Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Grad Student E-mail Decoder

I get an obscene amount of email each day. Only about 5% of it really requires my attention. Maybe 10% on a good day. Most of it is for talks or forwards from our department's staff telling me about irrelevant job openings or fellowship programs for international students/men/upper year students/anyone with traits other than the ones I possess. Sometimes, I even get three emails about the same talk or fellowship. Plus a reminder. Or four.

To save your time and mine, I have devised a decoder list of things to consider when contemplating whether an email is worth your time to act as a helpful guide to fend off the overwhelming tidal wave of email. Enjoy!


Your Department's Administrative Staff

  • What to expect: Forwards that may or may not be relevant from professors who were too lazy to forward them on themselves.
  • What should you do?: Skim and move on.

Project Cafe

  • What to expect: Cryptic number strings. Messages regarding completed upgrades you had no idea were happening. 
  • What should you do?: Does anyone actually know what these things are? Why do I need a digest of them? Ignore.

Can you break the code?

  • What to expect: Colons, brevity, and email signatures consisting exclusively of initials.
  • What should you do?: Open it and read it, fool. This person gives you the cash monies. Scan for important words such "meeting," "results," and "data."

Bruce Lindvall
  • What to expect: yellow highlighting, blue italicized text, or ALL CAPS ADDITIONS TO THE TOP OF AN ALREADY WRITTEN EMAIL FROM SOMEONE ELSE
  • What should you do?: Create a filter to redirect these emails out of your main inbox. If you decide to open it now, brace yourself to be overcome by embedded images. Open to avoid having unread emails in your inbox. Scan for the phrase "free food." (see Food section below)

Bruce's emails are bursting with so much enthusiasm that it cannot be contained on your screen


"Seminar" or "Colloquium"
  • What this means: A talk that is most likely irrelevant to your research is occurring anywhere from RIGHT THIS SECOND to six months from now.
  • What should you do?: Assess the quality of food being offered. Determine whether seminar is required and attendance is being taken. If not required, determine desire to procrastinate that day's work in order to decide whether you should go or not.

  • What this means: You are expected to interact with other people in some way most likely involving networking, resume building, or sexual harassment training.
  • What should you do? Determine if food is being offered. If not, ignore. If so, determine whether quality of food is worth potential interaction with other people.


  • What this means: Most likely cookies and mediocre coffee or Jewel Osco tea
  • Likelihood of attending? 50-90% (higher percentage if the cookies are the sugar cookies with sprinkles from Einstein's)

These babies make it all worthwhile. Source

  • What this means: Important personage are in town, and the university wants to up the ante. Fancy finger food and punch awaits!
  • Likelihood of attending? 60% (reception = possible encounters with professors and/or distinguished guests. Only attend if food is known to be delicious and worth subjecting oneself to pithy banter.)

  • What this means: Deliciousness and a midday break from research. If coupled with "seminar," food will be provided with little or no effort required from you. Score!
  • Likelihood of attending? Pizza: 75%, Other: 90% (will rearrange schedule if food offered is good enough)

University programs are what keep these guys in business. Source

Phew! Now that I've finally sorted through my emails and procrastinated a bit, it's time to return to the world of electron microscopy. Happy hump day!

Public Service Announcement: If you like books, coffee, traveling, and hearing insightful things about life in general, you should check out my lovely friend Heather's blog over at Wordpress. You'll be glad you did!


  1. I very very much enjoyed this post. I laughed really hard. :) Also, thanks for the shout-out. I feel very loved :)

    1. Any time, dear! Glad you liked it. :)

  2. Bwaaaahahaha, I totally feel you on these emails! Our administrative assistants, although wonderful, send emails like "The copier isn't working." and then 6 minutes later, "The copier is now working" all throughout the day. It drives me nuts!

    Found you via Heather!


    1. Hahaha. It's a universal feeling. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. This made my day! And the worst thing about the Bruce e-mails is how everything is either in an attachment or embedded image on the rare occasion I am trying to find a Bruce e-mail, a search of the text in my e-mails does nothing!

    Also, what about those MSSA e-mails? They should be required reading for everyone...

    1. So much truth! Sometimes the Bruce email embedded images are obviously screen shots from his computer.

    2. YES. Bruce needs to take a workshop on technology, preferably one with refreshments.

      And of course, everyone should hang on every word in those MSSA emails. They are lovingly crafted every time.

  4. And the email sent by "Bruce Lindvall," in most of the cases, the same email would be sent by GSA or MGLC or IO again.