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I’m an incoming grad student at a US university and I’ve been asked to set up my email alias. The university doesn’t have an explicit policy on what the aliases should look like, but I’ve noticed most faculty and grad students have gone with either of the following:

firstname.lastname@acme.edu
lastname@acme.edu

However, my first name is shorter, available, and easier to spell. It’s an unusual name in the US (which helped me secure firstname.com), but it’s four characters and hard to get wrong. Therefore, I’m thinking of going with:

firstname@acme.edu

Could that be interpreted as inappropriate/unprofessional/overly casual by some, or would it be fine? It’s one of the top-five programs in economics in the US – everyone seemed friendly on my fly-out and they’re probably among the less formal departments I’ve visited.

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"Could that be interpreted as inappropriate / unprofessional / overly casual by some"

I'd say yes, there is no way in general to completely prevent that. But ...

... "or would it be fine"

Basically yes to that, too. If the university has no explicit policy, I don't think anyone would take it too seriously.

To somewhat qualify this answer, I know some high-status academic professionals who signed up with a silly user name when they enrolled as basic students, just because they could (and the local custom encourages this) and are now stuck with it.

If you gain a position where you are important enough that it matters, you can probably get another alias if your schmuck@acme.edu (or whatever) turns out to be harder to live with than you imagined when you originally created it.

The ultimate decision also depends on your role. If you are senior faculty, I'd say having e.g. joey@acme.edu actually looks like a friendly and inviting, rather than an unprofessional email address. If you are not in a position where you are expected to represent the university regularly anyway, I don't think anybody will particularly care enough that this would be an issue. On the other hand, if you work in a formal role (legal? accounting?) maybe be more strict.

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You’re overthinking this issue. Nobody cares. Enjoy your cool email, and have fun in grad school.

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