Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Help Less

An email I received before a conference this fall, from a student who has discussed applying to graduate school at MyU to work with me:

Dear FSP, I will be attending the conference on Thursday and Friday. Please let me know if you have a presentation on either day, and I will certainly stop by.

HelpLess Student


Isn't the Younger Generation supposed to be so totally wired and networked and connected that they know that they can find information about anything online? Is this email a proverbial red flag that this student will not thrive in a graduate program requiring creativity, energy, and independence? Or should one not read too much into a casual email that may just have been intended to say something like "I'll be at the conference and hope to see you there too", kind of like a Facebook "What are you doing right now?" news flash thing?

At the moment, my opinion is rather firmly entrenched in the former scenario, but perhaps I could be convinced otherwise by an extremely awesome Statement of Purpose.


Note: In the near future, an answer key will be posted to the question at the end of yesterday's post. In the meantime, let me just say that I am disappointed in many of you and hope that you will do better on the final exam.

18 comments:

sara said...

I struggle with this problem. I often want to make contact with someone, but I don't have any questions for them because I can look up the information myself. I think, why should I email that professor to ask about their research, when I can just read their papers and understand it for myself?

As a result, I don't network enough.

Anonymous said...

For the love of Mike. Run for the hills now!

Yesterday I had a similar mail from a student saying "I am looking for a summer internship. I am thrilled by your research and have read your webpage with great interest ...."

Well, apparently not since he was using the email address from my old institution and my old webpage quite clearly states that I have moved to NewU. I used to feel guilty about not replying to clueless students but no more! Straight into the trash he went.

Rachella said...

I think it's actually just an excuse to send you a note.

I get a lot of that types of correspondence, a by product, I think, of all those self-help books that encourage people to increase their chances of success by keeping in touch with people who can help them further their careers, studies, etc....

twirly said...

My guess is the student is using the e-mail to show you s/he is interested in your work and will be attending your talk in a suck up kind of way.

Anonymous said...

As someone who was until very recently a member of the 'younger generation', I think the student is just trying to be polite and give you a heads-up that they will try and catch up with you at the conference - but I agree that it could have been phrased less uselessly.

Anonymous said...

In defense of the student, s/he is probably trying to show you that they are interested in your work. If s/he looked up your presentation and attended, you wouldn't necessarily know they were in the audience - by sending you an email, s/he can demonstrate an interest in hearing your presentation.

I suspect it's kind of like my dad's suggestions to send my advisor emails when I'm in the lab late on Friday nights, just to let him know that I'm there.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the other Anonymouses (anonymi?). This doesn't seem this bad- he's a little clueless but is just trying to bring your attention to the fact that he is interested enough in you to be seeking your presentation out (which you might not know otherwise if you've only met him on email) and that he's involved enough in the field to be going to the conference anyways.

Plus, sometimes more senior people don't end up presenting their own stuff (I have tried to stalk many a PI at a poster session only to find a grad student in their place, even if the PI is the first author), so sometimes the internet isn't as all-knowing as we'd like it to be.

Lynne said...

While asking what time your talk is isn't a good way to do this, I am pretty convinced this is a student touching base because they want to work with you. It seems pretty benign to me. Students know they need to talk with science faculty they may want to work with before applying to grad schools.

Cherish said...

The student probably feels that asking a plausible question is a good way to keep in touch with you. On the other hand, they might feel self-conscious about sending note saying they plan to be at your talk. A likely response would be, "So what?" Would you have preferred that they ask to meet and talk with you at the conference?

lost academic said...

Like most commenters I think that email is awfully polite especially considering the usual thoughtlessness of the current crop of students. I'm assuming this is probably not a student you've met in person or spent a lot of time conversing with. This email prepares you that you might see someone who probably spends a lot more time thinking about you and your university and your work than you would (or should) about him or her. This person surely plans to seek you out if you have a poster or presentation, which isn't exactly shocking, but the email allows the potential to open up a conversation about the conference, any presentation you might give, etc. It seems likely that the student considered whether or not to contact you regarding this event and decided it would be rude not to and just to basically jump you unsuspectingly and with the assumption you'd have any time to talk.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the others - this student is probably just trying to stay in touch. A better way for the student to have done this would have been:

Dear FSP, I am looking forward to your presentation on Friday, and wonder if we could meet and discuss your research afterwards?

OR

Dear FSP, I see you are not presenting this time around. Do you have any suggestions on interesting presentations to attend? Perhaps we could also meet and discuss your research at some point.

But, having been a helpless student trying to show interest in my potential future adviosr's work, I know it is intimidating emailing academic heroes and it can be difficult to think of good things to say. I think this explains a lot of lousy emails.

female Science Professor said...

Yes, that's right -- either of those would have been great as an approach. I will write some more suggestions tomorrow.

female Science Professor said...

For those who sent me advice about a future meeting and how I should respond, it is too late. I wrote about a past event.

Prof-like Substance said...

In that type of situation I tend to make some time to meet and talk with the student. I have found that about 10 minutes of conversation goes a long way to determining the students interest in your lab and how much they have looked into the work. I would preface the meeting with the fact that your finances are up in the air at the moment due to funding cycles, which gives you an out if the student doesn't show you much in conversation. On the other hand, if they really seem like they have potential youcan suggest that you may be able to work out another position. Of course, this assumes that you did not advertise a position prior to the meeting.

zb said...

"Dear FSP, I am looking forward to your presentation on Friday, and wonder if we could meet and discuss your research afterwards?"

I suspect this wasn't written because the author was worried about imposing, because it is a direct request.

Anonymous said...

I think you're being too hard on the student. Ze's probably incredibly nervous, even about small things like this. Cut hir some slack!

female Science Professor said...

What zb suggested would be totally fine with me as well.

Just_Another_Grad_student said...

As a grad student, or an would be grad student a few years ago,I too sometimes feel confused as to stuff that I write on mails to virtually unknown people.
I end up wasting a huge amount of time, writing and then "backspace"ing. At the end, I just get tired of it, and write something.

It is hard on the student. I totally agree with FSP that the mail sounded stupid, but I have been at the other end too, and would like everybody to be a little considerate to the poor guy.

Anyway,writing "suck mails", as we used to call them in undergrad,is one one of the toughest things to do.