70

A very busy professor just responded my email. He answered my questions, and in the end, he explicitly said something like "Please let me know if you have any questions" or "Please respond if you have further questions".

So, I am trying to think as if I am in his shoe. Is he not expecting me to reply to this email, if I do not have any further questions?

Is it impolite if I do not respond to this email and let it go? Or, is it considered impolite if I spam his "already-too-full" mailbox with a generic "Dear XXX, Thanks for XXXXX, Regards, XXXX" ?

  • 69
    Reply and thank him. Don't overthink these things. – Andrés E. Caicedo Feb 8 '18 at 2:43
  • 50
    Courtesy isn't a waste of time. – user9646 Feb 8 '18 at 8:42
  • 9
    This is, IMHO, a very typical primarily opinion-based question. Let's see whether it will survive. (BTW, I think it is useful, so +1). – Orion Feb 8 '18 at 11:21
  • 4
    I think this question gets to something at the heart of learning how to navigate a rank hierarchy as a confident, considerate adult. It can be hard to learn the difference between respecting someone else and disrespecting yourself. Devaluing yourself leads people to assume their actions are mostly disruptive and they should avoid interacting unless it's absolutely necessary. – kmc Feb 8 '18 at 19:01
  • 3
64

If you send a thank-you note, in addition to being polite, you let the professor know that you received their email and don't need anything else from them. That lets them avoid trying to follow up with you later.

  • 7
    This is a good, practical reason for why sending a quick thank you is helpful. I send lots of emails in my job, and when I don't get a response I tend to wonder if anyone got it, if it was useless, etc. When I do get a quick thank you, it takes me all of 2 seconds to read and delete/archive and now I'm freed from thinking about it in the future. – forgivenson Feb 9 '18 at 18:46
  • 2
    So much this. It is not the thank you that I appreciate most, but the acknowledgement. Whether or not this particular professor will care in this particular case, it is generally incensing when you do care. The fact that the text is "thank you" rather than "receipt acknowledged" is icing on the cake. And, well, it doesn't hurt, does it? – Lightness Races with Monica Feb 10 '18 at 16:05
62

A thank you for a quick response is usually appreciated to show that the time spent was worthwhile. It makes people feel better. So there's absolutely no reason not to send one, if you so choose.

The formality of your email should be relative to where you are: if you expect formality (as in Germany), you'd still include the "Dear X" header; in places where it's less formal, such as many US universities, you can dispense with the salutation.

  • I agree but I'd provide more guidance -- the short version of a thank-you email dispenses with the big greeting. It can be short and sweet, e.g. Thanks for the link -- looks extremely helpful. (For example.) – aparente001 Feb 8 '18 at 4:01
  • 4
    Depends on where you are: for instance, in the US, sure; in Germany, probably not. – aeismail Feb 8 '18 at 4:03
  • The reason not to send one is if the message conveys 0 information and wastes their time. But it depends on the conversation. If it was a simple query->response, a standalone thank you is unnecessary. If it was a multipart conversation, with investment on both sides, it is definitely warranted. – John K Feb 9 '18 at 21:58
17

Professors receive hundreds of emails every day. Adding a dozen thank-you emails won't help them to scan their emails for stuff they need to know or need to answer.

I'd propose to save the thank you for the next time you meet them in class or on the hallway. Still polite, but not a waste of their time.

  • 65
    I'm almost tempted to say that the satisfaction of being able to click an email and realize that it needs no extra handling (like a thank-you email) might outweigh the extra burden of clicking on it... – Mehrdad Feb 8 '18 at 9:40
  • 19
    So instead of telling them thank you in a way that they can deal with it in their own time, when they want, you do it in a way that demands immediate attention and requires more thought (who's this student, why are they thanking me...)? And you claim this is to save time? – user9646 Feb 8 '18 at 12:24
  • 3
    The burden of having to sift through reams of email trying to pick out the ones you think are important enough to read is FAR, FAR greater than Mehrdad/Najib perceive. Additionally, some people are interrupted from their work when email arrives. Thus, it is absolutely an annoyance to click on an email to find that the only reason for its existence is Thanks. In the business world, it is understood by nearly everybody not to do that. With that said, if you really feel that a person went above and beyond then you should send a corresponding above and beyond thank you if you choose to send one. – Dunk Feb 8 '18 at 20:46
  • 1
    Seeing how its 2018 and most, if not all, email clients have threads, I dont see how responding with an "thank you" could prevent the busy professor to scan their emails efficiently. – Jakob Feb 9 '18 at 10:43
  • 1
    @Jakob I don't see how threading improves things in this case. You still have to read the e-mail to tell if it contains "thank you" or a page full of text describing a major problem. – Federico Poloni Feb 10 '18 at 15:30
10

tl;dr- Usually it should be okay to send a concise thank-you email.


Three categories:

  1. Most recipients would likely enjoy a concise thank-you email for the reasons others have mentioned: the cost to them is pretty low while the appreciation can be nice.

  2. Some recipients may really enjoy a thank-you email. Especially if they're having a bad day and just need a distraction, a little gesture like that can mean a lot.

  3. Some recipients are so flooded by emails that they end up not even reading a lot of their mail. They're unlikely to get mad at anyone for sending them a nice thank-you email, however it'd still be easier for them to not get anything unnecessary.

Usually, it's probably safe enough to send a concise thank-you email. It'll backfire only a bit in the case of Category (3), which is probably the least common case, and even then it seems unlikely to be any sort of significant issue.

It's probably hard to guess who might fall into Category (3) unless you personally know them.

  • Most of the professors I know are of category (3). So no; don't write emails. – usr1234567 Mar 11 '18 at 14:53
  • 2
    @usr1234567 While that was my first thought, too, I suspected that individuals tend to have pretty significant sampling bias. Category (3)'s likely more common at competitive research institutions, while Categories (1) and (2) may be more prevalent at non-competitive research institutions and non-research institutions. – Nat Mar 12 '18 at 8:12
7

It depends on how much work the professor put in to their message.

If you asked

What is the weight of an unladen African swallow?

and the professor responded, two months later,

As your question interested me greatly, I just went on a field trip to find out. Draft paper attached.

then of course a "Thank you" is appropriate.

The opposite situation is when thinking about and archiving your "Thank you" email would take a significant percentage of time compared to the time it took to answer your question in the first place.

3

Send the thank-you.

I'm not in academia but I often write emails to colleagues to explain concepts or systems that aren't specifically my area but where I hope to be helpful. I put a lot of thought into the them and try to provide a useful explanation and reference info.

Commonly I'll send a write-up to a whole team and get no feedback. I wonder for a moment if it was worth anyone's time to read it through, then shrug and move on. It's useful to have written the explanation because it's good practice and helps to organize my own thoughts, so I don't generally sweat it.

But occasionally I'll get a quick thank-you. Or months later someone will casually mention that my email has become their go-to reference for details on the topic. And that gives me motivation to keep researching and sharing knowledge.

when you take time out to help someone, move on, and then find out that you've made an impact, it's a really nice moment.

-4

You might want to consider using the EOM indicator in the subject of your thank you email: send an empty email with the subject "Thank you! EOM". This way you are being polite and barely taking any time from their schedule.

  • 20
    I very much doubt that many in academia have heard of "EOM". I've been using email since 1990, and I would have to look up what it stands for. Using it would just add confusion and delay to the interaction. Just say "Thanks!" and have done with it. – iayork Feb 8 '18 at 14:09
  • 9
    It would be rather annoying to me to get a new email instead of a reply to a previous email. – Azor Ahai Feb 8 '18 at 17:19
  • 1
    I agree. I'm not in academia, but EOM is generally used at work, and that too, very rarely. I've probably seen like 5 emails with EOMs in them in the last 5 years. It might come across as rude, if anything, because the professor might see it as laziness in drafting a short thank you, when he's put in the time and effort to do so him/herself. Also, what @Azor-Ahai said makes complete sense! – CodingInCircles Feb 9 '18 at 21:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.