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I am an undergraduate and I do not know much about the rules of writing an email. The email system used by our university is not convenient at all: it responds slowly, often crashes, and its common to miss important emails.

I need to email profs in our school and other universities. Is it necessary for me to use the email account of the school? Can I use my personal gmail account? Is it informal or impolite?

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    In Gmail, go into the Settings (click on the gear icon). Click the "Accounts" tab. Under "Send mail as" click on "Add another email address you own." Follow the friendly on screen instructions. – Dnuorg Spu Nov 19 '13 at 4:16
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    The issues you are listing are surprising to me. What kind of organization has such a sketchy email service? It's not the 1990's anymore. It's a major problem if students and affiliates are obliged to use commercial alternatives for the university-related communication. Make sure to report these bugs to the appropriate department. – Cape Code Aug 19 '14 at 14:17
  • You can use a different email client such as Thunderbird, if you don't like the web-based front end. – henning -- reinstate Monica Apr 18 at 18:24
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In the cases I'm familiar with (U.S. universities), using your own e-mail account should be completely fine, subject to some obvious caveats. One is that it's best to have an e-mail address that doesn't look foolish or offensive. People sometimes choose very strange usernames, and you don't want that to reflect poorly on you; furthermore, you should make sure your e-mails include the name your professor knows you under. Another issue is that if you are asking for sensitive information such as grades, your professor will likely be unwilling to send this information to an outside account without some verification that it belongs to you. Finally, you should make things simple for anyone you correspond with. For example, if you use several accounts, you should check them frequently or forward one to the other, so that there are no delays if someone sends something to an account you didn't expect.

One common solution is to set up your university account to forward to your private account, and to set up that account so you can send e-mail listing your university account as the sender/return address when necessary.

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    The sensitive information bit is important in the US and probably elsewhere, too. My understanding of the rules I work under (i.e. my understanding of HR's understanding of FERPA) does not allow me to send grades to any account except the official university provided one. – dmckee Nov 15 '13 at 6:53
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    In addition, be aware that no matter what address you use, your professor will likely default to your university-issued one (it's what their email client will autocomplete, or what Blackboard-type systems will have on record for you). If you're emailing a professor from another university, I suggest using your university address. Grants you more legitimacy. Gmail makes it easy to set up the system Anonymous Mathematician recommends in the last paragraph. You get to use the gmail interface, but with your university email address. – zoned post meridiem Nov 15 '13 at 22:06
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    @dmckee: Universities vary in their interpretation of privacy rules. My last institution had a rule that grades could not be sent by email, period. Technically this is reasonable but it was rather inconvenient. – Nate Eldredge Aug 17 '14 at 18:48
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    @NateEldredge Well, certainly. That's why I invoke HR's understanding. In any case, I never send grades by email on my own initiative, but if students ask for them over that channel I oblige. – dmckee Aug 18 '14 at 13:12
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    I have linked two gmail accounts before so configuring gmail to use your university email address seems the most effective solution. When setting it up, be sure to send some test emails to make sure they go where you want them. – nickalh Oct 25 '14 at 16:21
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In the UK, universities are very strict about information they will release -- for example we would not tell someone which courses a student was on.

This means that any email that comes from a non-university account must be treated carefully -- if by replying I appear to acknowledge the sender's name, and that they are taking my course, I have just illegally leaked confidential information.

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    FERPA in the US also has rules against releasing to third parties whether a student is in a class. Who knows whether an email from another address is really the student or is someone pretending to be the student to get information? It’s not just the law it’s also important for student safety. – Noah Snyder Apr 18 at 21:29
  • At our institution staff are instructed to respond to student emails from non-university email accounts by asking the student to resend from their official university email account. This provides some confirmation of the identity of the student. – Brian Borchers Apr 19 at 16:26
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This depends entirely on the rules of your university, the preferences of the respective professor, and your own long-term convenience:

  • The possible conflicts with rules of the university have been explained by the other answers already.
  • The respective professor (or whoever you are mailing to) may have specific preferences, as well. As an example, I have met professors who generally announced to delete any e-mail that does not come from a university account, and who explained they'd consider students who e-mailed him from a third-party-account, especially by a free provider, personally responsible if their [the professors'] addresses became known to address dealers to be sold to spammers or phishers. If you intend to have some oral exam with such a professor, it would seem like a good idea to respect that preference for university addresses.
  • As for your own long-term convenience, that depends on how far you want to separate "work" (studying) and your private life. If you are ok with professors keeping your (private) e-mail address indefinitely, then there's no problem; if you want to keep the option open to "discontact" some professors when you leave the university, on the other hand, you can conveniently do that by only using your university address toward them. (Similarly as to work settings, where you might only hand out your permanent, private address to a few select colleagues when you quit a job.)

Lastly, I wonder what you mean by stating that the university e-mail system is not convenient to use. Is it just the web-interface? Do they not offer a POP3/SMTP or an IMAP interface that you could connect to with any e-mail client of your choice?

  • Setting up POP3 or IMAP access to either or both accounts, could improve the reliability especially after you become familiar with the software. If you store the emails locally be sure to have a backup of them somewhere, possibly on the email server. – nickalh Oct 25 '14 at 16:29
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Use of University's Email Address or Personal Email varies on content being communicated in the email.

  • If you are communicating about your assignments or discussing something in the capacity of being a student, e.g., discussing topic or classes schedule, you should prefer your University's Email address to communicate.

  • If you are inquiring something general, e.g., Admissions information, fee structure, etc., you can use your Email. However it would be better to use your University's Email.

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    This answer seems to completely lack any justification for the recommendations proposed. – O. R. Mapper Sep 8 '14 at 12:32
  • Quality email software can automatically prioritize email from certain domains especially internal domains. Emails sent or received from a non-university account are more likely to go to the professor's spam box or get buried by other incoming emails. – nickalh Oct 25 '14 at 16:26
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    Why??? Downvote due to offering no explanation. – sevensevens Feb 21 '15 at 23:41
  • I don't agree. As long as my students receive emails I send to their uni accounts, I absolutely don't care which address they use when writing me on any matter. – henning -- reinstate Monica Apr 18 at 18:28

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