Dear Professor Buddle,
You recently shared a rather condescending blurb about how McGill students should learn email etiquette, insinuating that most students do not put the correct amount of effort into the vital student-professor communication medium. I challenge this assumption. I’m not sure who originally wrote, “Hey Prof Dude,” but I can tell you from experience that the process of emailing a professor is anything but casual. It is a highly-involved inner struggle of self-loathing versus self-worth, of knowledge of basic grammar versus knowledge of email conventions—requiring pure mental fortitude. For me, that battle usually goes something like this.
First comes the agony of choosing an appropriate salutation:
“Hi Prof –“
Then I ask myself if they are even a professor. I Google them; their LinkedIn says, “Course Lecturer.” This means a simple “Dr.” will suffice. A tinge of sadness washes over me, as I lament that this person is not yet able to put a simple “Associate Professor” title on their LinkedIn Profile, despite having spent the entirety of their 20s—and a good portion of their 30s—torturing themselves to become an expert on a topic so specific that they only have three peer references on JStor. I quickly remember that my own LinkedIn profile not only has an endorsement from my mom for my Microsoft Office skills, but also paragraphs of bullshit about how being a camp counsellor helps me “work as a member of a team” and prepares me to “multitask in a fast-paced environment.” My pity for this “Dr.” fades, and rapidly I return to self-loathing.
“Hi Dr. –”
Now comes the friendly greeting:
It’s Thursday, so I can’t say, “I hope you had a good week,” because that implies I don’t count Friday as a part of the week, and I can’t have Dr. _____, parent of two beautiful children, —“Gabby” and “Frederic” (I also find the “About Me” section of their academic site)—thinking that I don’t do work on Fridays.
“I hope you are doing well, and enjoying the nice weather we’ve been having.”
No good—it’s -20 degrees, and the snow resembles the set of a Tim Burton movie.
“I hope you are doing well.”
Next, the informational content of the email must be tasteful and not too forthright:
“I am writing to inform you that I will not be able to attend the lecture tomorrow as I have fallen ill.”
God, no one has said “fallen ill” since the Spanish flu. Why does typing in Outlook automatically make me write like I’m in an episode of The Crown? Screw it, I’m allowed to let my hair down every now and then.
“I am writing to inform you that I will not be able to attend the lecture tomorrow because I am sick.”
A wave of panic rushes over me as I realize that I didn’t have my privacy settings turned on when I stalked my course lecturer on LinkedIn. They will see that I stalked them, will judge me fiercely and aggressively, and will never respond to my future email asking for a grad school reference. Never mind the fact that the probable reason they won’t respond is because my entitled ass never once talked to them in person during their lecture of 30 students.
“Thank you in advance for your understanding, and please let me know if there is anything I can do to make up for the content that I will be missing.”
Thanking in advance is pretty presumptuous—who am I to assume that they will understand? Maybe they won’t understand at all and will promptly deduct a percentage point from my participation grade. Scratch the “thank you.”
Finally, the closing is the final note, so it must be perfect:
“Cheers, – “
“Best regards, —”
Just right. I feel like Goldilocks.
After enduring this entire painstaking process, my email is later reciprocated by the course lecturer with a simple:
Sent from my iPhone.”
So, I ask you Professor Buddle, not to judge all students on the one simpleton who wrote “Hey Prof Dude.” Based on my own enduring struggles, I can only assume that the entire McGill student population is already a neurotic, over-analyzing mess when it comes to using electronic mail with our professors. Most of us wouldn’t be caught dead writing, “Hey Prof Dude.”