This term I have gotten to know a lot about the medical and personal situations of some of my undergraduates. I have received scanned reports with the details of appendectomies, I have heard very dramatic accounts of the symptoms of stomach flu, and I have observed the tragic ritual of grandparent quiz-death. Some of this information has been necessary, and some of it has been a bit too much.
At the other end of the information spectrum, recent email messages from students have contained requests for a decision or action by me, but have not provided enough information for me to understand or evaluate the request and to provide a meaningful response.
Am I becoming less able (or willing) to decipher student email with time (=age)? Is an increase in vague email related to the increasing use of cryptic text-message-like rapid communication? Will I reconsider my philosophy of sending a prompt and polite reply to all email, no matter how annoying?
The answers are: probably, maybe, and alas yes. I have been crazy-busy this month and will be for the foreseeable future, and that certainly affects my patience level, especially if the email is especially vague.
Hi FSP, I'm a student at X University and I will probably be applying to work with you this summer. What do you think my chances are?
OK, so I know two things about this student: his name and his university. If I were feeling ungenerous, I would say I know at least one more thing.
Hi, professor I am in your BIG SCIENCE CLASS and my doctor thinks that I should rest as much as possible this semester. Are you willing to accommodate me?
What part of accommodate don't I understand? Most of it, actually. I could guess, but I'd rather be told specifically.
Professor, I am a student in your BIG SCIENCE CLASS and I did not do well on the last quiz. I think some of the questions were about things you did not talk about in class.
And the point of this email is what exactly? To ask for help? To complain? I wrote back to the student and asked in a non-confrontational way what specific questions/topics she believed I did not discuss in class so that we could talk about these and so that I could help her with the concepts she was finding difficult. She did not reply. Perhaps I should have sent her a vague email.
FSP, I am a student at ANOTHER UNIVERSITY and next year I want to apply to do graduate studies with you. Can you tell me about a research project that I can do this year so that I am well prepared to work with you?
8 months ago