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PhD4Eva

Academic Email Etiquette

Question

I am beginning Doctoral work in the fall after over 20 years working (mostly) in corporate America.

Over the course of the last few years investigating different programs, and just generally getting the lay of the land in my field of study, one of the most frustrating things is what I'm coming to realize might be my unrealistic expectations when it comes to returning emails.   

In my current job I get hundreds of emails a day, to be fair not all of them require a response per se.  When I do get an email that is asking something of me or requires me to respond, be it from a colleague or someone outside the company, I ALWAYS respond. There's no question about it. I may be busy, and it may have to wait 24, 48 or even 72 hours, but I always get back to them.  Sometimes the answers are complicated, sometimes people are looking for work and explaining to them why they have not been hired or aren't getting more shifts is uncomfortable, but there is no circumstance under which you simply ignore them (unless maybe they are being aggressive or disrespectful). Have I ever missed one and not responded, yes of course, but when the person inevitably follows up I would respond right away.

So far my experience in corresponding with people in academia over email has been mixed, but there has been a large portion of people who just don't respond and they are often people who I am not corresponding with for the first time. It's absolutely maddening. Again, sometimes the subject matter may be complicated or awkward, but if you are professional adult you work through it, you figure it out and you fashion some sort of response, even if it isn't the one they were hoping for. Such is life.

As I move forward I thought it would be helpful to get others perspectives on this. As I said, it might be me, maybe this is just life in academia and I need to (and probably will) get used to it. I'm also open to, and probably guilty of, relying too much on email when I should be using the phone more, but that can be complicated too.  

Thanks

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3 minutes ago, PhD4Eva said:

 If you're a philosophy professor who is training students to sit in a windowless room reading Kant, and smelling their own farts, I might cut you some slack, if not you should do a bit better.  

HAHAHA please tell me that is a reference to the south park episode where a symptom of "smugness" is smelling your own farts. 

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Maybe you've just been lucky until now, because in my experience some people are just bad at returning emails, point blank. Several of my coworkers are like that (although I work at an NGO, so it's a very different culture). But it's certainly frustrating, and I'll admit that it's more common in academia than other places. In all fairness, however, professors tend to have odd, fragmented schedules that fluctuate with each new semester. Professors and admissions/admin staff are also swamped this time of year. Like I said, frustrating, but it's nothing personal. We're all in the same boat.

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Just now, PhD4Eva said:

I guess, I mean its 2019.  What, can you only answer you're email if you're at the office and have access to your Commodore 64? This is largely how we communicate these days, it's not a million miles off someone walking up to you, asking you a question, and you just stare into the distance or walk away.

It feels really unprofessional to me, especially when dealing with people who may someday be colleagues. Maybe my perspective is warped.

I was not in industry for 20 years but I've been in position in my field for 2 years now and I have had the exact same experience as you. At my last company, I was the lab manager so I also got close to 100 emails a day, many of which required swift responses. I constantly check my email from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed, so the inability for academics to respond to emails in a timely manner drives me insane! I've actually roasted (in a professional manner) a few programs regarding their disorganization and inability to communicate during this process. 

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3 minutes ago, crackademik said:

I was not in industry for 20 years but I've been in position in my field for 2 years now and I have had the exact same experience as you. At my last company, I was the lab manager so I also got close to 100 emails a day, many of which required swift responses. I constantly check my email from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed, so the inability for academics to respond to emails in a timely manner drives me insane! I've actually roasted (in a professional manner) a few programs regarding their disorganization and inability to communicate during this process. 

Well that's the other thing. If you're working at a school where you're teaching kids an actual vocation that will require them to venture out in the real world and get a job, then you should be capable of returning an email in a timely fashion. I can't think of a business where that won't be important.  Answering emails, even ones that have to negotiate difficult subjects, and doing it in a timely and professional manner, is way up there on the necessary skill sets list for life in 2019, whether you want to work in Pharma or on Wall Street or make and sell your own homemade kombucha.   If you're a philosophy professor who is training students to sit in a windowless room reading Kant, and smelling their own farts, I might cut you some slack, if not you should do a bit better.  

That's some steam blown off. And now I'll take a deep breath and remind myself to be more generous. There, that's better.

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Posted (edited)
3 minutes ago, crackademik said:

HAHAHA please tell me that is a reference to the south park episode where a symptom of "smugness" is smelling your own farts. 

Not a South Park guy, it's a turn of phrase I've heard, thought it applied here. Always happy to get a laugh though.

Edited by PhD4Eva

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I think you're right that there are a considerable portion of professors who simply don't respond to a good chunk of emails. In particular, I once had trouble getting a response from someone on my undergrad thesis committee, who stopped responding after the first email exchange. It was stressful since I needed to schedule a committee meeting, but in the end it worked out (committee all showed up). So I was relieved and said "oh I guess she's just bad with emails" to my thesis program director, who replied "Yes, she is. I have been lucky that she often, but not close to always, responds to mine." And this is towards another well-established professor in the same department..

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46 minutes ago, feralgrad said:

Maybe you've just been lucky until now, because in my experience some people are just bad at returning emails, point blank. Several of my coworkers are like that (although I work at an NGO, so it's a very different culture). But it's certainly frustrating, and I'll admit that it's more common in academia than other places. In all fairness, however, professors tend to have odd, fragmented schedules that fluctuate with each new semester. Professors and admissions/admin staff are also swamped this time of year. Like I said, frustrating, but it's nothing personal. We're all in the same boat.

I guess, I mean its 2019.  What, can you only answer you're email if you're at the office and have access to your Commodore 64? This is largely how we communicate these days, it's not a million miles off someone walking up to you, asking you a question, and you just stare into the distance or walk away.

It feels really unprofessional to me, especially when dealing with people who may someday be colleagues. Maybe my perspective is warped.

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