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Email Etiquette: How to Email a Professor

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

As the semester begins and your GMail fills up with countless emails that you may or may not have time to read, it is worthwhile to brush up on your email etiquette, especially when sending emails to professors.  If you want to be taken seriously and respected by your professors, read and heed!

The majority of teachers have certain expectations from messages they receive from students. These professors and instructors will expect a student’s level of communications to reflect professionalism and proper tone, no matter how adept they are at using technology. If the teacher’s title is “Assistant Professor,” “Associate Professor,” or “Professor” you should use the standard described below. The titles of “lecturer,” “visiting assistant professor,” or “visiting lecturer” usually designate adjunct faculty, and in writing to teachers at this level you should use the same standard. If you would like to learn more about the standard for composing an email to a professor or see example emails, please click here.

According to wikiHow, the following outlines the standard for composing an email to a professor or instructor:

  • Read the syllabus. Often times, the question you would like to ask has already been answered in the material the professor has provided at the beginning of class. Requesting a professor go over this again makes you look like you are not a serious student and only harms your cause.
  • Make sure email is really the best way to communicate your issue. Email is often much more time consuming than an actual conversation. It generally takes longer to compose word-processed text than to say it. Even if the email is short and quick for you to deploy, the response for which you are asking can be time-consuming for the professor. For example, emailing a professor to ask “what did I miss?” is not OK. You are basically expecting the professor to take the time to write up an entire class just for you. Also, don’t email to ask about your grades. In the US, FERPA laws mean many universities have instructed professors not to send grade information via email. (Plus grades are better discussed in person. Go to the professor’s office hours or make an appointment where you can sit down together and review your work. Then the professor can show you exactly where in the assignment you fell short. Also, you are more likely to come across as interested in learning rather than being a grade grubber just whining to get extra points.) Whenever possible, try to have a “live”, synchronous conversation with your professor. A general rule-of-thumb is: if it is going to take your professor longer to type out a reply to your email than to say it, reconsider your using email. Make use of the professor’s office hours, where you will most likely get an immediate response. Or, if the office hours do not work for you, make an appointment to visit either by phone or in-person at another time. Reserve email for short exchanges.
  • Use your academic account. People are deluged with emails every day, and by using your school account, you will have a better chance of avoiding the spam filter, or your professor skipping right over your email because it is from an unknown address.
  • Include a meaningful subject line. While this is true of every email you send (that you wish to be read), it is especially important when you are attempting to communicate with somebody whose day is busy enough as it is.
    • If your professor does not already have a preferred convention, then a good default is to start with your course department, number, and section (or day and time of course), and then the topic of your email. For example, “PSYC100 Section XX: Question about data collection for project” would be an excellent way fill in the subject line. With your academic account and your well-titled subject, the professor knows who you are and exactly what you want, even before clicking “Open.” This information helps the professor organize and prioritize student emails. Including the section info is especially important for professors who teach multiple sections of the same course. If you cannot remember your section number, then give the day and time the course meets (PSYC1001 MW @ 2 p.m.). Naming the subject of the course may be almost as useless as a blank email, imagine if a good portion of your job was researching and teaching psychology topics, and an email arrives in your inbox titled “psychology”.
  • Always use a greeting. Do not begin with “Hey” or similar colloquialisms. Generally speaking, you should use “Dear Professor Last-name.” If the instructor does not have a PhD, remember that “Mrs.” is appropriate only for married women who prefer it (and that many female academics do not take their husband’s name). “Ms.” is safer, especially if you do not know the instructor’s marital status, and is often preferred regardless.
    • If he or she signs the reply with a first name, it is still best to address him or her as “Dr. Last-name” or “Professor Last-name” in an email. Do not use the professor’s first name unless you have been explicitly invited to do so. Also, please spell your professor’s name correctly.
  • Briefly and politely state the reason why you are emailing. Offer only as much information as is relevant to the situation and likely to interest the professor. Get to the point right away. You should not begin by providing your name in the body of the message. The professor should already know your name from the email headings and from the signature of your message. Not only is such information redundant, but it also makes you sound like an 8-year-old writing to his or her first pen pal if you begin “Hello. My name is….” Instead, get to the point of why you are writing. Be sure to include the name or number of the course (including section info) that you are writing about, in the email as well as in the subject line. This information is worth including in the body of the email because some email programs, like Gmail, do not show the subject once you leave the inbox.
  • If you are emailing with a problem, suggest a solution.  Be considerate of how your solution might create additional work for the professor. For example, you may say, “If you are unable to give me notes for the material, is there another student in your 101 class that you might be able to direct me to who can help instead?”
  • Sign it with your name and your student ID number. Even if you know that your professor knows you by name, use first and last name and include your course and section information below your name. You will save him or her from having to figure out what course and section you are talking about if he or she needs to look up something about the course in order to answer your question
  • Read it over. If you do not have spell-check on your email, then you can copy the message, paste it into a word-processing program, and run spell-check there. Consider not only the mechanics, but also what you have said. Strive for a polite tone, concise language, and clear purpose.
  • If the issue is touchy or the email long, ask someone else to read it, too. Ask if your reader would be offended by such an email if it were directed at him or her.
  • Allow adequate time for a reply. If you are sending only a piece of information (“I have the flu and will not be in class on Tuesday, but Sue will turn in my paper for me.”), then the professor may not consider a reply necessary. In this case, you are done.
  • Once a reply has been received, acknowledge it. A simple “Thank you,” may be enough. If necessary, write a more extensive email using these same guidelines to achieve a professional effect. If the case is not being adequately resolved by email, then ask for an appointment to meet in person.

Additional Tips:

  • Use the words “please” and “thank you”–they really help and are universally appreciated
  • Try to contact a peer first if the purpose of your email is to find out what you missed when absent.
  • Recognize that requests that may take only a few seconds to write and send may take much longer to fulfill. If you want a grade calculated, or a full breakdown of what you missed during an absence, or anything else that may be labor intensive, then offer to come to office hours if the professor prefers.
  • Being polite does not mean being a pushover. If you have a need, make it known. While you should not make a demand, you can certainly make a suggestion. For example, if you have surgery scheduled on the day of the final, then you should do more than merely state your conflict. You should offer to take the exam early, request an incomplete, offer to submit a final project in place of the exam, or present whatever other idea you think would solve the problem to everyone’s satisfaction. Be sure to remain open to other suggestions, as the professor may have ideas of his or her own.
  • Leave enough time for a response. Some professors do not work on campus every day and may not have Internet access at home, so you may need to wait a few days.
  • Follow up. If more than a few days have passed and you have not gotten a response, then it is appropriate to politely ask if the professor received your email and had time to consider what you wrote. It may be more effective to follow up by phone or by an office visit. Do not be afraid to speak up or send a reminder.

Help high schoolers with an Immigration project?

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

A group of local 9th grade students are doing a 3-month, interdisciplinary study on local, state and federal immigration issues. For their final project, they are trying to write a book of “Immigrant Stories” of people who have immigrated to Western MA. Right now, the group is looking to interview immigrants living in the area. The interviews will feed into the book, and the final result will be presented to legislators at the State House in Boston in June.

If you have immigrated to the area — or you know someone else who has and who may want to participate — please contact Mr. Jeff Dyer at <jdyer@fourriverscharter.org>

Results from Political Science Ugrad Survey

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Thank you to all of you who participated in our Political Science Majors Experience survey (And congratulations to the two majors who won the hoodies for participating!)

We are committed to incorporating your feedback into our programming and wanted to share some of the results of the survey with you.

Among the top findings are: 

  • 84% of majors say that Professors are interested in helping students reach their full potential
  • The most frequently cited areas of improvement were 1.) getting more career advice and 2.) increasing the selection of course offerings
  • 85% of majors are satisfied with the quality of our advising staff
  • 74% of majors are satisfied with the opportunities for scholarships
  • 68% of majors are satisfied with mentoring from faculty
  • 44% of majors are satisfied with opportunities to work on faculty research projects.
  • 89% of majors are satisfied with the quality of instruction
  • 78% of majors are satisfied with our class sizes
  • 76% of majors are satisfied with the relevance of coursework to their future career plans.
  • 59% of majors are satisfied with the activities sponsored by the department

Why did you become a political science major?

Top 2 answers:

  • My interest in politics
  • My future career goals relate to politics and government

What three goals are most important to you as a political science major?

Top 3 answers:

  • Developing skills that will help with employment after graduation
  • Learning more about political affairs
  • Improving my understanding of other countries and cultures

In which areas have you improved most since majoring in Political Science?

Top Answers:

  • General knowledge of politics (57%)
  • Understanding problems facing citizens in the US and abroad (49%)
  • Understanding of political theory (43%)
  • Understanding of international relations (42%)

Bottom Answers:

  • Ability to conduct research (27%)
  • Public speaking (13%)
  • Ability to work as a part of a team (3%)

So what will we do next?

We are committed to growing our Undergraduate Research Engagement Program, and we are working with faculty to develop new opportunities for undergraduates to participate in hands-on research. Keep checking the link above over the summer as we add new positions and application instructions.

We are already doing a lot to help you explore careers –we developed an alumni network this year, hired several professors of practice, organized networking events like Meet the Law, brought back alums for advice and lectures, sent students to conferences and the United Nations, organized graduate school panels, and offered a 1 credit professional development seminar. But we’ve learned that we need to better communicate these things so that more students take advantage of them. Do you have suggestions? We regularly post on Twitter, Facebook, the Dept Website, bulletin boards, and in our weekly email. What else should we be doing? Let us know at events@polsci.umass.edu

We’re thinking about ways to improve your public speaking opportunities, too. To start, we encourage all students to apply to present at the Statewide Undergraduate Research Conference every year. We’re talking with our program directors to see what options exist for offering a public speaking course. Stay tuned.

 

Volunteer as a Commencement Ambassador!

Saturday, March 29th, 2014
It is that time of year again … Commencement! On May 9, share the joy of our 5,500 graduates and their families. Watch degrees conferred, flags unfurled and mortarboards tossed in the air as you join in the celebration by volunteering as a Commencement Ambassador!Responsibilities include welcoming families and guests as they enter the stadium, distributing programs, organizing graduates and walking them onto the field, transporting guests with limited mobility (golf carts), assisting the platform party and faculty in the robing rooms, and enjoying the energy and excitement of this momentous day!

In appreciation for your service to the University, you will receive a commemorative glass, a Commencement Ambassador polo shirt, lunch at Berkshire Dining Commons, and an opportunity to enter a drawing for a thank you gift.

If you are interested in being an ambassador at Commencement, please visit the Commencement Volunteer Website for more information and to register.

If you have any questions, please call External Relations and University Events at 413-577-1101 or email Stephanie Subocz at ssubocz@umass.edu.

Send in your picture for the SBS Senior Celebration!

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Seniors, the SBS Senior Celebration on May 10 will be here before you know it! We want to create slide show of all of you. PLEASE send a high resolution .jpg picture of yourself….taken somewhere on campus, on a study abroad experience, at work during an internship, or doing something UMass-related. Include your full name, major, and ONE sentence about what made UMass special for you.

Send to info@sbs.umass.edu. Click here for more about the SBS Senior Celebration.

 

 

Mass Alliance Grassroots Campaign Training

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Mass Alliance, the coalition of the 25 largest progressive political organizations is looking to educate and empower people, so they can take political leadership in their communities. On March 8th and 9th, there will be a comprehensive training on the implementation of a successful grassroots campaign. This training is for people looking to get involved, for those who want change but don’t know how to make it happen, and for those who are interested in learning how elections work.

The training will be a great place for students to get a real understanding of how to run successful grassroots campaigns.  Attendees benefit not just from the knowledge but from connections to campaigns who are looking to bring on staff and interns and a proven name in training students can put on a resume.

 

Western Massachusetts

Grassroots Campaign Training

Saturday & Sunday, March 8th & 9th

Picknelly Center

206 Maple Street

Holyoke, MA 01040

 Attendees will learn from some of the best progressive campaign operatives in Massachusetts. Sessions will include field organizing, message development, working with the press, and other time-tested tactics for winning campaigns.

The workshop is offered on a sliding scale. The regular price is $90. If you can, please pay more to help us make it accessible to others. If you need to pay less than $90, please contact Jordan  Berg Powers, Deputy Director of Mass Alliance, to arrange that. Students are encouraged to apply.

If you are interested, please email Jordan at jordan@massalliance.org, or call 617-722-4320 to learn more or sign up.

Do you want to speak for the trees?

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Prof. John Nolon, Pace Law School:  “Learning How Law Can Protect the Environment, Create Sustainable Development, and Mitigate Climate Change”

Wednesday, February 5

5:00 pm

E10 Machmer

UMass alum and current Pace Law student Allison Sloto will also be onhand to answer your questions about Pace, the law school application process and what law school is really like.

Sponsored by the UMass Pre-Law Advising Office

Financing Law School Workshop – With Pizza!

Friday, January 31st, 2014

How will you pay for law school?  Learn about all your options from BU Law Director of Financial Aid, Cheryl Constantine.  Sponsored by the UMass Pre-Law Advising Office.

Tuesday, February 4

6:00 PM

Machmer E-10

Pizza will be served!

PSUB Wants You!

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014
The Political Science Undergraduate Advisory Board (PSUB) is recruiting new members this semester!
PSUB is a student run organization within the department that works to facilitate a working relationship between the students and the department to better our education as Political Science majors. PSUB is looking for highly motivated students who want to make a difference within our major.
If that sounds like you, fill out our online application.
Want more info about PSUB? Feel free to email us at umasspsub@gmail.com or at jrlatino@umass.edu!

Applying to law school for Fall 2015?

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Law School Applications–Everything You Need to Know

Tuesday, January 28th, 5:00 PM, Machmer E-10

An overview of the law school application process, geared toward juniors and seniors (and alums) hoping to apply in Fall 2014 for Fall 2015 admission.  All your questions answered!

Brought to you by UMass Pre-Law Advising .