We all get tons of email. We all need some system to deal with it. That system should not include ignoring emails from graduate students in our own departments. A student should not have to send multiple messages. A student should not have to beg for something reasonable. A student should get a signature in a timely fashion. A student should not have to run interference between staff members needing rules followed and faculty who are too busy.
It seems so simple. A grad student emails you about something that requires action.
Read the email and respond. If it is complex or you are not sure how to respond, just let the student know. Don’t ignore the student. Ever.
Emails can chew away at our productivity. If you don’t have a good system for handling email, it can overwhelm. But most of the cases I hear about involve professors who have read the email, then failed to answer. I’m sorry, but I don’t get it.
What is reasonable? I think emails from graduate students should be answered when they are read, even if the answer does not solve the problem, but just lets the student know you are aware of it. I think 24 hours is a reasonable time frame. Emails do not have to be answered at night or on weekends, though you will get an answer from me.
Our students should not have to guess at what we think. We should tell them. Our students are precious. They are taking on a risky and exciting endeavor, one that we ourselves took on. It is our job to guide and mentor them through this process. We should share our joys and our failures, our papers and grant proposals. We should give them the freedom to explore and the support to keep excessive failure away. We should do many, many things for our students. Playing hard to get is not one of them. So answer those emails!