COMMUNICATING WITH A PROFESSOR

Students and professors differ in how they prefer to communicate with other people. One of my grad studentsduring her practicumconducted a survey and found that if there was an emergency on campus, most students would prefer to receive an alert by text; most professors would prefer an alert by e-mail. There is no “better” way to communicate, but they are all different and people vary in their ability to use different means of communication. Don’t assume that a professor (or employer) is accustomed to the same ways in which you would e-mail, text, or phone a contemporary. A professor once told me the use of :) was an “old joke.”

E-mail

The average professor has hundreds of e-mails in his/her in-box. That’s because in-boxes double as to-do lists, filing cabinets, repositories of SPAM, journal responses, ethics applications, student questions from 2005, and legal evidence. This haphazard method of record-keeping means that in order to find anything, the professor has to run a “search”. In all likelihood, a professor won’t remember your name, so if he/she needs to find your e-mail with your class assignment or medical note attached, a relevant subject line is mandatory. A subject line that just says “hi”, “hey”, “stuff”, “urgent”, “ASAP”, “attention required”, etc. is in no way useful. Rather, it is unprofessional and annoying. Someone running an e-mail search will experience frustration in as little as 90 seconds if they can’t find what they’re looking for. And you don’t want profs reading your e-mails when they’re annoyed. Similarly, never write an email angry or drunk, and definitely not both. Social science professors are also highly literate and often pretentious; they will judge you for sentence structure, grammar, and spelling. Don’t underestimate the importance of writing a professional e-mail, no matter how simple the matter. I’m not joking. This means avoid text abbreviations, sarcasm (irony is rarely understood over e-mail), and spelling errors. Poorly written e- mails can be confused for SPAM and get deleted. And for heaven’s sake, spell the professor’s name correctly.

Telephone/Voice-mail

I rarely answer the phone any more. I usually let it go to voice-mail. I’m not unusual. If you leave a voice-mail message for a professor, speak clearly and deliberately, repeat your telephone number and full name at least twice, and briefly indicate the nature of your issue. Follow-up with an e-mail.

Texting and social media

Few standards exist governing the professional use of social media (and other post-2004 communications technology). Different departments have different norms, so this is something you have to find out for yourself. But when in doubt, stick with a professor’s e-mail, office phone, and visits during office hours. Other forms of communication might be considered too personal or inappropriate.

Guidelines for crafting an e-

mail to your professor

The preferred form of address to a professor is [title, last name]. When in doubt, address them as “Doctor” or “Professor.” (I’m partial to “Sir”, having gone to an all-boys Catholic high-school) Never use their first name unless you are invited to do so. Sign your e-mail at the end of the message using your full name. Including your student number doesn’t hurt. Write a topic-relevant subject line. Include the course number if you’re in the professor’s class. Proofread your e-mail for errors. Avoid abbreviations, slang, colloquialisms, and cultural references after the 1990s. Keep it brief. If you have more than two questions, or your issue is complex, see the professor in person. If possible, send the e-mail via computer rather than your mobile phone. Avoid embarrassing autocorrects. Sarcasm, irony, and jokes are easily misinterpreted over e-mail. Although emoticons help to clarify meaning and tone, they also make you seem unserious and childish. Separate different topics by paragraphs or bullet-points. Including “ASAP” in your e-mail usually results in the opposite happening.
Greg A. Chung-Yan, PhD Industrial-Organizational Psychology

COMMUNICATING

WITH A

PROFESSOR

Students and professors differ in how they prefer to communicate with other people. One of my grad studentsduring her practicumconducted a survey and found that if there was an emergency on campus, most students would prefer to receive an alert by text; most professors would prefer an alert by e-mail. There is no “better” way to communicate, but they are all different and people vary in their ability to use different means of communication. Don’t assume that a professor (or employer) is accustomed to the same ways in which you would e-mail, text, or phone a contemporary. A professor once told me the use of :) was an “old joke.”

E-mail

The average professor has hundreds of e-mails in his/her in-box. That’s because in-boxes double as to-do lists, filing cabinets, repositories of SPAM, journal responses, ethics applications, student questions from 2005, and legal evidence. This haphazard method of record-keeping means that in order to find anything, the professor has to run a “search”. In all likelihood, a professor won’t remember your name, so if he/she needs to find your e-mail with your class assignment or medical note attached, a relevant subject line is mandatory. A subject line that just says “hi”, “hey”, “stuff”, “urgent”, “ASAP”, “attention required”, etc. is in no way useful. Rather, it is unprofessional and annoying. Someone running an e-mail search will experience frustration in as little as 90 seconds if they can’t find what they’re looking for. And you don’t want profs reading your e- mails when they’re annoyed. Similarly, never write an email angry or drunk, and definitely not both. Social science professors are also highly literate and often pretentious; they will judge you for sentence structure, grammar, and spelling. Don’t underestimate the importance of writing a professional e-mail, no matter how simple the matter. I’m not joking. This means avoid text abbreviations, sarcasm (irony is rarely understood over e-mail), and spelling errors. Poorly written e- mails can be confused for SPAM and get deleted. And for heaven’s sake, spell the professor’s name correctly.

Telephone/Voice-

mail

I rarely answer the phone any more. I usually let it go to voice-mail. I’m not unusual. If you leave a voice-mail message for a professor, speak clearly and deliberately, repeat your telephone number and full name at least twice, and briefly indicate the nature of your issue. Follow-up with an e-mail.

Texting and social

media

Few standards exist governing the professional use of social media (and other post-2004 communications technology). Different departments have different norms, so this is something you have to find out for yourself. But when in doubt, stick with a professor’s e-mail, office phone, and visits during office hours. Other forms of communication might be considered too personal or inappropriate.

Guidelines

for crafting

an e-mail to

your

professor

The preferred form of address to a professor is [title, last name]. When in doubt, address them as “Doctor” or “Professor.” (I’m partial to “Sir”, having gone to an all- boys Catholic high-school) Never use their first name unless you are invited to do so. Sign your e- mail at the end of the message using your full name. Including your student number doesn’t hurt. Write a topic- relevant subject line. Include the course number if you’re in the professor’s class. Proofread your e-mail for errors. Avoid abbreviations, slang, colloquialisms, and cultural references after the 1990s. Keep it brief. If you have more than two questions, or your issue is complex, see the professor in person. If possible, send the e-mail via computer rather than your mobile phone. Avoid embarrassing autocorrects. Sarcasm, irony, and jokes are easily misinterpreted over e-mail. Although emoticons help to clarify meaning and tone, they also make you seem unserious and childish. Separate different topics by paragraphs or bullet- points. Including “ASAP” in your e-mail usually results in the opposite happening.
Greg A. Chung-Yan Industrial/ Organizational Psychology