Electro (-nic mail) static

A slice of Dr Aust’s working life rather than any bad science.

Today Dr Aust has been down in London for a meeting.

On returning to Aust Acres late this afternoon, I logged on to my email via the web to check what had shown up in the nine hours since I had last logged on early this morning (and sent a few urgent messages) prior to toddling off to catch the train.

(I opted not to pay Virgin Trains ten quid for the privilege of wireless internet access on the train so that I could actually get some reading done).

I found a delightful twenty-one (21) emails awaiting my perusal.

To be precise:

Three (3) pieces of junk e-mail from suppliers and biochemical and molecular biology reagents

One (1) junk e-mail offering to put me in a directory of important people

One (1) junk email from the Univ, sorry, one “In-house University communications circular”

One (1) depressed / depressing bulletin from the UCU staff union.

Two (2) inconsequential Faculty announcements

One (1) notice about a staff meeting (2 hrs minimum duration, judging from experience) that I will avoid if at all possible

One (1) email correcting incorrect date of said staff meeting

Two (2) emails about research seminars I probably won’t have time to go to.

One (1) email about a journal editorial meeting next year that I probably won’t go to as I will be teaching that day.

One (1) email telling me about Faculty quota PhD studentships that I won’t be able to recruit any students for – even if I were high enough up the priority ranking – as I don’t have enough research grant income to “cross-subsidise” a 3-yr project.

One (1) notice about a colleague’s retirement do – lucky b*stard. Unfortunately I am teaching when it starts and I suspect they will have drunk all the free booze by the time I get there.

One (1) email from the Senior Secretary explaining that we (a research group of about 20 academics and associated staff) will now have secretarial support from a single secretary for two hrs/wk (that’s for all of us – and before you tell me that is a bit thin, it was previously no hrs/wk, so things are looking up)

One (1) email from the Faculty Disability Support Officer telling me: (i) I have no students with severe disabilities that would mandate special educational provision; and (ii) I have one student in a tutorial group this year who has a disability, but not a disability that will require me to do anything beyond “normal academic practice”. So that looks like an email telling me at some length that I don’t have to do anything different from what I always do. On the whole that is a plus, though I’m not sure why it meant I needed to be sent the email.

One (1) email from a colleague reminding me to upload my lecture next month to the relevant E-Learning website (or is it a portal?) “assuming the Faculty who we do this teaching for have granted you all access to their site – we’re not sure yet”.

One (1) email with actual useful information from a colleague about an ex-student I am writing a reference for.

And last but not least:

Two (2) automated emails from the Faculty email server telling me I have too much stored email.


Sometimes you really have to wonder what Universities did in the days before email. How did anything ever get done…?


6 Responses to “Electro (-nic mail) static”

  1. wilsontown Says:

    Hm, all that in a single day? I’m going to be away for the next couple of weeks, so I can look forward to a good half-day or so of sorting through e-mail when I get back.

    And I probably get about a fifth of the e-mail that my boss does…

  2. draust Says:

    The simple joys of academic life, eh, Paul?

    On a good day at least some of them are entertaining in their acronym-rich incomprehensibility – like the one you were blogging about, or the stuff David Colquhoun occasionally highlights in his online diary.

  3. BobP Says:

    No news bulletins, sales circulars, updates from government departments, tax advice, or offers to enlarge your anatomy? You were lucky!

  4. Dr Aust Says:

    A certain number of offers to enlarge the anatomy appear, Bob, but not that often at the work address – the blog gets more.

    The University spam filter is interestingly selective, and catches mostly “buy drugs online” spam plus the myriad versions of the 419 scam.

    Reading on Wikipedia about the 419 scam I was interested to see that it traces back to an older con-trick.

    The drug spam that comes through at work usually offers anti-cancer chemo drugs, which I always find a rather odd choice.

  5. Nash Says:

    In the days before e-mail all of this would have been a steadily building mound of paper in your in-box.

    In a previous job, I was off for 6 weeks when I broke my leg. When I got back there were 3 in-boxes of mail each containing a pile of paper at least 1 foot high. I just threw it all out on the basis that if it was urgent, whoever would send a reminder.

  6. Dr Aust Says:

    “I just threw it all out on the basis that if it was urgent, whoever would send a reminder.”

    Yes, one of my first heads of Department once told me this was his operating principle for paperwork.

    To some extent you can still do this with E-mails, especially ones from the University’s seemingly ever-expanding range of Administrators, PAs and Heads of Faculty this-and-that. I certainly know a good few academics who do this.

    I do reckon, though, that we get a lot more “junk internal email” than we used to do paper memos. There was an added “burden” with mass-circulation memos of having to write them, edit them, print them, copy them, and distribute them via internal post (possibly involving address labels and envelope stuffing).

    This had, I think, the unintended but useful side-effect of making people think twice about whether they really needed to send it.

    All so much easier now – just find the email address list of “all Faculty staff”, a quick click of the mouse, and off wings your 800 words to one and all.

    This change-over to email distribution definitely seems to have been, er, “empowering” to the administrators in Universities. What the academic staff think about it is predictable, but largely unprintable.

    I suppose I should be grateful we don’t get a weekly 3000-4000 word newsletter from the Vice Chancellor, like people at some Universities I could mention…

    Incidentally, a corollary of the expansion of useless information with the demise of paper mailing is that we often no longer get sent some actual useful information that we did previously. This stuff now typically resides on internal servers and intranets, and we have to go hunting for it when we need it – which can be very blood-pressure raising if the particular thing you want is hard to track down.

    This of course takes time. But don’t worry, it is far more efficient (the admin folk tell us), saves time (their time, of course, not mine), and is properly modern.



    Number of words in “newsletter from the vice chancellor” has changed – another colleague who receives these from theirs emailed to tell me that 1000 words would be quite implausibly short (by about 2000 plus words) for a communication from the desk of their Supreme Leader.

    Makes me oddly grateful that ours limits himself to the occasional (shortish) email.

    Actually, a weekly 3000-4000 one would suggest to me that a Vice-Chancellor has at least one PA who writes the newsletter for him/her, or at least “ghost-writes” it after a brief chat with the top man/woman.

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