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I am currently in the process of applying to graduate school in the US. Earlier this year at a professional conference, I met a research scientist in one of my top choice university labs who told me I should "reach out when I'm applying" and gave me his card, to which I followed up later that day telling him I would be in touch.

A couple of months ago, I reached out to the professor who is head of the lab asking if he was taking students, who told me I should apply and we can talk further after being accepted.

I would like to follow up on the offer of the scientist and ask for some advice on my application now that I'm applying, but I'm not sure what is considered too much to ask him for. Ideally, I'd like for him just to look at my SOP and tell me if he thinks my goals are clear and align well with the group. It's worth noting that the university isn't too far from where I am, so I could potentially offer to meet him for lunch or something of that nature.

However, if he ends up discussing it with the professor, I don't want the professor to think that now I'm going around pestering members of his group after we spoke and trying to push my way in, so I think it would be important to somehow remind the scientist that he told me I should get in touch and that's my motivation for contacting him.

My question is: is there a way I can accomplish this without anyone being insulted or annoyed?

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  • A better final paragraph might be "My question is: How do I determine how much I can reasonably ask in response to his offer?" – Ed Grimm Dec 3 '19 at 3:05
  • @EdGrimm Thank you, edited! – SqueamishLizard Dec 3 '19 at 3:51
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    @EdGrimm: I think that would still be a very broad question. I mean, how can we tell how to determine this? And what is the actual goal tried to be reached by this? I think the goal would be putting emphasis on the offer that was given in the past. And a good specific question would be How to point that out without appearing demanding? Thats the spirit of the question the way I read it. But since OP confirmed already your wording I hesitate to overwrite that edit. – dhein Dec 3 '19 at 7:04
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    You should ask the question on Academia.SE. You would probably get more specific answers over there. – Taladris Dec 3 '19 at 8:59
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    @Jesse: I meant asking people that are used to the application process of academia, that knows how much weight to put in a conference discussion, that knows the specific etiquette of academia... If the problem of the OP is that he does not know how to communicate without insulting, then there is a lot of unnecessary information to remove from the question. – Taladris Dec 3 '19 at 22:59
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I am not in research, I work in a very small tech company but as a company we have attended conferences and scoped out university graduates for hire. I am a lower level employee, however I'm in a perfect position to help out some students in a similar way that this research scientist is helping you.

First things first, if I were offering someone help, it is a fairly risk free interaction. So long as you accept my help and don't do anything that makes me think you are rude or hard to work with then I don't really see how any issues would arise from our interaction. I might mention to my colleagues that I gave you some advice... but this is a good thing for you! When a student has connections to or is known by any staff (even in passing at a conference) this is a huge plus. We would expect them to reach out and use their connections and would see it as proactive and positive behaviour. So I really would not worry too much!

Secondly, I think you have misunderstood the scientists intentions a bit. You said that they

told me I should "reach out when I'm applying"

If i said this to someone, then I would already have something in mind, or know how I can best help this person. If they asked for help with A, B and C then sure I would probably help them out. But if they just let me help them as I best saw fit then I think we would accomplish a lot more. You can prompt for more help by providing information about your scenario, thanking for past help, asking if there is anything else I think you would benefit from or mentioning that lunch you talked about.

In the end, even if I were to reject some of the things you asked for, at least in our company this would not negatively impact you at all. Just focus on being polite and likeable. While I would not badmouth you to my co-workers for asking me a question, if you asked the same question 5 times or threw a fit after I said no to some request only THEN would you be in the muck. Just be polite and let this research scientist help you as its clearly what they already intend to do.

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