 minutes away, and even more so a request such as "Do X after you've completed task Z", is 99% likely to be ignored (and potentially be perceived as quite rude) unless the person making the request is the professor's superior, good friend, highly respected colleague, or funding agency. (Even in those scenarios, there is still a non-negligible probability that the request will be ignored!)

Of course, the student is welcome to keep independent watch of the professor's publications page or preprint archive where they post their papers, read the paper when it is posted there, and send them any comments they like; I don't see anything inappropriate about that, and don't see a problem with asking a question such as "is it okay if I send you any comments I have after reading your paper once it's posted online?" (although the question is superfluous -- I would just assume that it's okay and that no special permission needs to be granted).

To clarify, the issue is not the pretentiousness of the request, but the fact that it shows a rather extreme ignorance of, and lack of sensitivity to, how busy professors are and how hard it is to reliably schedule tasks that are dependent on other tasks being completed.

  • To avoid the "99% likes to be ignored," follow-up with the professor by email at a later date. Also, offer to read the near-complete manuscript, if it is already available and the professor is willing. – user2768 Nov 15 '17 at 9:13
  • How about something that is less likely to be perceived as a command e.g. "Feel free to send me your paper..." or "If you'd like, send me your paper..." – wwl Nov 15 '17 at 14:27
  • @wwl one problem is that many professors are nice people and would want to oblige the request, which would mean either accepting the impractical burden it imposes on them (knowing that they will likely not remember to do it and feeling guilty about it, or that they‘ll be able to do it but at a high cost in personal comfort), or being put in the awkward position of having to tell you that they probably won’t be able to do it, then again feeling bad about it and worrying that you’ll hate them or think that they’re snobbish and mean. Etc etc. ... – Dan Romik Nov 15 '17 at 16:07
  • ... And the professors who are less nice would simply nod politely and walk away, chuckling at your cluelessness, never intending to email you later. Bottom line: sorry but it’s a bad idea no matter how you phrase the request. – Dan Romik Nov 15 '17 at 16:09
  • @wwl, if your intent is to express interest in a professor's work, this can be accomplished without making a request. "That sounds really interesting. I look forward to reading your paper!" – PersonX Nov 15 '17 at 18:14

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.