39

I'm a PhD student in a math department at a research university in the US. When I started the program I was given an account on the department server with a website and a nice department email address. Now I've found out that the department (or the university?) is doing away with the server and instructing everyone to instead use the G Suite email and Google services that the general student body of the university uses. So I suppose I'll have to pay to host my website somewhere, or convert it manually into a Google Site as the department is suggesting (which unfortunately, to my knowledge, doesn't support math markup). I'm worried that having a Google Site as opposed to a .edu website will appear unprofessional, and I'm a bit irked that I'll have to take the time to migrate my site elsewhere. Also I think it's peculiar that not even the math faculty will have a .edu domain to host a website.

Should I be upset by this? Is this unusual? Or is this just the trend of the future? Is this more typical than I think it is?


Update regarding my specific scenario to address some questions in the comments: The email through GMail still gets the .edu extension as name@university.edu or some variation. I'm not sure what will happen to my name@math.university.edu email, but it sounds like that will still work? Word is that they're still figuring out specifics. But they're planning on getting rid of the web server though. They haven't been giving new faculty or grad students the @math email address or a math.university.edu/~name website like I received, and they're working with people with larger sites [on the math server] to fit their needs. But it sounds like after the switchover the math.university.edu domain won't be available to redirect to any new website either, which sucks because there's at least one faculty here with a massive website, and the switchover will break tons of links online, and references PDF notes and papers.

  • Answers as comments, solved questions, and general discussion have been moved to chat. Please read this FAQ before posting another comment. – Wrzlprmft Aug 28 at 5:54
  • 1
    You will also have to agree to Google's Terms of Service. When my alma mater made the switch years ago, I stopped using my old edu account. I did not agree to the fondling. If I wanted to be fondled I would use my GMail account. – user112426 Aug 28 at 20:11
  • 1
    @MonkeyZeus. Yes? As long as the new university has a web server with ssh access, it's as easy as copying all the files over. Then I'd set up a redirect on the website at the old university to the new website, and hope that the old university keeps that old site active until Google re-indexes everything. – Mike Pierce Aug 29 at 14:54
  • 1
    What can we expect from the infrastructure of an university, if they cannot run their own IT anymore? I doubt a university can perform free and independent research, if all communication and data is tracked by a cloud provider. I would be highly concerned. – Jonas Stein Aug 29 at 22:47
  • 1
    @JonasStein right!? Digging around, I was shown this page about the University of California's agreement with Google. I'm not sure exactly what "Consult" means in the Sensitive Data Guidance section. – Mike Pierce Aug 29 at 23:46
27

It is becoming less common for individual departments to operate their own IT infrastructure - things are usually being centralised.

It is also becoming more common for parts of that centralised IT infrastructure to be outsourced - which in practice means that email ends up on Gmail or Microsoft's system. I would expect that your email address will still have uniname.edu as its domain - it will just be operated by a cloud provider.

Along with this second tendency, it's becoming less common for universities (or departments) to provide web space to staff or students. This can be annoying. But as others have said, there's nothing unprofessional about setting up your own domain (with a sensible name) and hosting your web content there.

54

I've found out that the department (or the university?) is doing away with the server and instructing everyone to instead use the G Suite email and Google services that the general student body of the university uses.

It sounds like the university is outsourcing IT, which is normal.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Aug 28 at 17:51
23

I'm worried that having a Google Site as opposed to a .edu website will appear unprofessional...

I think that this worry is unfounded. Similarly, I don't think that it would be unprofessional were you to have a url like www.MikePierce.com. You just need to avoid having to put something like www.badboymowers.com/mikepierce on your CV when you apply for jobs.

More seriously, several of my collaborators use Google Site pages as their main professional websites, and I know of several more respected mathematicians that do so as well. And this is all off the top of my head. So I doubt you'll stand out in a negative manner if you have to migrate your website to a Google Site.

Similarly, there are also a lot of people that have .edu email addresses but choose not to use them professionally (though this is much less common). For example, one of my collaborators has a website hosted by his institution but lists his gmail email address in all of his publications.

Should I be upset by this? Is this unusual? Or is this just the trend of the future? Is this more typical than I think it is?

I think that your department's situation is that of a growing minority of departments. I think that if you have a professional looking Google Site page that is linked to by your department's official website then you'll have nothing to worry about.

  • 5
    OP may be more ambitious than wanting to “not stand out in a negative manner”. For example, he may wish to stand out in a positive manner, and I’d think that would be extremely difficult to do with a google site. In any case, different people care about different things. Just because some successful mathematicians use a gmail address or have a google site doesn’t mean it‘s unreasonable to not want to follow their example. – Dan Romik Aug 26 at 17:59
  • 2
    @DanRomik - My comment about "not stand out in a negative manner" was in merely in response to the OP's worry that having a google site would look unprofessional. Perhaps I could have worded it better, but I honestly believe that there is nothing that one can do website-wise that will make them stand out in a positive manner. It's simply too subjective. For example some people strongly prefer very bare bones, old school html pages (white background, black text, photo at the top, list of classes taught and publications down the page, etc) over more looking modern sites. – Ben Linowitz Aug 26 at 18:08
  • @DanRomik (cont'd) - I don't disagree with you at all about it not being unreasonable to not want to follow the lead of the examples I mentioned. My point was simply that none of this was likely to have a negative impact on the OP's professional appearance. – Ben Linowitz Aug 26 at 18:08
  • 8
    As an alternative to a Google Site page, github.com offers the possibility to host personal web sites for free. The indirect connection to potential public software and research results, possibly aiming at reproducible research, is a big plus in my opinion. – applesoup Aug 27 at 12:03
18

As a math graduate student in the US, current norms make it reasonable for you to expect your department to offer you access to certain IT services, including:

  1. A (free) email address that is credibly affiliated with your university’s recognized domain name, i.e.,

yourname@uniname.edu

yourname@math.uniname.edu

are both good and reasonable, but anything along the lines

yourname@gmail.com

yourname@gsuites.com

yourname.uniname@gmail.com

yourname@uniname-gsuites.com

yourname@uniname.gsuites.com

(etc) doesn’t sound really acceptable to me. I’d be very upset if my department forced such email addresses on everyone (fortunately I’m now the chair of the computer committee, so I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen ;-)).

  1. An easy (and free) web hosting solution for hosting a personal web page.

  2. Ideally, the web host will have a URL associated with the university .edu domain.

  3. Also ideally, any third parties that such services are contracted out to should be ethical companies that offer strong guarantees to respect users’ privacy, and have a reputation for living up to their promises in this area. In an even more ideal situation, these companies will be ones whose profits are positively correlated to how good of a job they do respecting and protecting their users’ privacy.

From the situation you described, it sounds like item 3 above is a legitimate reason for you to be upset, and potentially also item 4. With item 1, by your description it sounds like you’ll still have a campus-domain email address, which is reasonable. As for having to migrate your web page, I think you’d look a bit petty if you were to try to turn that into an issue.

  • 3
    (2) and (3) offer only short-term benefits, especially for PhD students such as the OP. Longer-term, researchers will change institutions. I advocate avoiding university infrastructure (e.g., web hosting, email, version control, storage, ...) where possible and using personally controlled cloud infrastructure. – user2768 Aug 27 at 7:44
  • 1
    @user2768 I don’t really understand your point. Access to a desk, office space, a xerox machine, and a million other things are also “short term benefits”, but they are still useful. So are a .edu email address and web hosting domain. If you prefer not using them, that is your right, but many graduate students find those services extremely useful. – Dan Romik Aug 27 at 14:41
  • 3
    I don't follow your comparison: Your website, email, version control, storage, ..., are career-long assets. Having such assets controlled by an employer is short-sighted. Your examples aren't assets, I don't see a basis for comparison. – user2768 Aug 27 at 15:46
  • @user2768 I agree about file storage, but as for a website, I know only two academics who went to the trouble of setting up their own web hosting solution, and they did it very late in their careers. I guess that makes me and essentially everyone I know shortsighted according to your definition. – Dan Romik Aug 27 at 17:50
  • Presumably you and all but two of your colleagues have had the hassle of migrating your websites at every change in institute. I'd consider a single migration to cost more than the trouble of setting up their own web hosting solution. (Buying hosting is a one-off, trivial event.) A long-term website also does better in search engine rankings. (Regarding short-sightedness, that was directed towards the OP, a new researcher. Older researchers couldn't have foreseen the advancement of the Internet.) – user2768 Aug 27 at 17:59
6

Domain name, email and website are three different things.

Your university doesn't have to have any computer equipment at all to own the university.edu domain, all they have to do is pay for it. Having their own domain is indeed the standard so you can be pretty sure they'll keep it.

The e-mail is apparently getting outsourced to G-suite (probably together with calendar / document share). It will not be visible externally: G-suite is specifically designed to support e-mail addresses on a domain their customers own. So, again, you can be pretty sure you'll either keep your old e-mail address or get a new one on a university.edu domain, perhaps something like user@math.university.edu.

The website is a different entity usually hosted on a separate server. If I were you, I'd ask whether your university moves their web services to an external hosting (and which one). It doesn't have to be Google Sites, and if they do it right, you should be able to keep your website the way it is, unless they pick a very cheap hosting which lacks the features your website requires (this may be the reason they are "working with people with larger sites to fit their needs"). What will change if they outsource it is the way you manage your website, that's why you should ask about this better sooner than later. Which name your website will get is also up to them, and there's no relationship between e-mail and web servers other than the name: it's entirely possible to have e.g. an e-mail server with Google and host the website with the same domain name on Amazon AWS.

1

What can we expect from the infrastructure of an university, if they cannot run their own IT anymore?

An excellent university has excellent IT staff, which is able to develop and enhance software to their needs. They will also conserve and transfer IT skills to students.

I doubt a university can perform free and independent research, if all communication and data is tracked by a cloud provider who runs also one of the most often used search engines. Once the IT is outsourced it is practically impossible to rebuild the own infrastructure when the experts were gone.

Most universities exist since more than 100 years an invested a lot of effort to stay independent.

A university would not outsource their most important infrastructure as long as they are financially secured.

You should be highly concerned.

0

As @flyto said, there are many universities using google, GitHub, and Microsoft as their cloud provider for mail/storage/web/repo/authentication. AFAIK, both have HIPPA and PII approved products, so those universities are mitigating their risk by transferring them to those providers. I personally know of 8 universities which are using Microsoft and 5 google for mail; that does not mean Microsoft is more popular but my sample size is small.

About domain names, you do the same as you would with every single cloudy web provider out there: edit your DNS to direct queries properly or have them run it (and then you edit your domain as needed). There is nothing stopping bogus university to have office.bogus.edu, which can redirect to a office365 landing page customized using their identity. Their members can also go to the Microsoft default office website and login using their university credentials, which would direct them to the university-specific stuff.

There is nothing stopping you from having a user@math.bogus.edu email address instead of user@bogus.edu; one of them is just the alias to the other.

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.