How to email your supervisor (or, the tyranny of tiny tasks and what you can do about it)



Ah email… blessing or curse of contemporary academic life? This letter from a student describes a common email problem between students and supervisors. Below you’ll find my response, which dwells on the importance of lunch, amongst other things.

Hi Inger

I follow your blog and I have a question for you about email contact with supervisors.

I’m an off-campus student, I usually visit around once a fortnight for meetings (although not at all now that I’ve had a baby). Therefore I rely on email and phone for a lot of my discussion with my supervisor.

I find it difficult when I don’t get a reply to an email, and I’m not always sure what the correct response is. For example, I emailed 3 days ago asking to set up a phone call. I haven’t heard back, and past experience suggests I may not. So do I email again? How long do I wait before emailing? I know he’s incredibly busy, but I’m waiting to start a new piece of work and I need some help with the direction, so I am waiting to have this phone call to progress things.

Sometimes when I do re-email, it turns out he’s been doing Very Important Things and I feel like I’ve been hassling him by contacting too much!

Any advice please?

Anonymous Emailer