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reaching out

I think the way people on the other end, those asked to read something, respond is really (i) not predictable, and (ii) out of one's control. So that can hardly be the key consideration in determining what to do.
But in my experience, some people (even somewhat big names) have welcomed the opportunity to respond to a piece addressing their work. I think they see it as a chance to help someone along, and advance the debate. Once I did it with a somewhat big name person, and he hated what I had written, and he told me how I got his view wrong. He did not hold back. I subsequently fixed the paper, then strengthened the argument, and published it in a very good journal. The paper has been cited 44 times ... so I think it paid off. He did say later that he did think my paper had an important point - that is, the fixed version. But another time I got really thin comments from a far too busy big-name. That paper was also published in an okay journal - it has been cited only 2 times.


The one time I reached out to someone I'd never spoken with before, I didn't ask for comments on a whole paper (which does seem like a big ask).

Instead, I just made a short summary of my core point, and asked them what they thought of it, or if I was getting their view right, I forget exactly. The correspondence went well.


I think it's best to reach out to request feedback if you know the person and even better if they have offered before you do. I know this can be difficult for those who haven't networked as much, but perhaps one strategy is to ask faculty in one's department if they wouldn't mind making an introduction by email to connect you to someone working in your area they know who might be interested in you and your work. That comes off better than a random email request for a person to read your work.

For what it's worth, I often receive requests for advice and feedback from students I have never met (both graduate and undergraduate), both on their work and about the job market - sometimes those requests ask for Zoom calls. When I get these requests, they honestly just stress me out. I feel guilty for saying no (when I do), but at the same time, I don't have time to give advice, mentorship, and feedback to everyone who asks. Saying no is difficult for lots of faculty (especially, probably, junior faculty and faculty who are underrepresented in the discipline).

The answer to this question might come down to personal preference, but I do encourage people to err on the side of caution. Before you send a request for feedback, think: "how might this come across to someone I've never met but who has their own research program, teaching prep, papers to referee, service obligations for their department and institution, supervision of thesis projects, grading, etc. come across?" If you do want to send that request, I suggest framing it carefully in a way that shows you really do know the person's work well, and that you very much respect their time.

Anonymous full professor

I am a senior person who is reasonably known in the field I work in (full professor) and I get several emails weekly, sometimes even daily, by people I don't know with requests to look over their MS, even to co-author with them. I got an email with a 500+ page MS asking me to sort of polish it up. I get emails of people with long rambling articles on the meaning of life. Also, from experience I know that if I respond politely to decline, I just get myself into a very, very long correspondence. I have also gotten emails from junior folk asking me to do a literature review for them ("I work on X, I notice you've published on X. Could you compile me an annotated bibliography?") I often wonder if I weren't a woman if people would send me such requests.
So, for better or for worse, I do not respond to such emails. I
I am putting the following advice for junior folk who want to email senior folk and hope to get a response
* Do not ask them to do a literature review for you or anything else one would normally ask a research assistant. They don't have time and no incentive
* Clearly state who you are. "I am a grad student at [university] and I work on [topic]" or something like that effect.
* Do not create big hurdles when you cold contact. I strongly advise people not to send full manuscripts cold. It just isn't going to work. It has a bigger chance of working if you have some prior connection e.g., a conference (they will be back at some point!) where you introduce yourself and ask if it's okay to send the MS over.
* Rather, make the hurdle smaller. Pitch who you are, what your interest is. You could send a paper you published with no strings attached ("for your interest, I am sending...")
* Asking for an introduction is a good idea, as offered above. Even then, you can't expect that a senior person you have no prior connection to will read your work. They simply get too many such requests.

Sam Duncan

I'll be honest I've never had bad luck with emailing people pretty much out of the blue. I've had a few people simply ignore me and one or two use their emails to talk about the things they like to talk about rather than really responding, but for the most part the people I've emailed have been exceedingly kind and helpful. But I've always been incredibly polite when I did this and acknowledged that what I was asking might be an imposition. There's an old saying to the effect that the more polite you are the pushier you can get away with being and I've found that's a pretty helpful thing to keep in mind in academia generally. (This is helpful for academic philosophers to be reminded of since dickishness-- or I'm sorry "rigor"-- is often lauded as a virtue in our field). I'll echo the other comments though that you should give a short pitch of your idea in the email to see if they're interested before you think of asking them if they would read the paper. It also helps if you explain specifically why you're emailing them, and you should have some reason beyond well you're a big deal and it would help if you're interested in my work. And while I wouldn't try any insincere kissing up, if you really like their work then you should say that and explain why. Anyway, if you do this right-- that is if you're polite and don't ask for something really presumptuous and insulting like for them to a do a lit review for you-- I don't see that there's any real risk to this and there are pretty big potential payoffs. On a less mercenary note, I've found it's a wonderful way to have an actual conversation with someone in the field outside the weird distorted atmosphere most conferences create.

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