Netiquette 2009: What you don’t know about e-mail could hurt you
As someone who has daily contact with undergraduates, I often hear from frustrated students that they were not aware of certain academic regulations, or that they were never informed about an upcoming event or a change of policy. In almost every case, this frustration could have been avoided if all students regularly checked their University of Massachusetts Amherst e-mail account. Here are some key reasons why you should use and read your UMass e-mail.
Official Communication: In this day of paperless communication, the University no longer sends grades or other important notices to a student’s home or campus address. In fact, according to the University’s February 2004 E-mail Communications Policy, the University’s primary means of communicating official information is e-mail. Further, the University will send official communications only to e-mail addresses distributed by OIT (now known as UMass Amherst e-mail addresses), and expects that such communications will be received and read in a timely fashion. Students are, therefore, responsible for checking their University e-mail on a frequent and consistent basis to ensure that they remain current with all official communications. In other words, even if you ignore it, you will be held accountable for the information that has been sent.
E-mail “Problems:” You might be surprised to read that students regularly report problems with their UMass Amherst e-mail account, which sometimes comes down to the fact that it is not as fun or as easy to use as an e-mail vendor like Google or Yahoo. I am not sure if it’s because using the familiar e-mail account is more interesting or because UMass messages about serious issues are not as enjoyable, but some students choose to ignore their UMass e-mail or have it redirected (“forwarded”) to their more familiar, personal e-mail address. As a result, they miss crucial University information because their familiar account treats the forwarded messages as Spam or, even worse, does not forward them at all. To avoid missing deadlines or even opportunities, I recommend that you stop having your UMass Amherst e-mail address forwarded. Instead, either use your UMass Amherst e-mail as your only account, or better yet, use two accounts and check your UMass Amherst e-mail daily for university-related business. I also suggest not using your UMass e-mail account for social networking or other web adventures. Keep it simple: Use your UMass e-mail address for your academic life at the University and a different personal account for all else.
Privacy: Every message you send from your UMass Amherst e-mail address to another UMass Amherst e-mail address is automatically encrypted, and this is extremely helpful in protecting your privacy. Commercial e-mail service providers (e.g. Google and Yahoo) may not be using encryption and this leaves your information vulnerable to being intercepted in transit. You should never use a commercial e-mail address to discuss confidential information such as grades, dealings with University agencies, or financial concerns.
By the way, the upcoming opportunity for undergraduate students to choose Google Apps through their UMass Amherst account will continue to provide students with privacy, as it’s a UMass account via Google Apps for Education, and not a personally obtained Gmail account. These new accounts with still take the same form as NetID@student.umass.edu, but benefit students with more storage space and the Gmail interface. Remember, choosing a UMass Google Apps account is voluntary, and undergraduate students will need to carefully weigh the pros and cons of both UMail and a Google Apps. Two of the most substantial concerns regarding Google include what they may do with your content upon studying it, and that there is no backup of your information. UMail has a much lower quota. There are also positives on both sides. I encourage everyone to read Google’s Terms of Service (www.google.com/accounts/TOS) as well as the University’s Google Apps page (www.umass.edu/googleapps) which includes a link to the UMass Google Apps Project Blog and copies of recent e-mails to students and staff.
A Permanent Record of Your Civility, or Not: Although it is “informal,” as long as e-mail is the University’s “official” mode of communication, students need to remember that when writing to members of the campus community, a certain e-mail etiquette is expected. Always indicate your full name, not just Doug or Maria, include your SPIRE ID as a courtesy, and start with a salutation such as “Dear Professor Quinn.” Believe it or not, I receive several messages per week that begin “hey,” and are not signed at all. This is not the best way to make a positive impression. One last point: When writing e-mails regarding University business avoid abbreviations that might be more appropriate when texting (TMOT – trust me on this). These are habits that will serve you well when you leave campus and enter the professional world. Believe me, a little civility goes a long way.
Take your future into your own hands: Using your UMass e-mail account only for University-related business is a great way to stay organized. Checking and reading your UMass e-mail on a daily basis is a great way to avoid missing withdrawal deadlines, for example, which may result in a lower grade point average recorded permanently on your transcript. Using your UMass e-mail to deal with issues in an informal way could also come back to haunt you. What if these e-mails end up in the hands of a potential employer looking for an employee with a more professional demeanor? E-mail is a permanent record and what you don’t know about it, either way, could hurt you.
Kregg Strehorn is a UMass Associate Dean. He can be reached at email@example.com.