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Research student in Japan here.

Recently, my professor (Japanese but studied in the U.S. for long) introduced me to his friend who was a guest lecturer. I got the guest’s contact information and communicated with him through e-mail. When I reported that at the next weekly meeting, my professor gently advised me that it is generally considered “rude” if I didn't CC my professor when I contacted someone he introduced me to.

But that confused me, because back in another university in the U.S, when I CC’d my professor to contact another researcher, my American professor told me nicely, “Let me give you a general advice. Professors don’t want the inbox clogged up. You generally always want to save your professor’s time. Simply report to me in our weekly meeting when there is a meaningful progress”

In both scenarios, I met the guest lecturer in person, and I was given their contact info directly from them, not through my professors.

While I will follow my current professor’s direction (to be safe), I was genuinely confused by what is the norm or standard in these situations.

Can anyone tell me what is the norm? I assume it is safe to CC professors from now on?

  • I don't think it can be reduced to etiquette. It is reasonable that the professor want (actually s/he must) to know the email content if the latter engage you as member of the group. Else the response might varies depending on culture, personality, level of trusts and so on. – Alchimista Jan 27 at 8:09
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    Sometimes, you just can't win. – Strawberry Jan 27 at 11:11
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    I appreciate how polite you're trying to be – Nathan Jan 27 at 17:46
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Most faculty are curious and would like to know what their students are doing, therefore you should CC them. If you CC them, they don't have to ask you if you sent the email. If you CC them, they have the opportunity to clarify what you have written.

Some faculty consider deleting an email to be an unpleasant chore. If your supervisor is one of those people, do not CC them.

Otherwise it is a matter of individual preference. Few people consider it rude to CC or rude to not CC.

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    The nicknames of OP and you together coincidentally made a nice Big Bang Theory reference. – padawan Jan 26 at 13:43
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    To cc or not to cc; that is the question. – chrylis -cautiouslyoptimistic- Jan 26 at 19:42
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    Obviously you don't get a hundred emails a day. Especially complete threads discussing every detail back and forth including two "thank you" emails are very annoying. You cannot focus on the relevant emails but are distracted by irrelevant noise. – usr1234567 Jan 27 at 8:50
  • @usr1234567 delete the noise. Humans are excellent at filtering out signal. Use that ability. – Tim Jan 27 at 12:05
  • echoing others, I'd do it on a case-by-case basis. That said, I send out an email roughly once a week and try to mention what I've been doing & everyone I've spoken to - it cuts the noise down and concentrates the information they're getting. I'd make an exception and CC the person if they might want to have some input, or have specifically asked to be CC'ed. – Algy Taylor Jan 27 at 15:42
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As a professor, I suspect it's fair to say that there is no "norm" about this (in my culture at least). Both your professors' remarks are reasonable ways to think about being cc:ed on an email.

When in doubt, I recommend doing the cc:ing, after comparing the potential downsides: needing to delete one email (several seconds of thought), vs. being unsure about how one's student is doing (a more lasting mental state).

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  • Thanks for the first hand opinion! I was really curious about this. – Leonard Jan 28 at 7:44
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I think there is no norm. I can understand both positions, as

a) I don't like to be included as recipient of many emails, as I don't like to follow every detail but want to get an overview. So I'd like to be informed in weekly meetings.

b) When I forward the contact of a friend or an old contact, which I value, I don't want that a student messes up with inadequate questions or at worst rude requests.

People tend more towards a) or b), also depending on the topic. You need to find out what to do depending on the topic and the professors you interact with.
As you know now that it is a deliberate topic, ask next time whether the professors wants to be included. From that you can derive if you need to include your professor for less controversial topics.

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How about ask? After the introduction you could just ask your professor if he would like you to CC him, in case of reaching out to the contact.

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I'll mention another option that no one else has yet: the BCC (blind carbon copy) option. Putting someone as a CC recipient on an email is a good way to indicate that they're being included more for informational purposes, rather than expected to actively participate in the conversation. Putting someone as a BCC removes them one step further from the conversation - the other recipients can't see them, and they will not receive further emails from people hitting Reply All to the email chain.

If you are copying your professor mainly to inform them that you're making contact, and don't want to weigh them down with a potentially lengthy exchange of introductory emails, BCC is a good option - it will keep everyone in the loop about the lines of communication that have been opened, but will prevent cluttering the inbox of the BCC recipients. In general, I don't think there's a single right answer for how closely an advisor might like to be involved in your day-to-day communications, so it's probably best to learn individual preferences of whether the person would prefer to be a recipient, a CC, a BCC, or not included at all.

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My advice is to send two emails. One to the contact establishing the connection. The other letting the contact provider know that you appreciated the assistance and that you have followed up. This avoids the question of CC’ing and communicates to all parties. Additionally, since each email is addressed to the specific recipient they will not feel they are just observing a conversation (such as the US professor situation).

My personal preference would be to be CC’d. Though the biggest issue in this scenario is being removed from the ongoing conversation that may arise in the email chain.

In the US, my experience is that this is quite a significant issue for business organization and communication. The true issue at hand is email mailbox organization and a lack of tools in email UI.

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I think you must act on the situation. If you meet your professor from university CC with him, but if it's another professor don't do this!

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    Thanks for sharing your answer. But it is rather short, often good answer give rationals. Further, it does not add anything new compared to the existing answers. – usr1234567 Jan 27 at 10:20
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I think it depends on the situation. You may ask first if it is okay to send an email, so it is not necessary to include in CC your professor.

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As @Anonymous Physicist wrote, most faculty personnel are curious and would like to know about what the student is doing. But in addition to this, I think there is an extra element. I'm extending my answer to a broader question "when do I have to cc?" rather than answering to this case only.

The list of many activities can be categoriesed in several ways, but for the scope of this answer I will use a subjective metric: important and not so important. On important matters such as purchases or potential collaboration with a visiting professor, always cc your supervisor because many issues may arise that you were not aware of. For instance, if a purchase is made there may be errors in the purchase such as incorrect amount, quantity or other errors.

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