Gas station without pumps

2016 August 11

Email to professors

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:37
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This is the time of year when many semester-based colleges are starting classes again, so there are the usual spate of blog posts from faculty trying to orient the new students.  On perennial theme is on how to communicate with faculty, since so many students seem clueless about it.  (Two years ago, I plugged the book Say This, NOT That to your Professor, which I still recommend.)

Today, I happened to see the post How to Email Your Professor (without being annoying AF), in which Laura Portwood-Stacer provides a template and explanations:

10 Elements of an Effective, Non-Annoying Email

Here’s a template you can follow in constructing your email to a professor. Each element is explained further below.

Dear [1] Professor [2] Last-Name [3],

This is a line that recognizes our common humanity [4].

I’m in your Class Name, Section Number that meets on This Day [5]. This is the question I have or the help I need [6]. I’ve looked in the syllabus and at my notes from class and online and I asked someone else from the class [7], and I think This Is The Answer [8], but I’m still not sure. This is the action I would like you to take [9].

Signing off with a Thank You is always a good idea [10],
Favorite Student

Element #1: Salutation …

Element #2: Honorific 

Element #3: Name …

Element #4: Meaningless Nicety…

Element #5: Reminder of how they know you …

Element #6: The real reason for your email …

Elements #7 and 8: This is where you prove you’re a wonderful person …

Element #9: Super polite restatement of your request …

Element #10: Sign-off …

The hidden Element #11: The follow-up …

I don’t think that Ms. Portwood-Stacer is a professor, as her advice seems more appropriate for freelance writers than for students.  It isn’t bad advice, but I’d recommend something slightly different.

First, I don’t care much whether students include elements #1, #2, and #3, though I agree with her that “Hey!” is offensive. I don’t mind students using my first name, and I tell them so, but I agree that it is probably safer to use “Professor X” if you don’t know the person’s preferences.  In a formal business letter, the proper salutation is important, but in an e-mail without CCs it can be omitted.  (In an email with CCs, it is important to indicate who is being addressed.)

I disagree strongly about #4. I read a lot of email every day, and don’t want to have to wade through meaningless noise.  Skip the chitchat and get to the point—don’t waste my time.

Along the same lines, move #6 to the front. Ask your question or make your request directly, don’t bury the lede. After you’ve made a clear request, then provide the background information: who you are and what you’ve already done to try to get an answer. Make this more complete—if you are asking for something in my role as undergraduate director, for example, I need to know your major, your concentration, and which year’s catalog you are following.

The “thank you” at the end is nice, but a followup thank you message after my reply is appreciated more—the extra trouble taken makes the thanks seem more sincere.

One missed point—provide your full name and your nickname if you go by that in class right at the beginning of the message: This is Ridiculous Name Overly-Hyphenated, who goes by “Rid Overly” in class. I have to read my university e-mail with Google, which does an absolutely horrendous job of showing me who messages are from (there are probably 40 people it identifies to me as just “David”).

Use the official University e-mail address, as FERPA rules require me not to discuss your academic record with anyone but you (unless you’ve given explicit permission otherwise). We’ve had incidents of people pretending to be students to get information they had no right to, so I’m trying to be careful to respond only to the official email addresses. Remember to edit your campus directory entry, so that your email is associated with your real name, and not just your userid (I have no idea who “alkim345” is).

So rewriting her example for a classroom question:

This is Ridiculous Name Overly-Hyphenated, who goes by “Rid Overly” in Class Number. 

This is the question I have or the help I need.

I’ve looked in the syllabus and at my notes from class and online and I asked someone else from the class, and I think This Is The Answer, but I’m still not sure.

This is the action I would like you to take.

Thank you.

For an advising question:

This is Ridiculous Name Overly-Hyphenated, who goes by “Rid Overly”. 

This is the question I have or the help I need.

I’m a bioengineering major in the bioelectronics concentration, following the 2013–14 curriculum. I plan to graduate in Spring 2017.

I’ve looked at the curriculum charts, in the online catalog, and at the online advising web pages; I asked the professional advising staff; and I was directed to ask you.

This is the action I would like you to take.

Thank you.

If you need to meet with me, which is not needed for a lot of routine things, but is sometimes quite useful, add

May I come to your office hours next week at 3:15 p.m.?

Technically, you don’t need an appointment for open office hours, but those who have reserved slots ahead of time take priority over those who drop in. If you can’t make scheduled office hours and want to meet in person, say something like

I have a conflict during your office hours, but am free at the following five times …, would any of those times work for you?

2016 August 10

Response from UCSC on MRC’s beauty spot

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:37
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In MRC’s beauty spot revisited, I complained about the temporary construction staging area having become a permanent blight on campus. I brought the blog post to the attention of the administration, who had the campus architect answer me:

I am responding to your inquiry about the staging area on behalf of the Chancellor. Thank you for your comments and I apologize for the delayed response. The areas adjacent to the East Remote Parking Lot are anticipated to continue to be used for contractor staging, as campus infill sites lack on-site staging space. During periods of low demand for contractor staging, the areas will be used as surge campus parking. Transportation and Parking Services is exploring the feasibility of making the area in and around the East Remote Parking Lot more efficient.
Please let me know if you have any other questions or would like to talk about this further.

I decided it was worthwhile to pass on Ron’s comment about the lack of environmental review, so I asked,

OK, but a question came up in response to my blog post.  Did the campus ever do an EIR on the development of that “temporary” staging area which now apparently has been redesignated a permanent staging area?

And I got a subsequent reply:

The Campus determined that the creation and use of the staging area was categorically exempt from CEQA so no environmental document was prepared. At the time, the Campus anticipated that the staging area would only be needed for up to 5 years, at which time it would be restored. However, since the campus has accommodated enrollment growth under the 2005 LRDP through infill development, ongoing construction in the central campus has necessitated continued use of the staging area.
The Campus created a mechanism to collect funds for eventual restoration of the area. This mechanism is still in place.
Please let me know if you have any additional questions.

While a temporary staging area may be categorically exempt, I’m not sure that a permanent one is. I believe that the exemption was based on the assumption that the site would be restored after five years.

It has been 16 years now that this five-year staging area has been around, and there are clearly no plans to ever restore the site as originally promised.  Perhaps the Sierra Club or some other land-use watchdog might want to look into this issue—I don’t have the time nor the energy to pursue it further.

2016 August 9

Understatement of the day

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 18:03

Poetry books are not always financially viable

2016 August 3

Missing comma

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:42
Tags: , ,

Our local paper had a headline: “4 dead identified as cause of California bus crash probed“.  I couldn’t help but wonder how they were identified as the cause of the crash, and what they were probed with.

2016 August 1

Santa Cruz Shakespeare has released Hamlet photos

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:18
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Santa Cruz Shakespeare has now released photos from their production of Hamlet on their blog. This complements their previous release of photos from Midsummer Night’s Dream.

For my review of the two productions, see my previous post.


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