Bad Email Habits

It is often protocol in my workplace to compare your email inbox. Academics for some reason take a great deal of perverse pleasure in trying to outbid colleagues for the title of “experiencing the most misery”.

“I’ve got more than 2,000 unread emails in my inbox!”

“Really? Well I received 1,500 in the past hour, 300 of which are urgent!”

“You guys haven’t seen anything yet, one of my postdoc’s gave my email address out to the entire faculty’s undergraduate mailing list!”

Just fuck off already. You’re doing email wrong.

I have a very different relationship with my work email. I receive maybe 3 or 4 email a day. At least two of those will be bollocks (the virtual kind, not the NSFW kind). The others are probably not worth my reading. As such I’ve developed a rather bad habit where I skim-read the subject line, or first sentence of content, and then reflexively delete it. Like a cat, twisting in mid air to always land on its feet. It’s instinctive and I feel like it preserves my life and/or sanity in some way. There are however three exceptions to my “flight” email reflex.

  1. The “follow-up” email.

When these pop up I feel like there’s been a glitch in the Matrix: I’m like 67% sure I saw something pretty similar to this before… Only it didn’t use bold, or red text… And there wasn’t an explicit line directed at me strongly implying that I should, for the love of god, respond like some sort of functioning adult…

  1. The “amusing” email.

Primarily, emails from Vasile Zhang appear in this category.

Vasile used to work in my faculty many moons ago. Once he completed his PhD he set up a journal and appointed himself editor and chief. This meant that whenever he sneezed out a thought onto a conveniently located piece of paper he could submit it to the journal, approve it more or less without peer review, and publish it into the wider academic world. The University caught onto this pretty quickly and stopped him spam-mailing the shit out of the faculty and advertising to naive students with captivating lines such as “ You should publish with Chang’s journal as it would be good practise before submitting to a good journal”. Rather hilariously, he still somehow manages to email the entire faculty, and it amuses me no end when my email client automatically pops up with “You seem to get a lot of these… would you like to block them?”

  1. The “accidental praise” email.

These tend to  happen when I review conference or journal papers where the organisation in question will send out a pre-set email which automatically states “Dear Professor ‘X’”, or “Dr ‘X’, we require your expert knowledge in this area”.

You and I both know that half of your review force are PhD students: I weep over my data one tear at a time, just like everyone else.

But, it still makes you feel sort of good. Like if you were to wander around in the research community introducing yourself as one of the illustrious email titles, then chances are that no one would challenge you about it. As such, these emails stay. Firstly, it’s a weird bonding habit you form with your fellow PhD colleagues, waiting with baited breath to see who gets a “promotion” first, like the world’s shittiest job-centre bingo.

And secondly, you like to think that maybe, just maybe, 20 or 30 years down the line you might actually fill those boots, and one night you’ll wistfully be going through old email and you’ll stumble across some terrible, long-forgotten institution who in some strange way cultivated the little flame in your academic heart.
And you’ll read it, and think about it for a little while.

You’ll ponder over just how long it it has taken you to get to this point… and then you’ll delete it because fuck it, you employ postdoc’s to deal with that shit now.

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