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I'm a fourth-year undergrad math major. Consider two universities X and Y. X is my home university, while I've been doing summer research (sort of an REU) at Y. Y is (much) more reputed than X is, especially for mathematics, i.e., my field of research.

I plan to apply to math PhD programs in the US soon, before which I'd want to reach out to some professors, let them know I'm applying, and perhaps ask a couple of relevant questions. Does it matter whether I use my university email from X or Y?

Keeping in mind the large volume of emails that professors get, I thought it might make more sense to use an email address that's affiliated with a more reputed institution, but that could just be my bias as well. I'd love to know your thoughts!

Note: Yes, I do get to keep the email from Y even after the summer ends, even though I shall not be present at Y in person anymore.

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    I'm tempted to say "use the politest emails of the ones you have lying around". Maybe I'm a nitpick, but what you are asking about is an email account or an email address. Jul 15 at 17:03
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    Note that many email clients will show the sender's name in the inbox, and their email address is only visible after opening the email. Many recipients won't even notice which address you're sending from.
    – bta
    Jul 16 at 2:52
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    As a non-math guy I appreciated "Consider two universities X and Y".
    – HorseHair
    Jul 16 at 17:45
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    @HorseHair Studying mathematics killed my diction too... Jul 17 at 7:27

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I suggest your home university as it minimizes the possibility of any foul-ups in communication. I think the potential "advantage" of having an email from a more prestigious institution is so small as to be meaningless compared to the things that matter in any application. You will, of course, note your summer work at Y somewhere in your application, which is enough to make the connection.

And, blind emails are often disregarded, even from fancy email addresses. And note that in the US, you normally apply to a department, not an individual professor, in any case using a defined application process.

Most US professors won't have much to say to an out of band email other than "I encourage you to apply via the standard process." In particular, they are unlikely to be involved in the application/approval process unless they happen to be on that committee. If you get accepted into the program then you have time to talk to professors about advisement.

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    I disagree that most US professors won't have much to say depending on the field. Sure a committee decides who gets admitted but often a supervisor is required and needs to chose which of the many applicants gets to work with them.
    – Behacad
    Jul 15 at 13:15
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    @Behacad what you wrote does not reflect how things work in math, which is what the OP is writing about. It is completely standard in the US for applicants to math grad schools to be admitted without having to commit to a specific PhD advisor or even a specific area of math. Of course applicants may say they are interested in a specific area or even some specific faculty, but they will not be required to commit to that if they accept an offer.
    – KCd
    Jul 16 at 17:49
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Your REU account was assigned to make it easier to communicate with you during the REU, not to help you impress people. Use the account from your home institution.

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    why? OP has passed some kind of selection/filtering and OP is now doing some meaningful work at Y. Accoridng to your principle, a student from the university of Kabul that just started a PhD at Stanford/MIT/Cambridge should not use the email from Stanford/MIT/Cambridge ... for how long?
    – EarlGrey
    Jul 14 at 23:15
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    @EarlGrey I don't follow your logic. That said, my guess is the reason the REU account was assigned was to give REU students university access (library, computers, etc) at the REU institution, more than for communication during the REU.
    – Kimball
    Jul 15 at 4:02
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    @Kimball the logic is: behind the email there is a person, is this person writing something interesting? it does not matter if the email is -at-harvard.edu or -at-hotmail.com . Time is a scarce resource, but even scarcier are people worthwhile of collaborating: it is up to the recipent to wisely read the incoming mail, especially if it is a professor, to apply a better filter than "oh look the domain of this email ..."
    – EarlGrey
    Jul 15 at 7:05
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    @EarlGrey I implied nothing of the sort. The institution where you are enrolled as a PhD student is your home institution. Jul 15 at 17:24
  • Why is your home institution so important? To be part of that home you either passed some evaluaiton, or you paid some hefty tuition fees, so I see nothing wrong in using your temporary summer home institution ,as long as you passed some evaluation or paid some tuition fees to be part of it ...
    – EarlGrey
    Jul 18 at 6:05
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The prestige of the university your email account is associated with is of minimal importance. Instead, I would suggest you consider the following desiderata.

  1. Use an email address that you can reliably receive email at. If you REU account is going to be shut down in a month, then don't use it.
  2. Use an email address that won't be sent to spam. Usually this shouldn't be an issue, but sometimes university IT departments haven't properly secured their mail servers and network, so email from the institutional addresses gets flagged as suspicious. (In some cases, gmail is better than an institutional email!) If you or you friends have had bad experiences with your university's mail system, don't use it.
  3. Use an email address that appropriately reflects who you are. If you send email from a harvard.edu address, but your CV says you're at the University of Statesville, that seems a bit odd. It won't impress people; it will just confuse them.
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  • The account at my home university X won't be available after I graduate, but the one I have from Y is supposedly available for an indefinitely long period of time (although they just replace the "student" with "alum" in their domain name. That being said, I can reliably receive email at Y for longer. I believe (3) is the real issue here, though! Jul 14 at 23:23
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    @heroic-harmonic I wouldn't count on a mail sent to heroic-harmonic@student.uniY.edu to be forwarded to heroic-harmonic@alum.uniY.edu, at least not "for an indefinitely long period of time".
    – Sabine
    Jul 15 at 9:09
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    @heroic-harmonic you are not an official student at Y earning a degree there, but only at Y for the summer program. (And you are not an alumnus of Y just for having spent a summer there.) Do not count on really having access to Y's email system after the summer. You wrote that the access is "supposedly available", so it looks like you also are not absolutely certain of post-summer access. Perhaps you misunderstood how it will work. And the IT group at Y could decide at any time to close the "alum" email accounts to people who are not real alumni.
    – KCd
    Jul 16 at 17:59
  • It's an odd guess to make that .edu addresses are more likely to be flagged than @gmail.com. Jul 17 at 17:38
  • @AzorAhai-him-: It's not that odd; if an IT department at one university has a problem that allows spammers to abuse it, other admins (especially of non-universities) will often be willing to block incoming mail from the whole domain temporarily, especially if it happens via an automated blacklist. But gmail is huge and so widely used that it's probably "too big to blacklist" for most blacklist maintainers and server admins. Also, probably has faster-reacting admins and more oversight, so spam sent via gmail's own servers is from actual accounts, not some pwned machine on a uni network. Jul 17 at 19:40
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Always use a professional one with your name and a web provider. I would discourage you from using a university account unless it is clear that you are just a student there (we make our students use a student. domain). I delete emails that come from masteroftheuniverse or sweetchick or seeyainhell without reading them.

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    Note that OP is asking about which of their university e-mail addresses to use; I don't see any indication in the question that they are considering unprofessional or non-university e-mail addresses.
    – cag51
    Jul 14 at 19:15
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    @cag51 - sure, but future folks will come seeing the title question, and this answers the more general one implied. And, since many university emails disappear after graduation, is good advice in general - use one that is permanent.
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 14 at 19:46
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Let's put it differently: yes, it matters, and do the reverse of what you think to save yourself a lot of future problems, it will be clearer in 3-4 paragraphs.

You are a student and you are trying to "engage a conversation" with a professor. Said professor should be interested in your work and should engage because your questions. If they do not engage, it simply mean they had no time, you have no political power, so your email ends up in the pile "interesting, to be answered in a couple of weeks".

Unfortunately, a couple of weeks = never, life is hard, don't take it personally and move on.

However, the professor H may notice that you are writing from the well known universitY and the professor may have an interest in getting their power extended to said universitY. You may even be so (un)lucky your work at the universitY is appearing on some internet pages captured by google as done with the famous professor G at universitY. Said professor H may do a quick Google search and find that. You will be very relevant, because you may be an extremely useful pawn.

Professor H may then became your PhD advisor because of some machination. They will then discover you did not pay the huge fees at universitY, you are not part of the alumni of universitY and you have no good contact with famous professor G. They will be an awful supervisor. No way that such a big ego (there are many in academia) can be a good advisor.

The issue is not really if you should/will use the email from universitY, the issue is what kind of professor is giving "more points" to a student because the student is writing from the email from universitY instead than from X.

Ps: on a brighter note, locally it may be helpful to arrange a visit to a good dentist or to arrange a room to rent (or even a job) to use the email from universitY. Ethical? well, you are doing something at universitY, the issue is the receiving person and the bias they have towards people from the universitY instead of using their mail .mx ...

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Better, use your email address that you will keep for long duration. Better to have academic email id (say .edu).

However, specifically for your purpose of doing this:

let them know I'm applying, and perhaps ask a couple of relevant questions

  1. Follow the academic department procedure.
  2. Go to symposiums/conferences were this professor would be usually and directly interact.
  3. Use any special drive from the university to interact with faculty for your prospective application/interest.

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