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  • I am not a man, please don't call me sir.  A little sleuthing goes a long way. However, if you don't care that much you can simply begin your emails with "Dear FirstName LastName" "Hello" "Greetings" or similar. 
  • Don't send me an email that says something like "I would like to work under your supervision." I'm not hiring anyone.
  • Don't send the exact same email to me, the department head, and three faculty members. 
  • Similarly, why do so many international students email the department head? Do you think you're going to jump the line? Do people advise you to do this? 
  • Please carefully read the emails I send. If you seem to have extreme difficulty comprehending them, I will make a note of that and share it with the admissions committee.
  • With some time and attention to your communication, you will receive better information from us. I don't work in the English department so your grammar doesn't have to be perfect. However, it does make a difference before and during the application process.
  • Also pay attention to capitalization. You'd be amazed at how many emails I receive without capital letters. They can be hard to read.
  • I am happy to get settled. However, things will be easier for you if you take advantage of the resources I (and the college) send you before arriving. It will be much easier for you if you take our suggestions about finding housing and a roommate. 

Just a few suggestions to make your application process (and my life) easier.

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Overall, as an international student, I am thankful you are not my go-to person. Do you think we write badly on purpose? Do you think we "jump ranks" because we feel entitled? Do you think we just want to bug you about housing because we are soooo chill about moving to another country? I absolutely get it if you are just venting here, many of us just do that. But you described this as a list of "tips". These are snorty responses deep down you want to say to our faces. I wrote in red some suggestions for you to help us how to right the wrongs we do without knowing they are wrong. After looking at other posts of yours (some of which I think were insightful) I am surprised with these "tips". You have complained in several places about entitlement of faculty and grad students and here you just displayed the same evil you despise. 

1) Sometimes it is not that we don't care, it's that we don't know. In a similar manner, people have responded to me with a "Mr." while I'm not a man so the confusion can work both ways. If you name is an "obvious" name, I would suggest signing "Mrs." or "Miss" or whatever title you prefer students to call you and avoid people calling you "Sir". Suggestion: When not knowing the other person's gender (or preferred gender), it is always prudent to simply say "Hello FirstName LastName" or the like. 

2) I don't know where that comes from. I would never use something like that, but maybe in other fields advisors "supervise" more than in other fields. I'm thinking people that want to work in labs do request to work under someone's supervision. I still don't think this means you are hiring. I've worked on campus and when people e-mail me about working in my department they never say "I want to work under X's supervision". So I'm puzzled at this is "tip". Suggestion: When writing to someone because you want them to be your advisor or you want to work in their lab, I suggest you use the following phrase [insert your preferred phrase].

3) I don't what your position is and who is your audience here. But EVERY time I send something to the office staff (Academic Coordinator or the Program Coordinator) I always CC my advisor, the Chair, and/or the Director of Graduate Studies. But again, I don't know where this is coming from so maybe you can explain a little so that your "tip" is in context. Suggestion:

4) Again, if you explain who you are, maybe this "tip" would make a little more sense. Let me tell you that when you are looking for an advisor, it makes sense to write to the person that knows all faculty, knows how many students each of them is currently advising, knows who is retiring/going on leave soon, etc. This is the first time I notice that talking to the department chair is jumping ranks. In my school and my department, graduate students are colleagues to faculty. There is, of course, some hierarchy, but no one is obsessed with it. If there is a chain of command to follow in your department –and I think it's totally fine–, is it clearly explained in a website or chart? Our program coordinator is very careful to explain to us when some paper needs to follow a certain path. Yet, I have never heard something like "jumping ranks". We are not in the army. Suggestion: Say something like "in our department, correspondence goes through me for reasons that escape you. Please, do not contact the Chair before contacting me and I will make sure your questions are answered".

5) Is that a threat? Again, what's your position to say something like this? English language is assessed by professionals and in the application package. How would this informal assessment play in the admission process? Are you the person in charge of English language placement? Suggestion: [again, not clear what your role is but if you do have a say in the AC and that role includes assessing English language] "Bear in mind that our communication can be use as prove of your mastery of English in the scholarly context. This may affect your application so be careful to use appropriate language, capitalization, and to communicate clearly" (again, I doubt this is an international students' monopoly of errors)

6) I agree that communication is important and sometimes people rush. Native speakers and non-native speakers. Again, I've seen it in e-mails addressed to me from a myriad of people from a diverse background. Suggestion: see 5)

7) ... Suggestion: see 5)

8) You are happy to get settled? I don't what that means. It seems you are the go-to person for several questions and I see that some resources are readily available elsewhere. Believe me, my job on campus have taught me how little people look at information available in websites. Suggestion: "Bear in mind that MOST of the information I provide about housing and getting settled is in our website. Please, kindly read through it carefully before writing your queries as most questions are responded there".

Personally, I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you are having a bad day with an enormous amount of nerve-wrecking e-mails and you are just venting. Simply because of that, these "tips" are not to be taken to heart.


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I think that while a lot of these tips have good intentions behind them, I think a lot of them are clouded by the expectation that all applicants should already know the "social norms" of an academic department and somehow know how things are "supposed" to happen. I second much of AP's response and thoughts.

I also want to go further and say that "tips" like this are actually harmful to academia. I encourage you, @GradSecretary, to speak more with students to learn about their perspective and maybe why they do some of these things that (understandably) frustrate you. Not just international students, but many American students who are new to academia will not know how academic departments work. I know that many of the things you write about here were unknown to me when I started undergraduate studies. I am the first person in my family to go to any sort of University and I learned a lot about what is normal and expected for academics through my undergraduate mentor and advisor. However, I know that many others like me did not have the same benefit and learning, but that doesn't mean they are less qualified for graduate school.

At my school, there is a concentrated effort by students, faculty and administrators to create better pathways for students to apply to our school, especially students without prior experience with how North American academic institutions work. This means that we care about helping students who will make a lot of the mistakes that frustrate you from the list without knowing that they are mistakes. Our goal is to encourage them to apply and not judge them based on things that they cannot possibly know. And to be honest, knowing whether or not emailing the department head is the correct thing to do isn't a pre-requisite to graduate school. This is something you learn after entering grad school, not before. 

Finally, in the spirit of your list, I have compiled a similar list from the international student's point of view when emailing department staff. I don't mean this as an attack on you, but with the idea of "if you can dish it, you can take it" and with the intention of asking you to consider the other side, here are my "tips":

  • My name may not follow North American standards, please don't assume the first part of my name is my legal first name and the last part is my legal last name. My country may refer to each other as LastName Firstname. If you are not sure how to address me, you can always just ask. Or, you can copy whatever I sign my message with. Please understand that just as you may be confused with how to address me, I am confused as how to address others in North American culture. 
  • Please understand that other countries and departments have different hierarchies. In many places, grad students are indeed hired by the school and sometimes the person doing the "hiring" is the department, not professors. In the case that I have mistaken you for a faculty member, please gently correct me.
  • Please understand that the application process can be completely foreign and new to me. I may not be sure the correct person to send a query so I might ask multiple people to ensure the right person gets the message.
  • I don't expect to skip any chain of command when writing to the department head. However, when I go on most academic department websites  and look for someone to be the "face" of the department, this person is usually the department head. Please understand that I may not be familiar with North American academic culture and I may not understand that the department head is a very busy and important person whose main jobs are internal matters instead of directly communicating with prospective students. As an outsider, it might make the most sense to contact the person "in charge". You can help us learn this by gently correcting us, or even better, suggesting a change to the department website that makes it more clear where to direct our queries.
  • Please carefully read the emails I send. English may not be my first language, so please be generous in your interpretation. I might not use the right words so my writing might appear childish, or awkward, or maybe abrupt/impolite. I may only know the dictionary definitions of some words, and not the connotations that come with use of certain words.
  • With some time and attention to your communication, you will receive better information from me and I will be able to comply with your instructions better. If you find that I am having trouble understanding what to do, please consider asking me to confirm understanding and consider rethinking your own word choice to ensure there is clear communication for a non-native speaker. Certain idioms, expressions and abbreviations may be very confusing. In particular, please be explicit in your communication because what makes sense to you may not make sense to me. I don't expect your grammar to be perfect. However, writing sentences that help non-native speakers and those who are unfamilair with academic culture understand can go a long way in getting what you need/want from me.
  • Please understand that moving to a new country, or a new city for the first time can be very scary. Many of us are moving out of our hometown for the very first time in our life. We don't mean to use you as our sole lifeline and support, but often, you are the first person we have had contact with and maybe the only person we have talked to about anything outside of research or academics. Sometimes the materials that the college sends us gets lost in the mail or arrives at our old home way after we have already moved. Or, sometimes, in the stress of moving and changing homes, we forgot about an old email or message that you have helpfully sent. Please be understanding and remind us about existing resources or point us to new ones.

Just a few suggestions to make your department more welcoming and to help us understand you better, which should also make your life easier! Please remember that very few applicants want to intentionally piss people off. Often, if we do something strange, it is because we do not know what else to do and are seeking help.

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