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If you have a question you would like to submit for the Ask the Mentor column, or if you would like to serve as a mentor for the column, please email Brooks Wingo.


“What advice can you give about establishing collaborations with other investigators, especially more senior investigators, or those outside my institution? Most of my collaborations have come from individuals I’ve worked with before, or people my mentor has introduced me to. I feel intimidated to just reach out to investigators I don’t know. What is the best way to initiate discussions like this?”

Noelle CarlozziRESPONSE:

Noelle E. Carlozzi, PhD
Associate Professor, Center of Clinical Outcomes Development and Application (CODA) and
Director, Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, University of Michigan

The best way to reach out to other investigators, especially those more senior than you is to simply do it. Send a concise email introducing yourself and why you are contacting this person. It certainly doesn’t hurt to flatter them by telling them how much you like and respect their work. And then ask if they or any of their colleagues might be interested in potentially collaborating (sometimes these more senior folks have junior people they might be interested in hooking you up with, especially if they don’t have the bandwidth).

If they reply back, then see about potentially setting up a meeting.  And if they don’t reply, take a week or two and then resend a similar email following up.  If still no reply then I would assume they are too busy and move on.

Sometimes, if you already have a well-formulated idea, I might attach a specific aims page to the email (although this might cause other problems since people can be wary about emails from new people with attachments). This gives the collaborator a chance to both see your idea and your writing ability…and if you are asking about involving them on a specific application this can be helpful for them—but make sure it’s well developed, because if it’s not well done you’ve just hurt your chances that they’ll respond positively.