Teh Emailz

Nov 10 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Emailing folks can be a situation fraught with anxiety. Written exchanges are intrinsically more challenging than verbal; written words do not convey the inflections of speech and facial expressions that are critical to face-to-face communication. So your favorite D-List Monktress is here to drop some knowledge on your n00b asses.

Proper Salutation
If this is your first time emailing an elder monk, always err on the side of caution and use their proper title (e.g. Hello Prof. So & So, Dear Dr. Bigwig). If they later tell you to call them by their first name, obviously you should comply. However, don’t make the automatic assumption that because they sign their reply email with their first name that you can become more casual. In the age of the internetz automatic signatures are all the rage, and 99% of their emails will be to their fellow peers, not peons like you. Hence, most will not bother to edit their shit for the 1%. If you can’t take the easy way out of addressing a woman as Doctor, Professor, etc do not just assume they are Mrs. That shit’s fucking annoying.

Don’t be too casual
Just because you’ve taken a class with a professor for two semesters in a row doesn’t make you buddies. Just because you have borrowed Secretary Johnson’s stapler every Thursday before orthopedic biomechanics doesn’t mean you can email ‘hey, can you do this thing by Friday? Thanks Janey!’ Asking people to do shit for you in a respectful manner can make things 100x easier than they would be otherwise. And for those of you mewling ‘but that’s their job, why do I need to kiss their ass?’ stfu. I know you’ve spent several times in your life bitching that someone ordered you around like a peon without so much as a please or thank you, so pay that shit forward.

Write every email for elder monk eyes
Why? You may ask, why can’t I jet off a quick email to my boss saying ‘yo, collaborator Y’s samples ran SUPER AWESOME with my Epicsauce Technique’? Because oftentimes, rather than rewrite your info more eloquently so you don’t look like a hippy nerd, your boss or co-worker will forward that shit out to relevant folks with nothing more than an ‘FYI’ slapped on it. Moral of the story: write every email as if it were going to be forwarded to a Relatively Important Person. Consistently sounding sharp over email makes more of a difference than you’d think.

Figure 1: Some people don't speak fluent LOLCats, mmkay?

Watch yourself when emailing women
Yes, I’m about to put my feminist cape on, QQ moar. Ensure that you are being respectful when emailing a woman, go a step beyond the norm, even. There is something about talking to women that compels some people to think 1) they can be addressed more casually than men and 2) that women’s uteruses somehow make them give more shits than men. Pam from True Blood perfectly summarizes my feelings on this phenomenon.

“I don't know what it is about me that makes people think I want to hear their problems. Maybe I smile too much. Maybe I wear too much pink. But please remember I can rip your throat out if I need to.”

So try a little harder, if anything you will help balance out the karma of all the other fuckers who order women around like they’re Cinderella.

Get to the fucking point
While some folks can be so casual in their emails that you almost expect them to give you a high five and pass a joint, others veer to the other extreme. This can strike especially hard when emailing someone who you think is Science Jesus. You feel compelled to spend three paragraphs describing how awesome they are and how much you love them, and can they please sign your pipetaid that you have enclosed. This is SUPER ANNOYING.

I’m not saying don’t be polite, I’m not saying to state your demands and sign off. I’m saying spend, at max, two sentences being polite (one would really be optimal). Then say what the fuck it is you want, nicely, of course. Then make yourself available to answer any of their questions and stfu. Don’t write your emails like a fucking grant application, no one has time to figure out where your specific aims are.

Make actionable items clear
Few things are more annoying than getting an email from someone and having no idea at the end of it what is was they actually wanted. This requires re-reading the email, emailing back to ask for clarification, or, most easily, just ignoring it. If you need a copy of their paper, state that clearly. If you need permission to buy something and need to know where to charge it, say that. If you want some of reagent SuperFantastic, request it specifically, don’t email ‘hi, I was wondering if I could have some reagents from your lab.’ No, dumbfuck, because then you might ask for the on that cures cancer and I’m submitting a patent application for that. Oh, you wanted the one that makes mice sneeze, too bad you didn’t say that at first, because I’ve already forgotten about you.

That’s what I can think of while I’m on my chocolate break, what say you fellow monks? You know how I love the comments.

FYI, you guys should still be submitting topics for the reader takeover of the Hermitage blog for a MONTH.

12 responses so far

  • As a student, I get tons of emails about various events on campus, most of which are big blocks of text that are hard to parse. The best ones include a TL;DR section of:

    Event!
    Date/ Time
    Location
    Free food ad (if applicable)

    It's much easier to decide if I'm remotely interested in the event if I know when/where it is to figure out if I'd be able to attend in the first place.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    If you put your shortened, casual sign out in your .sig you are a dick. Just sayin'

  • Natalie says:

    Guilty of this behaviour last week - I emailed the interim department head about replacing some of the very old safety posters with new ones (http://www.safetyposter.com/categories/Posters-by-Topic/Simpsons-Posters/). My department is casual, faculty quote Simpsons episodes with students, and I joked in the email that I would buy it if he didn't.

    I guess my tone was off because he approached me after work on Friday so I could explain "my context", ie he was worried I was passively calling the department cheap, and highlighting the lack of safety awareness. Whoops.

  • Be aware of cultural differences if you are e-mailing to a different country. I've found my self in trouble before when I've used Dr. in a country where I should have used Professor or vice-versa.

    Also, I hate is when I get invitations to speak at large conferences with the opening "Dear Sir." If you can't be bothered to check the gender of those on your mailing list, a "Dear Colleague" is both general enough and formal enough.

  • physioprof says:

    Pretty good advice. It is very important when e-mailing someone you've never met before that you follow this template:

    (1) State who you are.

    (2) State why you are e-mailing.

    (3) Give necessary background information.

    (4) List actions you are requesting.

  • Gerty-Z says:

    Great advice. One other thing-if you are asking or something make sure you include all the necessary info. If you want a letter of reference, tell me when it is due and where to send it.

  • Pharm Sci Grad says:

    Yeah, I totally got caught once on the email forward. I was explaining a critique I had of a paper to my PI and BAM that shit got forwarded to the journal. All stupid abbreviations and comments included. It was a total *headdesk* - not the best way to learn that lesson.

    I would add - Subject Lines: Use them. For your records and mine, as it makes that one email easier to find a few months later when you can't remember what was said. Plus, I find the response time and response rate improve when I include a descriptive subject, especially with emails going out of the institution. You don't want your email to be confused for spam because there is no or a nonsensical subject line.

    Also, if you say you're going to attach something, make sure you actually attached it. That shit is annoying.

  • Isabel says:

    Why on earth would someone sign their email "joe" if they want to continue to be addressed as Dr. Doohickey? I always start with Dr. and then switch to first names as soon as they do. This has never had any negative effect on the interchange. I am older than most grad students, which may explain why I am comfortable doing this, but the people who I am cold emailing don't always know this. The only exception is very famous, very much older (elderly) folks who I have never met in person. But in my home dept. even a much older professor definitely goes to first name as soon as he/she makes the first move in that direction. Additionally, I had this discussion once with my advisor and outlined my strategy, and she approved.

  • Nina says:

    Any advise on how to subtly forward this post to a student who wants to do an internship with me and without ceasing starts ALL his emails to me (Dr. Nina) with "Hi,"
    It drives me crazy. I keep writing back "Hello First Name", but somehow he is just not doing the salutation-with-a-name/title thing. Strangely this is a German student, who should be super aware of the whole "Frau Dr. Nina" thing.

  • jimbot says:

    Don't trust spell check. Read it aloud if you're sending something important such as

    "No, dumbfuck, because then you might ask for the on that cures cancer and I’m submitting a patent application for that. Oh, you wanted the one that makes mice sneeze, too bad you didn’t say that at first, because I’ve already forgotten about you."

    What's an "on" that cures cancer?

  • Dr. Cynicism says:

    Oh how I just love the emails from students that read like, "Yo Prof -- whatz up wit dat mofoin test?! Gimme an A, amiright?"

  • thehermitage says:

    MissMSE: WERD. Many times I've ignored a wall o' text email about an event, then a week afterwards will see a sentence about SHIT HERMITAGE REALLY CARES ABOUT, and been like 'well fuck then.'

    DrugMonkey: It is not my n00b place to pass judgment on teh elder monks, only to pass along observations.

    Natalie: Jokes over email are very hard to do. Which is hard for your D-List Monktress because she is all jakes, all the time, brah.

    Barefoot Doctoral: 100% Truthiness.

    physioprof: There are not swear words in any of that. Who are you and what have you done with CPP?

    Gerty-Z: Preferably in BOLD LETTERS. Or underlines, or something.

    Pharm Sci Grad: I've gotten bitten by the forward of shame multiple times. And everytime I'm like ' Y U No Tell Me First?'

    Nina: Forward a bunch of links (including this one!) and say 'this will be helpful to you as you progress in your research career, please read and take into account when communicating with peers and superiors.'

    jimbot: You think we use spellcheck here, that's so cute.

    Dr. Cynicism: Iknorite? I wann be like 'hey yo, you legit didn't turn in half the pages of your exam, u fail!' *feeds papers to gerbil/puppy/goldfish*

Leave a Reply