October 18, 2010

Remember me?

People not getting back to me is a big part of my life, both as a graduate student and as a researcher. As a graduate student, I spend a lot of time waiting for professors to respond to my e-mails, to read drafts, to answer questions, to approve my IRB forms, to look at my results.

I'm also trying to set up interviews and obtain information for my dissertation, so at any given time there are about 2-5 people not getting back to me on various questions and requests. When someone doesn't want anything to do with me, I take the hint, but there are a lot of pople who promise to respond and then forget about me entirely.

So people forget about me a lot. Which means I have to write a lot of "just following up" or "just a reminder" e-mails.

And I hate writing those e-mails so, so, so much. I never know what to say that will accomplish my goals of 1) getting a response, and 2) not bothering or offending the person. Because what I'm communicating is "You said you would get back to me last week, but you never did. Could you please get back to me soon?"

But I need to say it in a polite, deferential, friendly, accommodating way that doesn't inspire resentment. Because I know that these people are very very busy, and they don't have to help me. They could ignore me indefinitely, and I would have no recourse because I'm a powerless person pleading for favors -- asking for their time when there is nothing in it for them.

At the same time, I don't want to go overboard and be overly deferential and apologetic, because then people feel like you're handling them which is also offensive.

Which means that in addition to wasting weeks and months of my life waiting for responses, I waste hours of my work day trying to figure out how to remind people that they have forgotten me without offending them.

This is the kind of thing that nobody understands, when they ask why graduate school takes so long and why I'm still in school. How much time is spent just waiting.


  • Waiting is definitely the worst part of grad school, by far. Bad news, I'm still waiting on crap though :( I don't think it gets better.

    By Blogger Psycgirl, at 10/18/10, 6:27 PM  

  • I'm sad, but not terribly surprised, to hear it doesn't get better after you graduate... unfortunately there's little incentive for anyone to do anything for academics whether they are grad students or faculty. And everyone thinks they are "too busy" to do anything for anyone else... it's very frustrating.

    By Blogger Di Di, at 10/18/10, 7:22 PM  

  • I *totally* sympathize -- I deal with similar things in my work from time to time (new teachers are v. busy!). I highly recommend the book "Switch" by Dan & Chip Heath, it has some really good ideas on thinking about why stuff like this is happening and coming up with good solutions.

    By Anonymous Elliot, at 10/20/10, 8:34 PM  

  • Hi Elliot - Thanks for the suggestion! I'll check it out. Also I miss you terribly and we need to catch up soon!

    By Blogger Di Di, at 10/23/10, 1:29 PM  

  • Agreed, I miss you too!

    By Anonymous Elliot, at 10/26/10, 10:41 AM  

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