The New Status Symbol: A Secret Email Address

I have been so wrapped up in communicating with my colleagues and those who contact me, that I have missed the rise of a new status symbol. I recently took on a task that led me to contact a range of academics, with excellent track records in their respective fields. Some are simply known to be strong academics, others approach virtual ‘rock stars’ in the academy. I was struck by how often I found it quite difficult to find the email addresses of many, particularly the stars.

Clearly, all the academics had ample information online about their record of publications, their career and various academic positions and activities. They also have links to their Twitter, blog and Websites clearly identified. But email addresses are surprisingly often hidden, if not totally absent.

Some sites have a form to complete for staff to decide whether and how to forward a message to the academic they support. Some have an email tucked deep in text explaining how busy they are and that they cannot be bothered to respond to solicitations, requests for endorsements, and so forth. Some just don’t give you a clue about how to reach them by email.

What is going on here? One possibility is simply a rational response to the impossible task of keeping up with email. Many of us could spend their entire day simply responding to email. So if you want to pursue your own priorities, rather than only responding to others’ priorities, maybe making it more difficult to send you an email is a very pragmatic response. They could move to the Midwest, for example, but it might be easier to hide your email address. th-1

Another possible fix is to delegate email responses. At one time when I could ask an assistant to filter and respond to some email, I found myself taking more time going over decisions with my assistant than it would take me to work directly with my mail. I’m not sure there are good short cuts.

When I am busy on a deadline or travelling, I can get so far behind on email that many go without responses, and are eventually buried in the inbox. So maybe it would be better to not have an open email address than letting people believe you simply choose not to respond. Either way you irritate people you’d like to help.

Many of us are hooked on email because opportunities come your way, such as potential collaborations, prospective students, news, or job openings. You can argue that if a person really needs to reach you, they will find a way. It is not uncommon for example for people to ask me how to reach a colleague – a communication role I try to avoid. Nevertheless, it takes some confidence and courage to knowingly cut your self off from many emails.

But I don’t think you can reject the possibility that this has also become a sign of one’s status. It is a trend that is growing and among top people in your field. They are among the best at managing their time, and they are very busy following their own agenda. So they have less to lose, and more to gain, but protecting more of their time. So it might be a sign of one’s status, but also a rational response to the threat of email undermining one’s priorities. But for now, I’ll keep my email address public.

What Meetings Should Academics Avoid?

Colleagues will tell you not to waste your time blogging, or spending too much time doing this or that, but few ever tell you not to waste your time in meetings. In fact, they ask you to come to meetings all the time, and seldom if ever advise you not to attend a meeting, however problematic the topic or the expected likelihood of a meaningful discussion. Seeing my own colleagues on the meeting treadmill, largely of their own making, I thought I should give some unsolicited advice to the blogosphere of academics who need to have some framework for deciding what meetings to avoid.

So here are my preliminary thoughts on how to think about (avoiding) meetings that are unnecessary or otherwise a waste of time for academics on the publish, have impact, and perish road to promotion. But there are also some general rules:

  1. You can always say ‘no’ to being on a committee or taking on an administrative assignment. No competent administrator who understands scholarship would fault you.
  1. Leave as much governance and administration as possible to senior faculty, who have been promoted.
  1. Teaching trumps research, when teaching loads are reasonable. Research trumps administration and administrative meetings.
  1. Good citizenship is important, but citizenship does not overcome weak teaching or research.

That said, here is a framework to help you think about what meetings you might avoid:


Type of Meeting
Administrative Training Networking Research
Unavoidable, unless Conflicting with Higher Priority, e.g., field research, teaching Faculty Meetings; Review with Head of Unit; Required (increasing in number) Social Events for Colleagues; Introducing Yourself or Your Work to Colleagues Presentations or Evaluations of your Work; Meet to Solve a Problem or Assign Work
Avoidable, but Go Retreats, Away Days, Meetings You Call, Meetings that could talk about you or your work Topic or Skill or Procedure you Want to Learn Coffee or tea with a colleague; Meal or drinks with 2-5 colleagues Seminars, Lectures, Roundtables, Coordination of Research Projects
Should or Must Avoid Long Faculty Meetings; Routine Meetings w/o Important Items; Large Meetings Efforts of Administrators to Save Their Time; Cover Their Backside Meeting to Impress Colleagues; Talk about Other Colleagues Top Down Efforts to Promote Collaboration

I’m sure that many will disagree with my advice, or have better ideas or frameworks, so I’d like to hear them. Meeting overload is a real problem.