First of all, an aside: today I'm much cheerier than I was in last night's post. Thanks for the support of those who commented, and yes, part of it is really just the time of year :)
But what I want to write about is in response to this post over at Manorama's, which is written in response to this post (and the comments) over at Profgrrrrl's. To summarize briefly, Profgrrrrl complained about an incoming advisee who emailed twice within 24 hours, and Manorama noted that the tone (especially of the commenters) was not terribly supportive. (If you want the fuller story, read the two posts.)
At any rate, when I read P-G's original post, I've got to say that my first thought was, "this is why I don't check email when I'm not in town." And then when I read Mano's response, I thought, "hmmm, should professors be more supportive to this kind of student? I don't know."
So first things first. I think that I would have been irritated, as Profgrrrrl was, by this sort of correspondence from a student. Why? Well, the main reason is that this was a grad student, and NOT an undergraduate. If a person is entering grad school, while it's true that they don't know the ropes in many ways, they should at least have a clue about the academic calendar and the fact that professors are often not immediately available in the summer. Now, I understand angst and the desire to make a good impression. That said, by the time I was grad-school-age, I also understood that it would NOT make a good impression to seem needy and impatient. The student could have waited at least a couple of days. That's not to be dismissive of the student's anxiety - it is rather to note that by the time that a person is an adult (as all grad students are) they should have some sense of social protocols for not seeming overbearing and annoying. I'm not talking about the content of the email here, really, just about the time in between the two emails, and the fact that the student (at least from Profgrrrrl's report) wasn't terribly tactful in resending the email (at the very least the student might have explained why he/she was concerned that the email didn't go through and apologized in advance if the prof. was getting two identical emails). That said, Manorama is spot on when she writes: "Profgrrrrl was on vacation and could simply put the e-mail, and NGS's worries, completely out of her mind until it was a better time to respond." That's the beauty of email. One doesn't need to respond immediately.
Except it's important to note here: there was a time when I would have been much more irritated by such a situation, because I would have felt badly for not responding. What has happened to me, in four years on the tenure track, is that I no longer get irritated by such things because I no longer feel a responsibility to respond in a timely fashion, or to respond substantively in a timely fashion. I suspect, that whenever Profgrrrrl does respond to this student, that she'll be much more helpful than I would be. [Edited to add: she actually did post a basic version of her response to the student in her comments, and it is nicer - and longer - than what I'd have responded, in that she took the time to look up info online and to provide it for the student. ] Here's what I'd probably respond, if I responded at all before I were back in town: "Thanks for your email. I'm currently out of town, but I look forward to meeting you at orientation. Best wishes, Dr. Crazy." I suspect that a student who was anxious and looking for answers wouldn't necessarily respond well to such a reply. But that's what I'd write, and then I'd not respond to the student again until I met the student. Why? Because that's how my diss. director treated me, and I am apparently becoming him.
But really, it's not that I'm just a bitch who learned passive-aggressive and bitchy ways from her own advisor. Here's the thing: the fact of the matter is that being a good adviser, in itself, in terms of helping students to choose classes and such, is totally not rewarded, as far as I can tell, if one is a professor. Nor, ultimately, is teaching. Particularly at institutions with graduate programs. What matters, more than anything else, is publication. Even at my institution, an undergraduate institution that emphasizes teaching, things like being a good teacher and adviser alone will not get a person tenure, and one doesn't receive much reward for those things. And most people in professor-type positions are on nine-month contracts. What this means, for most of us, I think, is that we confine teaching-type duties to the time during which we're paid to do them. The "off time" is reserved for the things that "actually" matter, like research and publication. I'm not saying that this is good or fair or anything else. I'm just saying that this is the way that it seems to be.
The other thing to remember is that people ultimately are more likely to respond positively to requests when they actually know the person requesting them. Again, perhaps not good or fair or anything else, but human nature. I know that when a former student whom I'd mentored for two years asked for my help in the spring, even though she's no longer "my student," I was happy to help. And quickly. When students (and there have been a number throughout the summer) who don't know me and with whom I have no relationship whatsoever have emailed me for help, with getting into my classes where the enrollment has already capped, I'm much less likely to be forthcoming in meeting their demands. Because here's the thing: it comes off as a demand if you email and call me asking me for something when I don't know you. That's not because it is a demand - it just comes off as one. But here's the thing. That's why I don't check my voicemail in the summer regularly, and it's why I'm not obsessed with work email in the summer. Because ultimately, it's up to me to set the boundaries. Because, as Manorama notes, the professor is the one with the power in this situation.
In recognizing that, maybe I've actually become less supportive of students. But it also means that I don't vent about this sort of crap on the blog anymore. You know why? Because I don't get irritated anymore, because I'm not personally bothered by the fact that I'm not responding to them. Is that a good thing? Maybe.
4 years ago