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This is very good advice. I would just add that one should be mentally prepared for two things:

(1) A lot of people will probably ignore you. As in, pretend they didn't get your email ignore you.
(2) Some people might make you feel like you asked a dumb question. I recall a few cases like this. A friend of mine sent an email to a professor asking how to write an abstract. I know it seems easy...but when you are just out of undergrad many people don't know this stuff. Anyway they got a reply along the lines of, "It is just an abstract. I don't know why you are asking this." Another time I asked a question about how to submit a conference cover letter and I got some type of similar reply. Philosophers seem to forget grad students weren't literally born knowing the basics.

In spite of the above, some people will help you. And when they do, that help is invaluable. So ask for help, but have a thick skin.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Amanda: Those things are of course possibilities. Yet I would caution people to expect them, as I suspect these are the very things that deter people from seeking help in the first place.

Strangely, the things you mention are precisely--and surprisingly--what *didn't* happen to me. I was astonished at how many people responded with good will when I just swallowed my pride and asked for help.

Not everyone did, but most did.


But what if they do ask and that happens? If you are prepared, you will ask again. And I'm glad you had a good experience asking for help. But I have asked many people for help and had both (1) and (2) happen. Indeed, this has happened to me many times. I know others who have had the same experience.

I would be curious to hear from others about how common it is to ask for help and be ignored. I will say that when it is possible to ask for help in person, your odds are much better. But even then some people will claim they will help you and then never actually follow up on it.

Marcus Arvan

Amanda: those are all fair points. I guess I would say it can also be helpful to exercise care in who one approaches. There are some people I didn’t approach because of previous interactions that weren’t very supportive. There were others I was less sure about, and others I was more hopeful about. I guess i would say to start by asking those who seem the most likely to respond positively, and then work your way down the list as long as you reasonably can. Obviously, at some point if you keep asking for help and people keep saying no, it can get emotionally difficult to keep trying. But I think if you start with those who seem most likely to be sympathetic, chances are you’ll find a few people who are!

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