Thursday, March 18, 2010

Absentee Faculty: The Curse of Email

I find myself in the awkward position of stalking one of my committee members. And why am I spending five or ten minutes at a time loitering in a public hallway, trying to ignore the stares of passerby as I wait for this one faculty member to emerge from a meeting or an office so I can force her attention on me? Believe it or not, I blame this on email.

Email has been a wonderful tool, a leap forward in communication. It allows me to send a message at my convenience, and allows the recipient to respond at his or her convenience. It doesn't matter if that person is an evening person, a morning person, in another city, or in another timezone; we don't have to deal with the hassle of meeting in person to collaborate on a project or to sort out a trifling problem. Taken to extremes, there isn't any need for physical proximity at all. Advisors can head out for sabbatical knowing that most things can be accomplished via email. And any number of faculty appear only for mandatory meetings, otherwise eschewing their offices in favor of working from home or a coffeeshop or some other student-free environment. And it all works.

Except when those faculty decide to ignore their email. They get swamped with papers to grade, deeply involved in writing a book chapter, or buried in their research, and they cease responding to or even checking their email. But, they still maintain their habits of not being anywhere near campus unless they have a meeting, which renders them completely unreachable.

All I asked was whether she would be available during a two-week period when I would like to defend my dissertation, just to be sure that I could progress to the next step of scheduling. I didn't ask for a detailed schedule; just a basic "Yes, I will be around those days", or "I will be out of town on these days". It should take less than a minute to respond to, and my other committee members got around to it in a day. But this one has not responded in the past three days, leading me to believe the email has been completely disregarded. And so I loiter.

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