Suppose I (a senior postdoc in Europe) write an email to another not-student scientist (a postdoc or a professor also in Europe) that does not know me nor directly nor by publications. I am either asking about writing a common project or about an open position or some scientific question related to their work.

I see many disadvantages in using institutional emails so usually I use a private Gmail one. However most often people never answer (and I am pretty sure my emails are not bad enough to offend anyone or boring enough to generate zero interest). I got used to think that people are just too lazy/too overwhelmed with many things to answer every random guy with a PhD with at least one sentence.

But recently I started to work in a place where people are extremely paranoid about internet security to the point that they mark all incoming emails from other institutions (let along free mailservers) in a special way. So I started to wonder: what if many of my emails (that were most often sent to institutional addresses, since usually they are the ones publicly available) were lost in spam or even deleted automatically due to paranoia of people setting mail server configuration?

So what is your experience? Do you think my problem getting replies from people can be related to me using my private email? Or it is just yet another one harsh reality of Academia one has to accept?

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    Why would you not use a professional email address when you are a professional trying to establish communication with another professional, for professional reasons?
    – Nij
    Sep 14, 2021 at 23:47
  • @Nij because the mailservers are often down at unpredictable moments, my position is temporary (thus the address as well) and the access to the mail is much more convenient with Gmail
    – demitau
    Sep 15, 2021 at 0:05
  • There are trivial solutions to each of those problems, none of which require creating larger problems by using a personal address to do professional tasks.
    – Nij
    Sep 15, 2021 at 3:28
  • Further, if your employer is requiring more strict protocol around the use of the professional email, you are deliberately circumventing those protocols. Unless you are the person who decided them, you do not have the authority nor likely the expertise to justify doing so. This is a reason for immediate termination in many jurisdictions, let alone the potential for liability if (or even when) things go wrong.
    – Nij
    Sep 15, 2021 at 3:31
  • At my institution, mail coming in from outside gets an "[EXTERNAL]" prepended to the subject line. I'm not sure I'd call that 'extremely paranoid' but perhaps I know too many cybersecurity folks. But use your institutional email.
    – Jon Custer
    Sep 15, 2021 at 14:49

1 Answer 1


If your institution gives you an email address and maintains it, they expect you to use it for professional communication. I've been retired for about ten years and still use my university email for almost all communication, not just professional.

If you are no longer affiliated with the institution, but they still maintain your email address, then you can use the address initially but explain to a new professional contact that your affiliation has ended. Once you make contact, you can decide to use a more private email if that seems advisable.

But, as you note, an email from a gmail address could come from anyone, where a .edu or .ac address indicates that you are an academic.

For industrial employees, the employer may have rules, of course. This might be your situation, since you are seeing some paranoia. But using a different email address is hardly a security measure.

  • 3
    They may or may not expect it, but from the perspective of an individual researcher there are some good reasons to prefer other email addresses - permanence, already established communication channels etc. Anyway, yes, making initial contact from an institutional address can certainly look more professional.
    – Anyon
    Sep 15, 2021 at 0:05
  • 1
    I don't know for professors, but my experience as student/postdoc is to expect your institutional email to silently not function any more the day after your contract ends (i.e. you cannot access it any more, incoming emails are silently dropped). Some universities grant exemptions of a couple of months (with a chunk of burocracy required), but not for very long. Sep 15, 2021 at 7:50
  • 3
    "But, as you note, an email from a gmail address could come from anyone, where a .edu or .ac address indicates that you are an academic." Spoofing sender e-mail address is pretty trivial, so a mail coming from a .edu or .ac.uk could be coming from anyone. Moreover, many academics work at institutions that do not have .edu or .ac e-mail addresses.
    – TimRias
    Sep 15, 2021 at 8:34
  • 2
    @cbeleitesunhappywithSX This varies widely, but I've never heard of "silently ceasing to function," which seems like the most extreme possible option. Sep 15, 2021 at 21:48
  • 1
    @KevinArlin: Well, tbh, for most institutions where I have been working, I cannot say how long exactly the mailbox continued to exist after I did not have access any more. I do know of one institution where I got the very same email address again after being away for several years, and there I know: people told me they tried to contact me there while I was not working there, and when I again got access to that email address there were no emails older than ≈start of contract date. At another institution I and a bunch of colleagues lost email access when the IT department was not notified of the Sep 16, 2021 at 15:56

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