Using the Expertise of Academic Staff

As a research student you will probably find yourself in a university full of experts in all manner of subjects. Using this expertise can be enormously helpful for your research – but it is something you will probably have to pursue. It is unlikely to present itself to you.

Academics in most universities are generally very busy. This doesn’t mean they don’t want to talk to you or that they won’t make time to see you. Most academics love the opportunity to talk about their research interests with a passionate research student. But it does mean that they won’t seek you out. You will have to go to them.

Take some time to review the research interests of the academics in your department and university. Many universities have webpages that list their staff and their recent publications. Or you could search for their Orcid IDs. (Put Orcid into Google and you’ll find the relevant site).

If you identify some people worth speaking to – email them to request a meeting and be clear what you would like to speak about and how it links to your work. Try to make it a brief email, there is no need to recite your complete project proposal. You should also give them an idea of times when you will be free.

If you don’t get an answer within two weeks, follow it up with another email. Try not to be frustrated – it is more likely that your original email just got buried by all the other work they had to do. 

You may also find it helps to attend departmental meetings, research café’s and any other gatherings where people in your area meet to discuss research etc. Very often a quick two minute conversation with someone before or at the end of a meeting can get you the conversation that you want.

Once a meeting has been arranged, try to arrive prepared. Read some of the academic’s work and have some idea how it connects to your research. It can help if you have some specific questions.

It can also be useful to think about external networks they may know about and can connect you to.

Contacting an academic who has a strong profile and publishing record may seem daunting at first but remember they are just you a few years down the line. They are people too, with all the same foibles and flaws as the rest of us. Take courage and make contact. Not only will you potentially gain from their expertise but it will also be a great opportunity to practise your networking skills. As a result when you go to conferences etc. you will be much more practised and confident about approaching other researchers in your field.