The Man who Mistook his Wife for an Email Address

The Man who Mistook his Wife for an Email Address

In keeping with my current fixation on metaphors, I present to you our current bugbear, and my pet peeve of the moment: wacky email addresses. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a lot of universities have this same problem; students arriving on our doorsteps already married to a goofy email address, and not feeling any particular need for another (official) one. I’m talking about cuddly_girl1988 and hotstufflolxxox and This is the email address all their friends and loved ones know; so it’s the one they keep on using as students.

It seems to me that email addresses feel akin to phone numbers to people; this is the place at which you can be contacted, it is a set of characters completely without meaning, and you should avoid changing it at all costs to avoid confusion or loss of contact. Sometimes I wonder if an email is also akin to a personal name; you only change it in the case of something truly life-changing, like a witness protection program, an adoption and (maybe) a marriage. No matter how stupid it is (see Peaches Geldof about that one), you don’t change your name on a whim. It’s yours. Having to change it would be a fundamental shift that would throw your whole world into chaos, and no matter how important a change it was, someone would always call you but your former moniker, just because they’re so used to it.

Institutionally, students’ unwillingnes to use their school email accounts is a problem because the probability of these addresses getting typed in wrong the first time is so high. One little typo in results in a lot of errors when we need to send a student something important. It means a lot of password resets when they use these accounts with courseware. Every student’s institutional email address is generated by the system, and thus, it’s far more likely to be correct the first time. We have elaborate password schemes to (try to) ensure that the right person gets the right email. We care about privacy. We care about sensitive information staying controlled. Those are the official reasons for encouraging the use of institutional email.

What I don’t understand is why more students don’t jump at the chance to have an institutional email address. These folks worked hard to get into school; isn’t this email address a mark of that success? You have arrived; you are one of the elite pack. It’s like getting stamped with a particular kind of honour or authority; me @ this great and glorious insitution! ph34r my mad academic skillz! I’m a smrtypants! Yet, it seems like the majority of students don’t bother to ever activate their school email accounts. They stick with instead.

And thus, my latest metaphor: your institutional email is your interview suit. Your church outfit. Your best dress. The clothes you put on when you want to be taken seriously, make an impression, get a job. Institutional email gives you a degree of authority before you even open your mouth. Imagine a room where you need a certain amount of intelligence to get in; your institutional email address is like flashing your sterling transcript at someone, who then taps the bouncer on the shoulder and tells him to make way for you. it’s like saying,hey, I’m an adult, I got into a university, listen to what I have to say! I’m not just some joker. I belong. Not only that, but because this account can only be set up by an administrator, your addressee know for sure who you are; you’re the one with the name in the “from” line. Undebatable. (Though of course there are exceptions…but they are that. Exceptions.) Anyone can get a hotmail account; not everyone has an the right to an institutional email address. It’s a useful priviledge of membership.

Sure, you don’t want to wear your best clothes all the time. Your friends aren’t impressed by them; they know you and don’t care what you’re wearing. They just want to hear what you have to say. Your hotmail email is like your ripped jeans and your favourite t-shirt with the stubborn stain down the front that still doesn’t stop you from wearing it. But do you want to wear that outfit to a job interview? Do you want you thesis adviser or a graduate admissions committee to see you in it? Your might be kicky in some circles, but it’s not really the way you want your instructor to think of you, is it?

I can understand people liking the idea of having just one email to check, but I highly recommend two email addresses for everyone. You should have one for your “professional” activities (that includes your student work and communication), and one for your personal life. Have you ever been in a situation where you need to grab a document from your email in order to do a presentation? Have you ever had to do it from a computer that’s projected onto a screen, in front of a roomful of students and your instructor? Do you really want all your personal email displayed to these people? Do you really want to log in as in a situation like that?

Having two email addresses also means you can shut off school or work. When I need a break, I don’t check my work email on the weekends. Because I have two accounts, I can still check my personal email, and keep in touch with friends and family, without having to get dragged back into work (or school). Doesn’t everyone need a break now and then? Let the school account collect the “work” for you, and keep your personal email for everything else. It’s like having an office, and an office phone; you don’t want it ringing in your face when you’re at home watching a movie.

On the flip side, I’d strongly caution everyone from using work email (or school email) to do anything personal. It doesn’t happen often, but there’s always a possibility that an administrator may at some point be given the authority to go through that email. It belongs to the school/office, after all; that’s in the fine print. Don’t say anything in work/school email that would make you blanch if you knew your boss/instructor/administrator might see it. This is why I think everyone should have two email accounts; we always need a secondary channel. We need to be able to be a little bit off the record sometimes, though committing something to “paper” (even digitally) comes with its risks.

So keep Check it often! But don’t email your instructors from there. It doesn’t look good, and it just means you have to hear back about school stuff when you’re in fun mode. Activate that school account! That way, we all win!

0 thoughts on “The Man who Mistook his Wife for an Email Address

  1. All those are very valid reasons to use the campus account, but I can tell you, as someone who works with students regularly, that they will pretty much buy none of them for one reason: they think the institutional account “sucks.” The offered systems are often clunky and not intuitive. They will use it when forced, but not for any valid reasons. And I am not trying to be negative here, just pointing out the experience. Not to mention, that once you leave the campus, any e-mail account you used to have is deactivated, so you better make sure that you forward or change what you need to change to get it, in guess where? Your Hotmail or whereever else.

    Sure, I was told that to interview you give people the campus address if you have one. But if not, get a Hotmail (or any other online service) and give it a decent username that is not “hotbunnylove69” or such. Overall, as long as students see the campus account as a pain in the rear end, no valid reason is going to work for them. As a former college instructor, I would rather know where to get a hold of them than worry over if they use the campus mail or not. Anyways, as I said, some observations based on experience. Best, and keep on blogging.

    Rochelle: Yeah, I also work with students, and I realize they don’t use the institutional email. Hence the post. I’m not sure that the email system provided is not intuitive; my school uses Horde mail, which is pretty standard and doesn’t look all that different from their hotmail accounts. Actually I think hotmail is less intuitive than Horde, so I’m not sure that’s the answer here.

    Most schools I’ve been to leave your email alone for at least 6 months after you graduate (some give you a year). Most schools also provide an alumni forwarding address, so students preparing to leave school and handing out resumes would do well to give out the forwarding address rather than their hotmail one. My point here was explaining to students that they should use their institutional email for SCHOOL matters, not personal ones. Friends and family should never email them at their school email address, which means it won’t matter when the school email shuts down.

    We currently ask students to forward their school email to an account they will check, but I’m just not a big fan of the practice, hence the post. But please don’t presume that I’m not speaking some some experience here. What I’m talking about is technology literacy in a larger sense; I’d be happy if I could just get people thinking about what their email address is saying about them, and start to behave accordingly. I understand that you’ve had issues with this in the past; but if you’re trying to tell your students something en masse, email isn’t the best way to do it anyway. We’ll just have to come up with some better communication methods; that’s what technology can help us do. I’m afraid “that never works” isn’t a phrase that gets in my way very often.

  2. My sister often tells her students that, yeah, beer_bong@[university].edu might sound like fun when they’re freshmen, but do they really want to put that as their contact info when they’re applying for industry internships in a couple of years?

    Rochelle: HA! Yeah, really! I really feel like this is something most students just don’t think about, which was the point of my post. I’ll have to test out my hypothesis; I’ll grab a bunch of random undergrads and quiz them about why they use the email address they do. 😛

  3. I work in a university office, and teach a freshman class, and I am always boggled by the students who use indecipherable and/or unprofessional e-mail addresses on their forms. (For example,, etc.) Even if they don’t like the interface for the university e-mail, it isn’t very difficult to set up an address like

    Rochelle: Amen. I really think they’re just not thinking about it, and get so used to it in high school that they think nothing of it. We taught them how to brush their teeth before they go out, but no one really sits anyone down and explains about how to not make a fool of yourself with your email address. :/

  4. It is hard to keep from smiling sometimes when helping someone use a database, and when we get to emailing articles or results to themselves, they always use crazy hotmail addresses.

    A problem with campus email: the domain is often different from the university’s overall address. eg – my undergrad had all addresses as @cygnet.[university] and where I work has @student.[university] and students forget the extra part of the domain all the time = not receiving important emails.

    We recommend people forward mail in their university email account to whatever hotmail address they actually use so at least they see it.

    Rochelle: Yeah, we do the same thing. I hate it, frankly, obviously why i wrote the post. When I was a library school they forced us to use our school accounts, and my current institution is going that way as well (thank God!). The issue you bring up, about the extra subdomain, is a really good point. Admins should be careful about that. I’ll have to doff my hat to my current place of work, who came up with the briliant stategy of having everyone’s email go like this: You really can’t get easier than that. You don’t even have to ask anyone for their email address. Sweeeeeet.

  5. I’m with Angel on this one; if I were an incoming student, I would be crazy to stop using a Gmail account with multiple gigs of storage and a nice interface for the college’s Exchange server with paltry storage allotments and no spell check (??!!).

    Of course, I hope I’d have the sense to forward my mail from my college account to my “real” account, and to use my college account on job applications and the like.

    Rochelle: Uh…I think you may have misread my post. I didn’t say anyone should *stop* using their personal email account. In fact, I strongly encourage everyone to keep it. I’m only suggesting that people use their institutional email account for professional/school-related email.

    But perhaps you may want to discuss your issues with your school’s webmail interface with administrators; schools can get gmail for their institutional mail these days.

  6. I have to agree with the first poster; I’ve had several ‘instituional’ mail addressess over the years; work ones and uni ones. Work ones aren’t too bad, and I’ve used them quite heavily, conviently separating work and home life.

    But the insituational ones have always been (and I hate to say this although you’ve heard about my Uni’s attempt at blackboard) appauling to use. Because my uni appears to use a very simple system for assigning them completely and totally swamped with spam before I’d even got a week into the course.

    Because I can’t just connect and download stuff to my home machine, I can’t even subject it to my own spam filters; so instead have to trawl through 800 messages about free phones. I have done it when I’d heard that there was ‘something important’ that’d been sent as an e-mail.

    A flexible system which enabled me to utilise my own choice of mail client, or use theirs if I wanted would, I suspect be welcomed, but given my uni’s general level of apparent technical competence I’d not expect that it’d happen this decade.

    Rochelle: These are all concerns very much linked to your own school. My institutional email recieves no spam because we have good spam protection on the server. I’ve also never seen a school account that wouldn’t allow you to use your own client (from the 5 schools I’ve been attached to so far), so I’m hoping that particular problem is relatively rare. And since I work with the IT folks at my university who make those kinds of decisions, I know for a fact that there is a ton of technical competence there. Apparently there are a lot of schools who had technical problems around email, but I’m not sure that’s the answer to the problem of

  7. I’ve always had nearly-unused “” addresses for professional things, yes. And I agree with people who say that campus servers can be annoying, but the thing is that I’ve *always* had at least three different email addresses, because I’m involved in online activities I don’t need to share with my friends and family. So to me, checking my “online” email, “real life” email, and “school” email is no big deal, since they’re all on different sites and I can just stay logged in. I know several people in similar situations.

    Also, sometimes with institutional mail, you have the opposite problem than non-use. I noticed on a mass-mail the other day that 99% of people in the class used our school email — and one person stubbornly hung onto her undergrad email, clearly because it was from a better institution. 😉

    Rochelle: 😛 I still have a account, and I still recieve email from it, but it just seems way too snotty-pants to actually hand it out to people. Too deliberately chi-chi! Though in the days between institutional email addresses I have been known to resort to it, cringing all the while because I know people will think I’m using it just to underscore the fact that I am indeed a Harvard graduate. Hey, I will use it when it will be useful, don’t get me wrong. I believe in pulling out the big guns when they’re needed!

    And everyone I know personally keeps two email addresses (oh, barring one, and I’m really trying to convince her to get on board and get a personal email account); it just surprises me that this level of sophistication is entirely missing from the student population. I know this “millienal generation” isn’t as high-tech as people think it is, and this is one more piece of evidence to that effect.

  8. I guess I was responding to this:
    “What I don’t understand is why more students don’t jump at the chance to have an institutional email address.” I think they are thinking less about prestige, and more about “this email account sucks!”

    And we are too wedded to Exchange to switch.

    Rochelle: I’m not sure that’s enough of an explanation, though; our webmail does NOT suck, but students still don’t use it.

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