For the past several months, I’ve gotten almost weekly emails that read something like this:
I am Stu Dent from NotThisCountry, and I would like to study with you in Fall 2008. I have a BS in -ology from NotThisCountry Regional University, and I have an MS in -ology-subspecialty from NotThisCountry National University. (Optional: additional details about Stu Dent’s background.) I have looked at your web page and I find your research interests very exciting. I am interested in (something that isn’t my research interest, say snowmobiling) and I would like to study in your research program. Thank you for your consideration.
How, as a junior faculty member desperate to build her research program, am I supposed to respond to emails like this?
Based on the lack of specificity about how my research interests overlap with Stu Dent’s research interests, I suspect that this email has gone out to multiple faculty, probably to multiple universities. Is it worth my time at all to respond if they can’t be bothered to tailor a letter to me? But as a prospective graduate student, I hated when I failed to get a response from someone. I didn’t know if they were uninterested, out of the country, or whether my email had gotten lost on the internets. So I can’t quite bring myself to simply ignoring these emails.
My latest tactic:
Hello Stu Dent
I am glad to hear of your interest in further graduate study and in working with me. However, I am more of a skier than a snowmobiler, although I do use some of the same trails in my research. At present, my research interest lies in understanding how skis are able to climb uphill in different snow conditions, and this is the area that I will be able to provide the most direction for a student. If you are interested in working in snow-mobiling, and you want to work with me, I would need to know that you had a particular research topic in mind and had started to identify outside resources and people that could help you with the research. Otherwise, I suggest that you contact one of the many other excellent researchers in this field.
But that reply just got this in return:
Dear Dr. ScienceWoman,
Thank you very much for your reply email. I’m interested in how snow-mobile engines work. If it is possible, I want to study related to these topics..The topics can be about snow mobile engine spark plugs or snow mobile engine antifreeze or snow mobile engine belts.
OK, at this point, I’ve put in a good faith effort, I think it’s fine for me to ignore it. And I doubt that Stu Dent will contact me again.
But what’s going on here? Is it just that skiing is such a boring topic and that snow-mobiles are faster and louder and therefore more popular? If that’s the case, why did Mystery University bother to hire me? But I know a large community of skiing researchers, so it can’t be a universal lack of appreciation for the field. Maybe skiing just isn’t appreciated outside the US? No, that’s not it either, because I belong to an active international organization of skiing researchers.
These emails were really starting to bother me, so finally I asked a colleague about them. He’s a snowboarder, and he said he gets lots of snowmobiling emails too. His interpretation is that these letters are just from people desperate to get into the US, and his response is to encourage them all to apply and that very few of them actually do so. But that just seems like it is potentially creating another problem down the road, if the encouragement to apply is taken as a real encouragement to come here. So I guess I’ll continue to do my respond then ignore routine and hope that some better prospects come my way. Actually, I’ve got a better prospect in my email box right now.