Email from Students

by Kieran Healy on February 21, 2006

Dan Drezner “picks up”: on today’s NYT article about students emailing their professors in slightly weird ways. I thought the article ran together several different kinds of email oddness, some of which are more of a problem than others. One thing it didn’t mention: even though universities give students email addresses, it’s often the case that students won’t use them. Instead they prefer their free hotmail or yahoo or gmail addresses. No problem as such there, except that sometimes the students pick the kind of addresses for themselves that aren’t exactly professional-quality. Frankly it feels a bit odd to correspond with, e.g., missbitchy23 or WildcatBongs about letters of reference or what have you.

_Addendum_: One other thing: Assistant Professor of English Meg Worley’s rule that students must thank her if they receive a response because “One of the rules that I teach my students is, the less powerful person always has to write back.” Very Foucauldian. Only not really. I think Erving Goffman makes the observation somewhere that the capacity to be gracious is actually an _aspect_ of being powerful, not something that’s _owed_ to the powerful. In any event, I thought it seemed a little snotty. _More_: In the comments thread to “this post”: by Tim Burke, Meg says she was misquoted, and the rules she says she talked to the reporter about are in fact quite reasonable. Stupid NYT.

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polyglot conspiracy » Blog Archive » More on email names as symbolic capital
02.22.06 at 11:15 am



auderey 02.21.06 at 2:56 pm

can we post our favorite inappropriate student email addresses here? mine, from high school students:



rm 02.21.06 at 3:03 pm


On a resume-writing assignment, no less.


zoidberg 02.21.06 at 3:09 pm

While it may or may not be a problem in college, it will definitely be a problem when a graduating student has to put an email address at the top of resume. Although I guess if you are willing to use that address in mail to a professor, you may not object to it being seen by a possible employer. The same thing also applies to AIM screen names.

P.S. Would a comment to a post be read differently if it was from sexylegggs666 or whatnot?


patrick 02.21.06 at 3:10 pm

I am actually a support specialist at a large university, and I see this EVERY DAY.

I can’t tell you how often we get requests to change email IDs from “” to “”

The other awesome request we get is the “Could you please take down the web page I put up when I was a student there? It comes up when you google my name, and I don’t need that picture of me with the beer funnel on my prospective boss’ computer.”

I always tell them “Yeah, it should be down between eight minutes and ninety days from now. Thanks, bye!”

Of course, I can make the change instantly, but I like to let them sit there hitting the refresh button for at least five or so minutes.


Jason 02.21.06 at 3:14 pm

A surprising number of job seekers have the same problem. I’ve passed on interviewing a number of “pimps” and “sexythings” over the past few years.


Cryptic Ned 02.21.06 at 3:18 pm

I was at an academic camp where we were required to have class discussions in an AIM chat forum. It was kind of hard to take seriously when one of the students kept using the name CutieWithBooty81.


mecki 02.21.06 at 3:19 pm

This reminds me of college, when you always knew that people were getting around to interviewing when their answering machine messages went from ” to ‘This is the extension of I can’t come to the phone right now, but please leave a message and I’ll get right back to you!’


David in NY 02.21.06 at 3:21 pm

As the parent of a high-school senior applying to colleges, one of my clear best moves was to get him to establish an e-mail account, instead of


pjs 02.21.06 at 3:22 pm

The best is when you get an email from without any other identifying information. Usually, the email just says something like: “can i email u my paper tonight?” It’s fun to write back and say: “No, bigpimp, you may not. The paper has to be turned in in class.”


John Quiggin 02.21.06 at 3:28 pm

I got student email from, but she may just have been a keen wrestling fan.


Daniel Cody 02.21.06 at 3:33 pm

I wouldn’t say it’s ‘often’ the case that college students forward their university provided email off to one of the free providers like gmail, yahoo, or hotmail.

I run the email at the university where I work (should only take a few clicks to figure out if you really want to know), and only about 10-15% of the 40k+ students forward their university provided email accounts to non-university email accounts.

Not disagreeing with the wierdness factor though..


Nathan Williams 02.21.06 at 3:37 pm

Back when I was an undergrad at MIT, most arriving students hadn’t had email before and were picking an account name for the first time. The standard advice was to pick something that you wouldn’t be embarassed to shout to an elderly, hard-of-hearing professor of the opposite sex in front of a full lecture hall.

Of course, the number of people sharing the namespace with you was smaller, so it wasn’t the case (as it is on AOL, Yahoo, and so on) that the first 75 permutations of your first and last name were already taken.


Kieran Healy 02.21.06 at 3:40 pm

daniel –

only about 10-15% of the 40k+ students forward their university provided email accounts

I was thinking more of students who simply don’t use their university-provided accounts — they don’t set up any forwarding, they just use their account.


Luke Francl 02.21.06 at 3:41 pm

I completely agree with the practice of using a professional email address.

However, to a certain extent, many universities bring this upon themselves by not creating email addresses for students that will last forever. For a small cost, universities could create an instant advertisement for themselves.

But since most don’t, students prefer to use an email address that won’t expire.

Or maybe they’re just idiots. Whatever.


pp 02.21.06 at 3:46 pm

I look at about 500 resumes a year. Some of the smarter ones are on to this and they use a gmail account to e-mail in the resume so you don’t see bongripper@… but they forget to keep checking the gmail.


Nathan Williams 02.21.06 at 3:47 pm

Regarding #13 – at at least one school I’m familiar with, the quota on the students’ university-provided email accounts was so small, and the tendancy of the faculty in the graduate program to e-mail out huge Word, Excel, or PDF documents was so large, that using a third-party email account was a matter of necessity.

There was also the school that pre-assigned email addresses consisting of a last name and the last four digits of the SSN, and the only fallback in case of collision was to use the entire SSN as the address….


Jay Lake 02.21.06 at 3:47 pm

This problem crops up in fiction publishing too. It’s customary to include an email address in the manuscript header. I have a hard time taking seriously…


patrick 02.21.06 at 3:54 pm

the only fallback in case of collision was to use the entire SSN as the address….

Ohhhh, that’s very, very, very, very bad.

bad bad bad.

19 02.21.06 at 3:56 pm

This started with Plato. What do you think that people thought when he published “Phaedrus” given what Phaedrus’s job was?


jbl 02.21.06 at 3:59 pm

Hey dad — good move making Sam change his e-mail address :-). I suspect many of us simply have e-mail addresses left over from high school (or in my case, middle school), and it’s much easier not to have to adjust to a new account.


burghpunk 02.21.06 at 4:07 pm

Another problem with the university run email is that the network or whatever it was run through (I’m no techie) had the virus protection of swiss cheese, so the virus laden spam loaded up your inbox in a matter of hours. I had to forward my university email to a third party account with rigorous spam and virus blockers to keep things manageable.

I also had professors that flat out said to get an email address with your first and last name at, otherwise he wouldn’t read it. I still keep 2 email accounts through 3rd parties, and check both regularly (honestly how long does it take to check email). One is more formal, so that is the one that sends out resumes, and the other isn’t, and that’s what get listed anytime I need to give a blog my email address so I can post a comment ;)

Also, the overuse of smileys in emails to professors never ceases to amuse me


trey 02.21.06 at 4:11 pm

GMail allows you to send e-mail from your university address anyway, so all of my mail comes to my GMail account but is sent to and from my university account. Superior searches, virus checking, etc. without losing the official university e-mail ID.


Buckeye, Dealer of Rare Coins 02.21.06 at 4:19 pm

At the university I’m affiliated, all email addys are assigned to you, though whatever you want to do with your school web page is fine.

But in my capacity, where I have to email med students all the time with overdue notices,it’s ‘oh I don’t read my school email’ Not sure why the school bothers anymore.

But it’s not just their email addys that are unprofessional, their letter writing abilities are also atrocious. Yes, your profs do notice these things.


shinypenny 02.21.06 at 4:20 pm

Assistant Professor of English Meg Worley’s rule that students must thank her if they receive a response because “One of the rules that I teach my students is, the less powerful person always has to write back.”

She says she was misquoted.


Donald A. Coffin 02.21.06 at 4:45 pm

We have a course-management system, and I insist that students email me through that system. They have to log into the system and use the email facility there, so I know they have access to the course and who they are. I once (before the course management system) had a student ask me why I never responded to her emails. Her address was, in fact,, and she never entered a subject line. I deleted them all unread.


teacherken 02.21.06 at 4:59 pm

hey, I see this all the time not only in email addresses but also in IM screen names (which often overlap with email addresses). Here’s a few from my high school students in previous year … and I offer them w/o further comment, although I do suggest that one consider the 4th one I will list










Carol llleuen 02.21.06 at 4:59 pm

How about the student address


a lawyer who never hunts with dick cheney 02.21.06 at 5:01 pm

I once reviewed a resume where the applicant explained in his cover letter that he learned how to be a paralegal while in prison for child molesting, until his conviction was overturned on appeal. Now that he was a free man, he was looking for work in our law office. We didn’t hire him; his email username was naughtyrabbit.


SullyWatch 02.21.06 at 5:07 pm

The other awesome request we get is the “Could you please take down the web page I put up when I was a student there? It comes up when you google my name, and I don’t need that picture of me with the beer funnel on my prospective boss’ computer.”

Live with it, kiddoes. It will still be cached.


e-tat 02.21.06 at 5:16 pm

All of my university-provided accounts have been my initials followed by one or two digits. Cornell doesn’t recycle the address, so it’s mine forever. For a long time it was my default address for formal correspondence – because I was sure the provider would be around a while. So the occasion of having a stupid email address on my CV wouldn’t have occurred. But why would any student be so naive/stupid that the idea of a second email addresss doesn’t occur? Just how fucking stupid are college kids anyway?


James 02.21.06 at 5:58 pm

Response to #30

Real stupid. Having spent time in several big state U’s the past decade I’m conviced that we are witnessing the decline of our civilization. I have multiple addresses, one for family, one for work and one for this kind of thing. Most kids can’t seem to figure out how to do this.


Bill 02.21.06 at 6:54 pm

I deal with this issue at the beginning of every semester. I teach Intro to Web Design at a very large public research university. Since one of the main projects we do is to design an online portfolio of their work with goal that they will one day show it to future employers, the first week of class we talk about the rhetoric of email addresses. I require them to sign up for the school email account and choose a professional email address — preferably something like: firstnamelastname@, or firstinitiallastname@. They moan and groan, of course, but when they finish their portfolio, which looks so professional, I ask them which they would rather have on their site: or their new email address, and they always say the new one.

So, it just takes some time for them to understand the implications of what they are doing. I wouldn’t call them stupid or naive — just unaware of the implications of language, whether it be in a formal essay or in something seemingly innocuous as an email address.


Simstim 02.21.06 at 7:13 pm

I suspect a lot of it is inertia. When I was working at a university last year, the new intake was of the age where they’d probably started getting their first email address when they were in their early teens. They were also of the first generation of kids in which having an email address wasn’t an oddity. Thus, changing your “main” email address becomes fraught with difficulties and so you tend towards keeping the address that seemed so funny/hip in your early teens.


Robert Green 02.21.06 at 8:24 pm

students have been getting shittier and stupider since socrates’ time. students literally have iqs of negative one trillion or worse now–most have to be taught how to walk, or chew gum. i remember the heady days of 700 AD or so when they could do both at the same time.

as bongripper69 said to me recently on a AIMtextblogpost

dude, i’m so fucking high i’m like stoned. fully.

nostalgia–it ain’t what it used to be.


JFT 02.21.06 at 8:30 pm

A student came into the writing center at the community college where I work and wanted help with her resume. Her e-mail address, proudly centered at the top of the paper, was “So tell me,” I asked, “exactly what kind of a job are you looking for?”


blaine emerson 02.21.06 at 8:33 pm

yo all u profs r majr leauge assholez. get a real job loserss.


Grand Moff Texan 02.21.06 at 9:03 pm

One of my first students could be reached at “hunkaburninlove22@…” which begged the question: what ever became of hunks of burning love one through twenty-one?

Our placement center’s first job is to get our students to get professional (and transpartent) email addresses and to take the drunken whooping off of their voicemail greetings.

It’s an uphill battle.


D.E. Chambliss 02.21.06 at 9:08 pm

Try being a sophomore in high school turning in a resume for the first time. The email address was required at the top. I don’t think that “” will get many jobs in the future.


joe 02.21.06 at 9:25 pm

Hmmm…. my email address is still anodyne@somebiguinversity… think I should change it?


cde 02.21.06 at 9:46 pm

In one of my U of WA physics class discussion forum:

And he couldn’t figure out why people were mad at him when he posted.


Tom 02.21.06 at 10:11 pm

Alas #4 and others, not-so-competent university computer support folk can get the entire university blacklisted by all major ISPs & spam filters by forwarding unfiltered messages (with the sender our university email machine) to student yahoo & aol & comcast & other addresses: 100k forwarded spam messages per day caused 2 weeks of cascading blacklisting. No, no one got fired for incompetence on the cutover to the new system.


schwa 02.21.06 at 10:14 pm

You know, I remember the first time I ever TAed a class. I hadn’t had a wide circle of friends while I was an undergrad, so I had very little exposure to undergrad writing other than my own. I was petrified. “What if they’re smart? What if I’m way too hard on them? This isn’t my subject area, what if they know the material better than I do?”

Then I got my first e-mail from a student. Her email address was ‘[colloquial-name-of-city]grrrl[random-string-of-numbers]@…’ Her displayed name was ‘u know censord'[sic]. I don’t even remember the substance of the e-mail any more, but I do remember that it was barely literate and dwarfed in length by the massive HTML signature, also skirting the boundaries of literacy.*

Suddenly I felt much more secure in my teaching ability. And getting to bust the same girl for plagiarism a few weeks later made the whole experience deeply satisfying.

*. That always befuddles me. You only have to get your signature right once.


heretic 02.21.06 at 10:53 pm

I work at a uni… the best email address I’ve seen was

I’ve started a postgrad course last year and actually asked the coordinating professor if he would prefer I sent all enquiries from my official student account. The answer was yes, and he thanked me for asking. I suspect it’s a source of frustration for many academics!


patrick 02.22.06 at 12:14 am

not-so-competent university computer support folk can get the entire university blacklisted by all major ISPs & spam filters by forwarding unfiltered messages

Actually, we have some fairly decent (but not perfect, alas…) spam filters where I work. We’re the largest uni in the state, and we have the resources to haul in the better software…

HOWEVER, students not (competently) running (up-to-date) virus protection and allowing their windows machines to become compromised and turned into open spam relays often create spam firehoses. Then a block of IP addresses will get blacklisted, and we have to turn off the students’ IP addresses, have the machines audited, submit a request to get our subdomain de-listed on the DBLs….. you can’t imagine what a joy this is.

Then there’s fac/staff who create Linux servers to just see what’s up, then they leave them connected to the network, never run any updates or patches, and their SuSe or RedHat box gets compromised, and suddenly someone is scanning for vulnerable boxes from within the network…. then a box in the Admissions Office gets knocked over and all the credit card numbers and social security numbers come spilling out into the bad, bad world…

yeah, it’s great working at a University. I get to call Dr. Tenure and tell him “Your linux server has caught the attention of the FBI,” and he gets to scream at me because I took his precious web server offline, even though it’s been hacked and is hosting the sort of porn files that can get you ten to twenty years in prison.

Beats the private sector, though, I have to admit. At least there’s no sales force to contend with… I’m glad I will (hopefully) never have to support another salesman’s machine again.


OldeForce 02.22.06 at 1:08 am

My son gets email from us and friends at a personal address as he receives as many as 200 emails a day at his school address. Seems many of the students don’t know how to send to just one or two addresses, and send “personal” messages out to 1800, instead! His personal address is PC enough (related to his on-line gaming) that the profs have no problem with it.


Steven Crane 02.22.06 at 3:36 am

I’m liable to always use my (firstname)(lastname)@gmail address for everything, simply because gmail is much easier and more reliable to use than school-based email addresses (and won’t be deactivated when I graduate). While the domain isn’t the -most- professional out there, it’s not exactly hotmail, either.


Zain 02.22.06 at 4:06 am

I’m a college student who has corresponded with many professors (always using proper punctuation and spelling). Anyway, I have been rather self-conscious about how my screen-name is perceived because I would like to keep this gmail account for life: Zainster @ g

Name is Zain, added the “ster”

I initially wanted one with just my name, but my last name is incredibly long, and the service provider suggested this one. I mean, that’s definitely no where near hardnowsoftlater. It’s memorable and somewhat playful.

The question is: have you encountered student screen names that are happily amusing? I would like “cantsleepclownswilleatme”. Do you find any academic references at all impressive? A friend of mine uses the absurdly pretentious sensus_communis.


Lorna 02.22.06 at 5:23 am

Ooh, young folks today. Back in my day there was deference and good manners. I blame the parents. And computer games. And Marilyn Manson.


Seth Finkelstein 02.22.06 at 6:38 am

[The MIT username poster, author doesn’t wish to have name attached]


The naming of cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games.
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you a cat must have three different names.
– T.S.Eliot

There are several things to keep in mind when choosing a username:
1) It will be EXTREMELY difficult to change, thus it ought to be something you won’t mind living with for the next four years.

2) It must not include any characters other than numbers and letters, otherwise you will not be able to get mail.

3) You will come to be known to some people by your username, thus it would be nice if they could pronounce it.

4) Your username is NOT a password: your password can be changed at will.

5) Choose a name you wouldn’t mind being known as by professors or the scientific community at large. Being an MIT student, chances are that you will carry on work on Athena, and will have to come in contact with such people via your account. Don’t choose a name that you would be embarrassed to give to a seventy-year-old professor of the opposite sex in front of two hundred classmates.

6) Don’t be afraid to choose something other than your real name, if you don’t mind explaining to people why you chose it.

7) The appeal of jokes and characters from popular culture gets stale. You may not always like a character from a book or movie and you may tire of a joke. Sometimes, though, they do work for people.

8) Taking a name that you feel describes you well (to ALL people you could ever meet) is always a good idea.

9) Phrases are almost always a bad idea.

10) Take a name that will make you happy.


Alex 02.22.06 at 7:16 am

Ah, university email..

At RHUL email address were (and still are) issued in the format, which is fair enough. Strangely, even pre-GMail quite a lot of people preferred to use their rather than the college MS Exchange box with things like spam filtration and important messages people wanted them to read.

Within the walls of the campus LAN, very little spam penetrated even in the peak years of 2001-2004. However the real problem was OSS, Officially Sanctioned Spam, generated by hordes of authorities with the ability to send-to-all. The sports centre was especially given to hit reply-all until students began to mailbomb them every time they did it. It didn’t help that the management’s answer was to create new bureaucruft delivery units called “intranet” and “bulletin box”.

Stupid names…I applied for a job on a major national newspaper, and they sent the 20 page application form to me as a .doc attachment. They also included all the other applicants in the ccs. I still wonder if someone on that paper is


David in NY 02.22.06 at 10:00 am

Hi, jbl, or fuzzyjoel. I hope you use your FAS account for all formal dealings. Whatever its capacity. jbl— sounds so much more professional.



ML 02.22.06 at 12:01 pm

One institution at which I teach has only just started offering incoming students the opportunity to get email addresses easily–before, only upperclasspeople who needed accounts on specific computer systems received them. In consequence, all of my students use their own email addresses from yahoo, aol, hotmail, etc. These are quite usually incriminating. When they are not incriminating, they are incomprehensible strings of letters and numbers that usually result in bounced emails if I need to communicate with them.

Some favorites:


But, in fact, I am significantly more bothered by a different problem, which is emails (generally with no salutation and no indication of who they are from) which read like this:

i nd 2 no what # pgs the ppr has 2 b can u tll me thnks

(incidently, the students sometimes use these shortcuts in written work that they hand in, especially the “2” and “u”)


SullyWatch 02.22.06 at 12:25 pm

So, it just takes some time for them to understand the implications of what they are doing. I wouldn’t call them stupid or naive—just unaware of the implications of language, whether it be in a formal essay or in something seemingly innocuous as an email address.

Somewhat paradoxically for a generation that’s pretty much grown up with it, students today don’t seem to get just how wide open the Internet is. You regularly hear them complaining that their parents read their myspaces … well, duh, it’s wide open unless you decide to password protect it!

One of us had his Wikipedia user page vandalized on a regular basis for a while by some of his students at a local high school. They constantly denied it, even though it was extremely easy to look at the history page and see that the edits in question originated from the high school’s proxy server during a class they all shared.


Joe Greene 02.22.06 at 1:56 pm

I just use my Cell Phone email address: thegeek at my
Being a UNIX Admin, I’ve found it gets me plenty of interviews by being non-offensive but showing a sense of humor at the same time. Plus since I get notified any time an email comes in by phone. I can reply quickly. Coincidently my regular personal email is a mixture of 2 languages, so it just looks odd, never offensive.


seth 02.22.06 at 4:37 pm

I used to work as a union organizer. We would make judgements about the people we were organizing based on their emails and other personal information they gave to us. So yes, people from all walks of life should consider what their email address says about them.


Robin Green 02.22.06 at 5:14 pm

My email address is, so it just look incredibly arrogant and vain, which isn’t the effect I was going for at all (I was going for easy to memorise, and permanent). But I don’t want to go through the hassle of changing it now.


jay 02.22.06 at 10:38 pm

My personal favorite as a TA was receiving an unsigned email asking about a class assignment from a sender “Thomas Moore” (using some random Hotmail address), when I had no such student in any of my discussion sections. Out of a mixture of curiosity and irritation, I responded to his email asking if he was in the class. It turned out, of course, that it really was a student in the class – he just couldn’t remember his password for his university email account. He seemed to be genuinely surprised that I would prefer him emailing me from his university account – or at least that his real name showed in the From line – or barring that, that at least he sign his real name so I had some idea that it was an actual student of mine who was sending me email.


Lorna 02.23.06 at 7:00 am

I have to say, switching to university email is more trouble than it’s worth. I’d been using the same email address for a good couple of years before I started university, and my first account had a user interface that made sense and wasn’t broken more often than it was working. I didn’t get a new phone for university to contact me on, and I’m not changing my primary email address, either. As long as the email address isn’t insulting or inappropriately sexual, I don’t have a great deal of respect or sympathy for people who make a big deal about it.


your_mashed_potatoes_of_lust 02.23.06 at 11:35 am

40. — Hey, it’s a science class. They should be able to take it. :-)


Weed_smoker420 02.23.06 at 12:38 pm

I wonder how many job prospects these e-mail addresses have shattered?


Harald Korneliussen 02.24.06 at 6:40 am

“[…] she had even received e-mail requests from students who missed class and wanted copies of her teaching notes.”

Well, since most of my teachers put up those anyway without being asked, to me this doesn’t seem like a very outrageous request?

I suppose my old nickname (dating from the time all acceptable variants of my name were taken at yahoo mail) of “vintermann” (winter man) isn’t too bad, but I use my student adress at resumes… It would be worse if I had to use the domain name of my friend who hosts my weblog.


sutton 02.24.06 at 12:26 pm

“begs the question” does not mean “inspires me to ask.”

People, please.

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