I inadvertently created my own archive of pre-internet academic life, and spent some of this weekend exploring it.
For all the concern about pipeline problems, we seem to be fond of creating bottlenecks that filter out the people we’re trying to recruit. Let’s take a quick look at how people get into grad school in my field.
To my knowledge, in most other fields, prospective graduate students apply to graduate programs. And then the selection process happens from there. I don’t have much direct experience with these programs, obviously, because it’s not my field.
But in ecology/evolution and allied fields, it happens bassackwards.
I’m super-enthusiastic about K-12 science education, and working with K-12 teachers and students*. When a student wants to talk science with me, I’m over the moon. That doesn’t mean I’m as drunk as a cat on catnip whenever a K-12 student emails me a question.
I’ll be soon be sharing specific ideas about what can be done about the disadvantages experienced by talented students who attend non-prestigious undergraduate institutions. But first, I thought it would be useful for me to share how this topic has affected my inbox.
I barely get any email related to this site. Aside from the site stats, and some interactions on twitter, I wouldn’t have any other indicator about readership. So when I receive the occasional email related to this site, it stands out.
In relative terms, I got several metric tons of emails about last week’s post about NSF graduate fellowships.
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).
The phone has no respect for your time. Other means of communication happen on your own terms, but this only happens with the phone if you ignore it.
Email is only reliable when the reply is important to the recipient. If it’s not important to the recipient, then it goes on the backburner, and may slowly carbonize.
You can email about some convoluted topics, but the email can be used for the sole purpose of scheduling a two-minute phone conversation. A scheduled phone conversation can make the phone less annoying.
Here are a couple scenarios in which the phone can easily trump email or texting.
A: Last month, I got a phone call from a colleague in another department, who I have not yet met, about some university service. We chatted for about five minutes. If we even came close to having the same conversation over email, it would have taken 30 minutes of back-and-forth typing and I wouldn’t have even come close to establishing the working rapport that happened in the conversation.
B: You can harness the dislike of the phone to work in your favor. Use the phone to avoid unnecessary interactions. Students will make all kinds of imprudent requests by email, that they’d never dare do so in person or over the phone. When this happens, email back one sentence: if you’d like to discuss this give me a phone call during my office hours. They probably won’t call or drop by. But if they do, it’s easier than the email. If you need to respond to this request with substance promptly, then you can call the student. Their phone number is on record. They probably won’t pick up because they don’t know the number, and then you leave a voice mail and you’re done. That’s faster than crafting an email that has the balance of politeness, concern, and firmness that you need to portray when responding to a peevish request in writing.
Caveat: do not leave a voice mail for me, unless I already contacted you and asked for something specific that requires a voice mail.