What good things does an institutional email address do for you? Here is a list:
- It gives you legitimacy. If you’re working at Important University, then people know this from your email address.
And that’s the end of the list.
What not-so-good things come with your institutional email address*?
- It is ephemeral. If you are a student or postdoc, then you know there will be a day, not that far away, that emails to you at this address will bounce back to the sender.
- It is subject to the changing tides of university IT office policies, support, and archiving practices.
- In theory, and perhaps in practice, it can be read others in your university, (whereas all of your email can be read by big corporations even if you use your university account).
When people nowadays send you email, they find your email by typing your name in the header of the email and your address pops up. Ideally, the address that pops up will never change.
If you’re in grad school, you’re planning to do stuff when you get done, but you don’t know where that will be. (Unless you’re EO Wilson who transitioned from Harvard grad student to Harvard professor, odds are that you’ll be working somewhere else.) It’ll be just a little easier for your collaborators and everybody else to keep contacting you at the same email address no matter where you go.
How do I handle the mechanics of my personal and university accounts? My personal account grabs all of the mail that comes to me from my campus mail. And then I deal with it from my personal account.
I realize that lots of folks like to use university accounts for business, and personal accounts for personal stuff. That’s cool. While my life extends well beyond teaching, research and service, the bulk of my work-related email extends far before, and beyond, my current employer. The obligation to turn in a manuscript review ranks falls in the same category as the obligation to volunteer for my kid’s school, and the obligation to respond to a student email about homework falls in the same category as responding to a student from institution who has a specific question about the science that has come out of my lab. The obligation to pay an invoice for lab supplies ranks up there with paying my own credit card bill. So “one email account to rule them all” makes sense for me.
For the heck of it, here’s a history of the email addresses used: In college, when I was looking for grad school opportunities, I was using email@example.com. (However, at this point in the early ’90s, some prospective advisors hadn’t joined the email bandwagon.) Our college told us that we could keep that address in perpetuity, so I always could have firstname.lastname@example.org. A few years later, the campus IT people they realized they were naive and rescinded that commitment. (Now, there is some alumni.oxy.edu email address if want it, that I’ve never used.)
In grad school, after getting pushed around a couple weird domains like ucsub.colorado.edu, I got email@example.com. When I applied for postdocs and faculty jobs, I used this address in my job applications. This account disappeared a few months after I graduated.
As a postdoc, I got firstname.lastname@example.org. I used this as my main address until I moved over to a 2-year visiting assistant professor position, where I used email@example.com. I left that job after a year, and then I started in a permanent position, where I would have some email address stability. I got firstname.lastname@example.org. That was a weird domain name (which apparently was created to represent “Academic Computing, University of San Diego”), so they eventually acquired a more normal one, sandiego.edu.
After about five years of using email@example.com, I left that job for another one. My previous university account continued to exist for some while after my last paycheck, but I didn’t really notice because I was using my gmail account for all of my off-campus business.
This matters because even though I’ve been in my current job for several years, some colleagues think I still am at my old institution. If I had used that email address, I might be missing out on some important communications. But with my gmail account, my work travels with me no matter where I go. I started using it during the acusd.edu era, when I got an early invite.
Ironically, about twenty years after I lost my firstname.lastname@example.org address, I got it back when I became adjunct faculty at my alma mater. However, a few months after I taught a course as an adjunct, that email address stopped working.
So, I’ve had several email addresses that I’ve used professionally throughout my career. None of which exist right now except my personal account and my current position. Which I might leave as early as six months from now, six years from now, or stay until retirement. All I know is that, whenever I do move, using my institutional address when dealing with journals, collaborators, funding agencies, friends, and everyone else will be a lot easier if my institutional email address isn’t the one that people are used to using.
*Of course, I could write a list of the not-so-good things that come with using a personal account with a corporate provider. It’s easy to find that kind of list.