The Caffeinated Flutist, Vol. 4. How to Be a Good Colleague (Pt. 2) By Mary Hales

Hey there, flute-trepreneurs!

We’re back with another column on being a good colleague.  Writing emails is another major staple of what we do as professionals, and this column is going to focus on email etiquette, specifically from student to professor.  Growing up as the child of an academic, I learned a lot of these things early on, but not everyone has that leg up.  As we head back into a new school year, let’s take a minute and go over the major pieces of etiquette for writing an email to your professor.

    • Never - ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER - ask if you missed anything “important” on a day you were absent from class.  I don’t remember the original source now, but I remember seeing a post from a college professor on this topic where he expressed his frustration with this wording from his students.  His rebuttal was something to the effect of, “No, we spent the whole class period watching cat videos because you were gone. OF COURSE you missed something important!” Especially in college, new material is covered at a much faster pace, and if you miss a day, you’re more than likely going to miss valuable information.  A better way to phrase the question would be to ask is what specific material you missed, and how you can best catch up.


    • Try to write like a grown-up.  Professional correspondence is completely different than sending a text to your friends or roommates, and an email to a professor (obviously) falls into the former category.  Leave out the texting shorthand and emojis; they are not professional, and more often than not, they won’t go over well. The other part of this is proper spelling, especially when it comes to homophones, and the forms of “your/you’re” and “to/too/two,” for example.  Polite greetings and conclusions are always welcome, but try to keep them somewhat formal.


    • Get to the point.  As important as it might seem to you at the time, your professor or TA does not need the entire backstory that has led up to your email (unless it was something big and/or unexpected, like a death in the family or a medical emergency).  We’re busy too; the things we really need to know are the essentials - what you missed, and your availability for making it up, if it’s something like a test. That way, we don’t have to read your email five times before we figure out how we need to respond.  It makes everybody’s life easier if you just give us the details.


    • Please be as prompt as possible.  Most issues of grades and making up missed work are time-sensitive, and if you want to make up maximum possible points, it’s better to email sooner rather than later.  Also, if a professor or TA emails you with an important issue, do your best to reply quickly.  Sometimes there are difficult extenuating circumstances that make this impossible, but barring those, it’s much better to be timely than not in starting an email conversation, or replying within one.


    • Please be willing to work with us. As I mentioned before, everyone in academia has a busy life, and sometimes schedules are hard to reconcile.  As a TA, I sometimes struggle with safeguarding the time I need for my own schoolwork and practice in order to work with my students, and that’s not always maintainable for me.  If you’re willing to work with the varying flexibility of your professors’ and TAs’ schedules, they’ll be much more willing to work with yours. Cooperation is key to getting anything accomplished in any area of life.  The same goes for school.


That’s all for this issue!  See you next time!

Flutist Mary Hales is a native of Conway, Arkansas, currently studying under Alice K. Dade at the University of Missouri School of Music for her Masters in Flute Performance. Follow more of her writing at; find her on social media with the handle @maryhalesflute.

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