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I'm working in an international collaboration (Germany and Netherlands). It happens quite often that I'm asking technical questions to fellow postdocs by email, just sending the email to this single person. When I receive the reply, I almost always see that the head of the group has been put in CC.

I'm wondering why this is done. Is this some kind of etiquette I'm not aware of? I imagine that as a group leader you get flooded with emails, so why would you request more?

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    I like to know when people ask about my group's research. – StrongBad Sep 10 '13 at 11:46
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Yes, that sort of etiquette (CC'ing the PI of each involved partner in a collaboration, even for exchanges at lower level) exist in some groups. It is particularly true of recent collaborations, either because they have been established recently or because the research is still in its infancy. In both case, I suppose it is nice to help PI's stay on top of how things are progressing, both on the science and on the interpersonal relationships (like, is everyone acting professionally).

It's not universal, but it is common. It depends a lot on the nature of the relations between the PI's and their groups. I tend to ask students/post-docs to keep me in CC of the first few emails to our collaborator after they arrive/we start the project, then after sometime I tell them to drop me when it's evident things are going well.

In your situation, the safest course of action is to keep people on the CC list. You didn't CC them, but someone did, so don't drop them unless they ask for it. Also, ask your own boss how he likes to do things.


“I imagine that as a group leader you get flooded with emails, so why would you request more?” — Whatever you do, you will be flooded with emails. You don't read them all, but you may skim those for tone/content, keeping an eye on things.

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It is a fairly normal practice to cc: your boss on correspondence that is outside the organization, especially if he or she has a vested interest in the response. As you note, though, it does require some judiciousness to keep from overpopulating your boss's inbox. I'd say it is more rare in the case of technical back-and-forth, but I have seen it before.

I have also seen the "cc the boss" mentality from people who want the boss to know they're keeping busy -- I wouldn't suggest this kind of toady behavior, but it does exist.

The bottom line is that you shouldn't be concerned to see others do this on their correspondence, and you could certainly ask the head of your group if he or she wants to be cc'd on correspondence from you.

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  • I haven't heard the excuse to let your boss know your busy, but I do know people who often do it as more a lack of authority or CYA. – Andy W Sep 10 '13 at 14:42

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