Hey Dude! – The Ins and Outs of Academically Professional E-mails

E-mail Line on the Ground

Image " autoroute à emails..." courtesy of Flickr User Biscarotte, licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

For my first-year readers out there, what do you think of university after the first 3 weeks of school? Are you enjoying it? Is it a breeze? Do you feel like someone is hitting you repeatedly with a mallet? Let me know in the comments or e-mail me!

Speaking of e-mails…

One question I get from many first year (and even upper year students) is “What is the proper way to write an e-mail to a professor (or another member of the university community)?” Should the e-mail be super formal or can it be relatively casual? How should I address whomever I’m e-mailing? What information should be included? Should the message be concise or detailed? And what if it is not class-related?

Below, I have broken down the structure of an “academically professional” e-mail (i.e. e-mail to academics) into 4 parts. Follow these guidelines and you will be e-mailing like a pro in no time. As well, these tips can be used to e-mail any on-campus personnel, not just professors!

Section 1: Salutations.

Salutations of an e-mail can be tricky. If you recall from “Terms Every Student Should Know before Starting University”, there are many types of “teachers” and campus personnel you could encounter. There are professors, instructors, lecturers, TA’s, Deans, etc. Not all can be addressed as “professor” and not all have PhD’s.

B.G. (Before Google), you might have been able to get away with calling your professor by a wrong title. However, with the internet, there is no excuse for messing up. Google the professor’s name followed by your university and the first few results should contain who you are looking for. The rule of thumb I use is that if the person has PhD. or M.D. (regardless of their role on campus), address them as “Dr.” If the person doesn’t have a PhD, the use Mr. or Ms. If you’re not sure of their gender in the latter case (e.g. if it is an instructor you have never met and you want that person to present at a conference you are setting up), use their full name. In those really rare cases where Google doesn’t turn up any useful information, use “professor” just to be safe.

Is it ok to use “Hi”? That depends. If your professor is “old school” or you’re not really sure what their attitude is, stick to “dear”. If they are young or casual, it’s fine to use “hi”.

Is it ok to call your prof by their first name? If they told you it is fine, do it. If you aren’t sure (especially if it is the first time you are e-mailing him or her), use the last name. Keep using last names unless you’re told otherwise. And please, don’t use “hey dude”.

Section 2: Introduction.

This is the first paragraph of your e-mail. Always include the following information:

· Your full name.

· Your student/course/lab number or ID.

· Your course.

· Your section number.

If you want, you could attach all of that information in a signature line. However you present it, make sure the above information is in EVERY e-mail you send to your professor. Academia is busy and professors deal with dozens if not hundreds of e-mails a day – don’t expect them to remember who you are from e-mail to e-mail.

Section 3: The Message.

This is the second paragraph of your e-mail and it should state – clearly and concisely – why you’re e-mailing. If you’re inquiring about an assignment or an exam, specify which one. Write “midterm 2 on thermodynamics” not “the last midterm” and “assignment 5 on Margaret Atwood”, not “an earlier assignment”.

Do not use the 5 paragraph essay format! Don’t bother with 3 body paragraphs and never use a conclusion. Your e-mail should never be long enough to be taken as an essay.

Section 4: The Closing.

This is where you say thank you or sincerely. Feel free to be creative (providing it’s not rude or offensive). Sign off with your full name and student number.

Important Tips:

· Keep the message short – ideally under 100 words.

· Use URL’s to simplify your message.

· Be extra courteous if you are asking a prof to do something not related to a course.

· Do not say anything creepy/stalkerish. In fact, don’t get personal (e.g. asking about their family) at all unless you know the prof fairly well.

· If you are e-mailing TA’s, first names are probably fine and you can be more casual.

· Check your spelling and grammar! An occasionally typo is not a big deal, but an e-mail riddled with spelling errors and run-on sentences will hit the recycling.

· Give the prof time to respond! Give anywhere between 72 hours and 1 week for them to answer. Don’t e-mail a prof with urgent matters unless there is absolutely no way around it. Go see them or call if possible first.

· Don’t expect answers 2 hours before an exam. If you are cramming the night before a midterm and suddenly hit a question you can’t do, don’t e-mail your prof and expect them to explain it to you before your exam. In fact, many professors have a “24 hour rule”, which states they will not answer questions pertaining to an exam in the 24 hours leading up to it.

Phew, this was a long post! I really want to show you some examples of good and bad e-mails, so stayed tuned for the next article!

Hey Dude! – The Ins and Outs of Academically Professional E-mails

E-mail Line on the Ground

Image " autoroute à emails..." courtesy of Flickr User Biscarotte, licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

For my first-year readers out there, what do you think of university after the first 3 weeks of school? Are you enjoying it? Is it a breeze? Do you feel like someone is hitting you repeatedly with a mallet? Let me know in the comments or e-mail me!

Speaking of e-mails…

One question I get from many first year (and even upper year students) is “What is the proper way to write an e-mail to a professor (or another member of the university community)?” Should the e-mail be super formal or can it be relatively casual? How should I address whomever I’m e-mailing? What information should be included? Should the message be concise or detailed? And what if it is not class-related?

Below, I have broken down the structure of an “academically professional” e-mail (i.e. e-mail to academics) into 4 parts. Follow these guidelines and you will be e-mailing like a pro in no time. As well, these tips can be used to e-mail any on-campus personnel, not just professors!

Section 1: Salutations.

Salutations of an e-mail can be tricky. If you recall from “Terms Every Student Should Know before Starting University”, there are many types of “teachers” and campus personnel you could encounter. There are professors, instructors, lecturers, TA’s, Deans, etc. Not all can be addressed as “professor” and not all have PhD’s.

B.G. (Before Google), you might have been able to get away with calling your professor by a wrong title. However, with the internet, there is no excuse for messing up. Google the professor’s name followed by your university and the first few results should contain who you are looking for. The rule of thumb I use is that if the person has PhD. or M.D. (regardless of their role on campus), address them as “Dr.” If the person doesn’t have a PhD, the use Mr. or Ms. If you’re not sure of their gender in the latter case (e.g. if it is an instructor you have never met and you want that person to present at a conference you are setting up), use their full name. In those really rare cases where Google doesn’t turn up any useful information, use “professor” just to be safe.

Is it ok to use “Hi”? That depends. If your professor is “old school” or you’re not really sure what their attitude is, stick to “dear”. If they are young or casual, it’s fine to use “hi”.

Is it ok to call your prof by their first name? If they told you it is fine, do it. If you aren’t sure (especially if it is the first time you are e-mailing him or her), use the last name. Keep using last names unless you’re told otherwise. And please, don’t use “hey dude”.

Section 2: Introduction.

This is the first paragraph of your e-mail. Always include the following information:

· Your full name.

· Your student/course/lab number or ID.

· Your course.

· Your section number.

If you want, you could attach all of that information in a signature line. However you present it, make sure the above information is in EVERY e-mail you send to your professor. Academia is busy and professors deal with dozens if not hundreds of e-mails a day – don’t expect them to remember who you are from e-mail to e-mail.

Section 3: The Message.

This is the second paragraph of your e-mail and it should state – clearly and concisely – why you’re e-mailing. If you’re inquiring about an assignment or an exam, specify which one. Write “midterm 2 on thermodynamics” not “the last midterm” and “assignment 5 on Margaret Atwood”, not “an earlier assignment”.

Do not use the 5 paragraph essay format! Don’t bother with 3 body paragraphs and never use a conclusion. Your e-mail should never be long enough to be taken as an essay.

Section 4: The Closing.

This is where you say thank you or sincerely. Feel free to be creative (providing it’s not rude or offensive). Sign off with your full name and student number.

Important Tips:

· Keep the message short – ideally under 100 words.

· Use URL’s to simplify your message.

· Be extra courteous if you are asking a prof to do something not related to a course.

· Do not say anything creepy/stalkerish. In fact, don’t get personal (e.g. asking about their family) at all unless you know the prof fairly well.

· If you are e-mailing TA’s, first names are probably fine and you can be more casual.

· Check your spelling and grammar! An occasionally typo is not a big deal, but an e-mail riddled with spelling errors and run-on sentences will hit the recycling.

· Give the prof time to respond! Give anywhere between 72 hours and 1 week for them to answer. Don’t e-mail a prof with urgent matters unless there is absolutely no way around it. Go see them or call if possible first.

· Don’t expect answers 2 hours before an exam. If you are cramming the night before a midterm and suddenly hit a question you can’t do, don’t e-mail your prof and expect them to explain it to you before your exam. In fact, many professors have a “24 hour rule”, which states they will not answer questions pertaining to an exam in the 24 hours leading up to it.

Phew, this was a long post! I really want to show you some examples of good and bad e-mails, so stayed tuned for the next article!

Tips for Buying Textbooks

Stack of Textbooks

Image "Day 31: Read Up!" courtesy of Flickr User truds09, licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

 

Hi Everyone! Welcome to Scratches on the Notepad! To get a detailed account of what this blog is about, click the “about this blog” button above. Thanks for visiting and please leave a comment!

 

I was going to do a detailed post about the ways to save money while buying textbooks, but alas, with school starting so soon, a quick list might be more helpful. These tips have saved me hundreds of dollars, reduced my back strain, and have made my textbook buying experience more positive. I hope they prove useful for you as well!

A note of caution: If you are a first year student, I would recommend getting all of the books on your “required” list and not not get/share/borrow. This is because you have enough issues to deal with as a freshman without worrying about whether you have all of your books. Imagine yourself 2 months into the term with a big midterm in a few days. Are you confident enough about that exam to study without one of your books? What about if 50% of the content was never covered in class and is exclusively from the book? 

Worst case scenario aside, here are some simple and advanced tips for getting the most out of your textbook budget.

Simple Techniques: 

1. Always negotiate. If you are comfortable asking people to drop their prices, do it. If you’re not, ask for other freebies such as class notes, practice midterms, handouts from TA’s, exam preparation packages, and model sets. Most people are fairly willing to pass on these things as getting rid of them frees up shelf space (or they are electronic files which makes for easy transfer). This would not only save you some money, but could also make you privy to exclusive information. However, the curriculum could change, and just because a certain topic wasn’t tested the year before doesn’t mean it won’t be this year. If you buy more than 1 book from someone, ask for a discount. You are saving them hours in contacting sellers and making the sale and they should pass those savings on to you. 

2. Do an amazon search for your book. The price for a “new” book on Amazon is the utmost you should pay for any book. If your bookstore has a more expensive version, get it off amazon. To get an idea of how much second-hand books will cost, head over to Craigslist. Facebook Marketplace is also pretty good for this, but not as many people post on there. 

3. Get multi-volume editions of your textbooks. If your book has multi-volume editions and single volume editions, do yourself a huge favour and buy the multi-volume edition. Why? Let me give you an example. In one of my first year physics classes, my professor had the brilliant idea of going through the entire textbook in 2 semesters. The textbook was over 1000 pages long and had 42 chapters. That meant that we were constantly getting assigned questions from the book and so had to carry it around all the time. Single Volume = back pain. 

4. Get the current edition. Yes, older editions are cheaper. But when you’re done and want to sell them, you also have to sell them for less (and their values depreciate faster as more and more new versions come on to the market). This doesn’t apply however, if someone can lend or give you the book for free. If their copy is within 1 or 2 editions of the current one, it should be good enough. Definitely double check with the prof though. 

4. Photocopy. No, I am not advising that you go copy the entire book. However, if your book is covered under Access Copyright (Cancopy) and you only need a small section (under 10%) of a book. It might be legal to photocopy that. But I’m no expert on copyright law, so check out this: http://libguides.acadiau.ca/content.php?pid=49843&sid=366188 before you try anything. 

5. Borrow from friends. And only if your friend doesn’t need the extra cash selling the book would bring.

6. Borrow from the library. Do this only for books you wouldn’t mind having to return the day before the midterm (in the worst case scenario). If you’re completely screwed for an exam without the book, buy it, don’t try anything fancy. 

7. If your professor wrote the textbook, buy it. Profs make money every time you buy their book (am I the only one who thinks there is a conflict of interest here?). They will also very likely want you to have the latest edition. 

 

Advanced Techniques:

1. Know exactly how much the book you want to buy is worth. First, check Facebook Market Place and Craigslist. This would tell you how much the book is realistically going for (second-hand). Now let’s look at this from the sellers point of view. After a student is done with their book, they have 2 options – sell the book to someone else or use the bookstore buyback system. Bookstores buy back second-hand books and then sell them to unsuspecting student for more. Check these buyback prices (e.g. UBC’s is right here: http://w4.bookstore.ubc.ca/cgi-bin/check_book.cgi). As a seller, it would make no sense to sell a book for lower than the bookstore buyback price because it’s more convenient to just sell it back to the bookstore. Similarly, it doesn’t make any sense to sell a book higher than the “used” price at the bookstore because buyers can just get the said books from the bookstore. Therefore, as a buyer, snatch up a book quickly if it its price is lower than bookstore buyback price and the average Craigslist/Facebook price. 

2. Get alternate/international editions. Many textbooks have international editions as well as the native North American edition. These books may have different covers (usually soft), but are general very similar if not identical to the North American editions. You can find these books online at retailers such as abebooks.com and save up to 50% on your books this way. Do remember though that selling these books would be more difficult, particularly if the book is for a first year course. Freshmen tend to play it safer (as they should). 

3. Wait until school starts. This is perhaps the simplest and most effective way of saving money. Your first lecture in a course should tell you 1) whether you want to stay in it and 2) if the professor actually uses the textbook. If the answer is “no” to either of these questions, then forget about getting the book. The downside to this (and why it is not in the simple technique category) is that textbook sales tend to dwindle after the first week or two of school, and it might be more difficult and expensive to obtain them. You might end up saving money simply because you bought less books, not because you got them at the best prices. 

 

And that’s about it. Good luck with buying your textbooks! Have some awesome tips? Leave them in the comments!

 

Have a terrific school year!

Terms every Student Should Know Before Starting University

Welcome to University

Image adapted from "Vintage Banner" courtesy of Flickr User K Sandberg, licensed under CC Attribution 2.0 Generic

Hi Everyone! Welcome to Scratches on the Notepad! To get a detailed account of what this blog is about, click the “about this blog” button above. Thanks for visiting and please leave a comment!

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One of the most confusing things about university or college is that there seems to be a whole new set of vocabulary used. Tests aren’t tests, they’re “midterms”. Instructors are not the same as Professors while TA’s are definitely not lecturers. So what is what? Here is a list of words every incoming student should know before they start university. Terms in each group is ranked in the order of importance (although no group is more important than the others). Memorize this list – it will make your life much easier.

List of Terms Every Student Should Know Before Starting University:

Group A: People
Group B: Courses
Group C: First Year Specific Terms
Group D: Miscellaneous

Group A:

Professors – Professors are not exactly the university equivalent of teachers. Most professors are P.I.’s (Principle Investigators) who have their own labs and do their own research. Typically, professors are paid to do 3 things: research, teach, and sit on committees. Although most professors are adequate teachers, some really dislike teaching (as they would rather do research) and others are not great at it despite their best efforts (because they have very little training). Professors can be further divided into several other subcategories: associate professors, assistant professors, and emeritus professors. However, different subcategories rarely affect undergraduate students.

Instructors – An instructor’s role in university is like that of a high school teacher. Unlike professors, they are paid to teach and not do research (though some instructors do do some research). Instructors typically have at least a ph.D and many years of teaching experience. Therefore, their classes are usually excellent.

Lecturers (otherwise known as sessional lecturers) – Lecturers are people hired specificially to teach certain courses. Their positions are usually not permanent and they don’t really do research. Their qualifications are about the same as Instructors.

Teaching Assistants (TA’s) – TA’s are upper year undergraduate students or graduate students. They can teach classes or discussion groups, run or help out with labs, mark your assignments and exams, hold office hours, and run demonstrations and experiments. Students become TA’s to help pay for their education. Some TA’s are absolutely great and others could care less about what you do (both of which have their advantages and disadvantages). As well, which TA you get is up to chance, so cross your fingers (or switch classes)!

Principle Investigators (P.I.’s) – Researchers who run their own labs. They usually have at least one graduate student working for them along with Post Doc’s, research associates, and undergraduate students. Each P.I. has a specific area of interest. The main objective of a P.I. is to find something new and amazing and publish that finding in a paper.

Lab Directors – Lab Directors… direct labs. If you are taking a class with a lab component, these people are the ones who work out the logistics of fitting several thousand undergrad into their respective labs. They won’t be the ones teaching and you’ll probably never see them after lab check-in days. Nonetheless, they play an important role.

Deans – A dean is the head of a faculty (or department) at university. They oversee the entire faculty and make some executive decisions. If, for example, you are failing multiple classes, you may get hauled up to the dean’s office.

Advisors – There are faculty advisors (people who tell you what you need to do to graduate with a B.A. or B.Sc, or a B.F.A. etc.) and program advisors who tell you what you need to do to graduate with certain specializations (e.g. Major in Psychology, Honors Geology, Minor in English). There are all sorts of other adivisors, but they vary by school.

Group B: Courses

Midterm – Akin to a test in high school. Any exam (or test) that is not the final exam is a midterm, regardless of when during the academic term they actually happen. Midterms can be worth anywhere between 20 to 50% of the course mark.

Finals – Final are final exams in any course. Depending on the length of the course (e.g. 1 semester of 1 year), they can happen in December or April. They are weighed heavily and can be worth up to 100% of the course mark.

Quizzes – Are exactly the same as the ones in high school. Some quizzes are computer based. Quizzes in total rarely exceed more than 20% of the grade for any course.

Assignments/Homework/Exercises – Questions and readings that may or may not need to be turned in. Most of the time, they do not have to be, but check with your professor/instructor/TA.

Labs/Tutorials – For science courses, labs are where students perform experiments. Tutorials are where TA’s guide students through difficult topics, do some exam prep, or answer questions. Some tutorials are optional and their usefulness largely depends on the TA.

Office Hours – Just about every professor, instructor, lecturer, and TA has office hours. This time, usually 1 or 2 hours per week, is reserved for students to ask questions, discuss issues, look over exams, and beg for extra marks (or perhaps not). This is a good time to get to know your professor better and hopefully get some hints for exams!

Review Sessions – Before a midterm or final, professors will have review sessions in which they go over materials they have covered and take questions from students. Sometimes they give out extra questions people can try. If you can make these sessions, ALWAYS GO. Even if you don’t have any questions. That’s because professors give away a LOT of hints in these sessions. For example, a professor may have just finished writing the exam and he will give out questions which are similar to those on the exam. Other times, students will ask her a question she like so much that that question make it onto the exam. Even if those 2 things don’t happen, review sessions are a good way to consolidate your and help you figure out what topics you need to focus on more.

Semester – Usually 4 months in length. Depending on the school, it can be one term or a fraction of a term (or session).

Session – Can be synonymous to a semester. However, at some schools, the winter session is 8 months long and runs September to April (with the summer session running from May to August). In these schools, 1 semester would be half a session. The terms semester, session, and term are used interchangeably in some schools and their exact length can be very school-specific.

Credit – A unit of exchange indicating how much a certain course is “worth”. For many schools, a course which runs for one semester is worth 3 credits, and a full “year” (2 semester) course is worth 6. Labs can be worth 1 or 2 However, this also varies by school. To graduate, students generally have to obtain a certain number of credits. Tuition is also often calculated on a per-credit basis.

Faculty – A group of departments which focuses on one major topic. It is like an umbrella which encompasses a whole bunch of loosely connected topics. For example, the Faculty of Science, the Faculty of Arts, the Faculty of Law, and the Faculty of Music.

Department – A division of a faculty. They are far more specific and is concerned with a narrower field. For example, the Department of Earth and Ocean Science, the Department of Economics, and the Department and Mechanical Engineering.

Group C: First Year Specific Terms

Orientation – An event, lasting anywhere between a few hours to a full week depending on the school, to welcome freshman students. Usually involving campus tours, meeting the professors/deans, pep rallies, and mini-competitions.

Frosh or Frosh Week – Frosh is another word for a freshman student. However, when someone asks “are you going to frosh”, the word “frosh” actually means an event specifically for first year students. Frosh Week is a week-long event and can involve all sorts of crazy stunts probably not sanctioned by the university (i.e. dying each other purple, chucking paint balls, throwing rubber chickens, and stealing mascots). Frosh can be synonymous to orientation, be a part of orientation, or be completely separate from it. Not every school or faculty has frosh.

Group D: Miscellaneous

Clubs – Exactly the same as the ones in high school, except probably involving a lot more people.

Fraternities/Sororities – A group of people sharing some common interest. Fraternities are male-only while sororities are female-only. Having never been in either, I can’t say I know too much about them. They do have a reputation for hosting drinking parties, but that is complete hearsay and I don’t actually know what they do.

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Did I miss any terms? Heard something somewhere and you’re not sure what it means? Leave a note in the comments 🙂