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When a professor gives me some timelines to choose for an interview, I always say I am available anytime that suits your schedule, mainly because all times are OK with me, I can even have a discussion even at work.

Do you think its better to pick a timeline rather than saying you are OK with any time?

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    If the professor asks you to pick a time, then the most likely explanation for that is that the professor wants you to pick a time. The same applies to doctors, dentists, lawyers, or anyone else you might want to make an appointment with. Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 23:12
  • Sorry for the snarkiness, but this would be a great contender on "So you THINK you can OVERTHINK?!"
    – Mookuh
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 14:14
  • Why are you hesitant to pick one when given a list of options? Let's flip the table: if you were the professor and only had certain time slots available, what would you do and what would you want as a reply?
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 15:58

6 Answers 6

82

(Surprisingly, none of the 5 existing answers mentioned this option.)

Just do both! Choose a time (arbitrarily, if it's all the same to you) and state your availability for other options.

Thank you for the list of time slots, I'll take 08:00-08:30. If anything changes on your side, the other options are also fine for me.

This solves the immediate problem of agreeing on a time and also conveys the information that the other options are fine for you as well.

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    Note that this advice also applies to non-academic contexts.
    – Heinzi
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 17:54
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    Definitely better than my answer!
    – Tripartio
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 20:44
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    Deserves many more updoots.
    – fectin
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 1:11
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    But maybe don't arbitrarily choose the 8 a.m. one (though... I'll admit that I'm biased here). Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 19:21
67

When someone gives you a list of times to pick from, just pick one.

Otherwise, it just takes two-three more emails to be done with it, instead of being able to close the loop with just one email from you.

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    Even if they do not give you a list of times, pick one to propose. Never simply say: When would you like to meet? Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 0:34
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    An exception would be if more than two people are involved, in which cases selecting all possible time slots that work would be appropriate.
    – GoodDeeds
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 6:04
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    @AnonymousPhysicist ... while making it clear that this is a straw man proposal just to get the discussion started. Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 16:46
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    @MartinBonnersupportsMonica "I'm free all day tomorrow. How's 14:00?" Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 20:57
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If they already offered a few options, simply pick one and be done with it.

But if the opposite happens: they ask you what time to set up a meeting (I assume that the event requires scheduling, otherwise they wouldn't ask). In this case, even if "any time is okay", make a short list of time slots for them to choose from and add that your time is flexible.

The important thing is to reply with information that leads to decision. When it comes to some decisions, people seem to prefer constrained problems than wide open ones, because the cognitive load is smaller, and simulating someone's mind and schedule is tiresome.

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    Also sometimes professors are so busy that any time is going to conflict with something they were planning to do, so having a limited set of options to choose from lets them evaluate which one can be accommodated with the least amount of disruption.
    – Andrew
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 21:31
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Since this is a question about etiquette, I would like to say that I personally find it annoying when I offer someone some specific times to select and then they reply "any time is good for me". I consider it more polite to do is to pick a definite time among the options they have suggested.

I might be biased because this kind of situation happens to me quite often. I am someone who does not mind meetings (as long as they are productive) but I really dislike the process of going back and forth to schedule meetings. Giving a list of times is the most efficient way to get that done with. If I take the time to look at my schedule and then identify possible times that will be suitable for me, if the person replies with another email that requires yet another reply, I find that rather annoying.

So, you might have two possible kinds of persons whom you might be dealing with:

  • If it is someone like me who wants the minimum back-and-forth possible, then a reply without choosing a time is annoying. Even if the person chooses my least preferred time among all the options I gave, I am not annoyed because, by definition, I only offered times that I am willing to accept. If I had a strong preference, I would have said so in my email.

  • If it is someone who doesn't mind back-and-forth and you reply with a selected time, they will not be annoyed even if you happen to choose their least preferred time, again because it is one of the acceptable choices they offered you.

So, since you are not sure whether you are dealing with a professor who is annoyed by unnecessary back-and-forth scheduling emails or a professor who does not care, the safest thing to do is to just pick a time. That way, you do not risk annoying anyone. And I think that is the intention of your question.

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    I would like to say that I personally wouldn't want to be a recipient of your offers to meet, because the one who offers a list of times may actually have some minor preferences but is trying to be helpful to the second party, so how can you think a response of "any time is good for me" is impolite, since it gives the first party a chance to pick any time?
    – user21820
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 9:50
  • 6
    @user21820 I have edited my answer to explain in detail why I feel it is impolite to send yet another email when clear choices have already been offered.
    – Tripartio
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 10:23
  • 1
    Thanks for the edit. It is better but still wrong in its blanket assertion that it is impolite to not pick one of the offered choices. The world will be a much uglier place if we all use your kind of judgement to evaluate politeness.
    – user21820
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 12:37
  • 11
    If any time is good then, imo, the polite option is to say so and pick one anyway. Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 13:37
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    @user21820 Your concern is well note. I have tried to somewhat soften my language to say "I consider it more polite…" rather than implying absolutely that to do otherwise would be impolite (which is not quite what I said, but I do see how my wording could be construed in that way).
    – Tripartio
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 13:39
3

Yes, you should pick a time.

The goal of the interaction is to find a fitting time slot as fast and friction-free as possible.

Saying "I am available any time" doesn't contribute much to that goal.

There are two basic scenarios:

Professor gives you a preselection of times to choose from

Here the Professor already gave you all information from their side. If they offer you multiple times, they probably don't care which time you choose, they only selected times that work for them.

If you now bounce that back to them with "I don't care either", you basically didn't contribute to choosing a slot, the Professor now has to choose the slot, and you then still have to confirm it.

Also, a lot of people don't like to make choices that don't matter to them. So just pick a time and be done with it.

Professor asks you to provide a time that works for you

If you respond here with "I am available anytime", that's even worse, because it's not true. I guess, if he picks 3am you won't be able to do that easily, and you probably also have other courses or something else, where you aren't available.

So now the professor has to chose a time that works for them, and then you'll possibly have to reject that date, because you aren't actually available.

So also here, just do as asked, and provide a list.

In general, people prefer you to do as they asked. If they say "Choose a time", then choose a time. If the time slot doesn't work for them, they will either not offer it to you, or tell you.

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I don't see any issue. If you are uncomfortable with the phrasing, maybe ask what time is best for them and just agree.

But a time when you won't be interrupted is best, so work time seems a poor choice.

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