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07/22/2021

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David Thorstad

I did this a fair bit in grad school. My experience might be atypical. But I found:

(1) It's not that hard to get comments from top folks by cold-emailing.
(2) However, the quality of these comments varies substantially. Busy people don't always give good comments.
(3) The most reliably good comments come from (a) people you know, (b) people who have/feel some obligation to read your paper, or (c) cold emails to good junior people, who aren't as busy.
(4) Time of year has an effect. Summers and breaks are best. End of term is a no go.
(5) Hit rate is very low if you don't use your institutional email address. No gmail.
(6) Hit rate and comment quality are substantially higher if they're currently thinking about the topic your paper is about. If their last paper on this topic was written ten years ago, try someone else first.

Also, literally nobody ever got mad at me for asking. As long as you're polite and write a short email, I don't see the harm in trying. Even a "no" is often a good way to start a long-term relationship with someone.

I think Marcus is exactly right to stress that it's not all about getting big name folks to read your paper. It's about getting the best feedback, wherever that will come from.

I also found that if you email people asking about *their* work you're very likely to get timely and helpful responses, as long as you have an interesting question/point.

Again this is just my experience. Others might have had different experiences.

Damian

If you have a paper that directly engages (criticizes/ builds upon, etc.) with the work of some "big name", I think it makes sense to kindly ask them for feedback. They might of course ignore you, but I think in most cases, at the very least, they would respect your interest in their work.

I think this is great way to get in touch and get feedback. Still, I would not recommend this method unless you already have a well developed paper (ready or almost ready to be sent to journals).

Michel

Yup: you just have to ask people who are in your network to read your stuff. If you want Big Name People to read your work so you can have a fancy acknowledgements section, then you need to get to know Big Name People.

To get to know Big Name People, you need to either (1) take classes with them, or (2) meet them often at conferences, have friendly interactions with them, get invited to dinner with them, etc. Then, when you ask for comments, it's either as a student/former student, or as a friendly acquaintance, and they're doing the same favour they would for any student, friend, or friendly acquaintance. To become a friend or friendly acquaintance, you need to cultivate a relationship over a few years: meet them over and over at conferences (perhaps you'll comment on their papers, or they on yours), invite them to conferences you're organizing, etc.

The APA is kind of too big and unfocused for this to work well; subfield conferences are much better. And a supervisor who's active in the subfield will be a good resource on that score, since they can introduce you to people. I know most of the people in my subfield--well, most in NA, and many in Europe--and that's entirely because (1) I've preented at *many* subfield conferences, year after year, (2) my supervisor was proactive in introducing me to people, and (3) I've been heavily involved in working for my subfield organization (editing things, organizing conferences, etc.). That's how you meet people and develop relationships with them. It takes time.

All that said, I don't see any special value in having Big Name People comment on your work, especially if the goal is just to thank them in the acknowledgements. Your network should be composed of people at different career stages, and you'll be closer to some than others. Reach out to those you're comfortable reaching out to, and if they help you, acknowledge them. What matters is the help you get, not the fame of the helper.

Ed

Echoing some of the above, there's no puzzle here - just email people cold. I did it as undergrad, a grad student, and I still do it now as a professor. Be polite and don't have any expectations. You'll more often than not receive a useful response.

The way people on this blog talk about "big names", "R1 research networks", and so on is a self-fulfilling prophecy. These people aren't the untouchable ones that so many of you so often assume.

Julia

The advice in the previous comments is good, but I'd also like to add a further clarification. If someone thanks big name X for helpful suggestions on an earlier draft, this does not necessarily mean they read the paper. They might also have seen an earlier iteration of it as a talk and asked a good question or offered suggestions afterwards. The language does not always make it clear which one it was. And it's often not that hard to get some useful comments from someone at a conference or small workshop. In my own case, many more of my helpful suggestions from big name people that I thank them for are of this nature. They almost never read my drafts.

Chris

A bit of luck can help too. Big Name Person refereed one of my journal articles (which engaged with his work) and liked it enough to de-anonymise himself to me via the editor, inviting correspondence. Later, he also refereed my book proposal and sample chapters - I don't think I suggested him to the press, but he's simply one of the few philosophers to have written in much detail on the topic of the book - so I got comments from him that way.

Prof L

I've cold-emailed junior people whose work I think is fantastic. I've told them so and usually am emailing to make sure I've presented their work correctly in my paper or chapter or whatever. I'm trying to do this whenever I engage substantially with good work by a junior scholar. I like doing this for a number of reasons: (1) It's encouraging to that person. (2) It undermines, to some degree, the network of (sorry, but often inferior) senior scholars. (3) It gets my work out there a bit. If they are generous and have the time, this person might offer comments, but generally this is less useful than the connection formed.

I think we should discourage "cold emails" to senior scholars just to list them in acknowledgements. They are busy, over-cited, and there's better work out there. These hierarchies in subdisciplines exist because we defer too much to "big names". (Ditto to "Ed" on the self-fulfilling prophecy). Form your own networks.

Peter

One thing that hasn't been mentioned here: I think that probably 80% of the time someone is thanked in the acknowledgments of a paper, they probably gave comments on some non-written version of the paper (maybe a conference presentation, or a conversation at a pub). If the paper is given as a talk, it's not uncommon to discuss it closely afterwards with people who were in attendance, including "big names" and so on. I think that this is probably the most common way that this happens, and it's definitely not the case (in my experience) that people are out there reading actual drafts of things.

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