I'm finding myself in an uncomfortable position these past couple of days. Our IT/lab manager has been working on a new website to store data that is to be shared with about 11 other institutions, all part of the same project. Our lab is heading the data management and modeling. My adviser is not happy with his progress and has sent him a very "tone-y" email, but has included me and other colleagues in the email as well. At first I thought the conversation was limited to our lab. Now I see the project director and a couple other people are included as well. I came close to replying with something along the lines "Please do not include me in these types of emails" (It's a work in progress!!). The emails have gotten to down right bickering, even childish, and have gone back and forth several times. I'm very surprised at the tone and childish nature of the emails.

What is a lowly PhD student such as myself to do in this sort of situation? Should I just ignore the messages? Or should I request to be excluded from the conversation?

P.S. These emails are of some significance to me because of the data. But I don't believe I should be in this conversation.

  • 7
    mv * /dev/null (in other words - ignore)
    – xLeitix
    May 12, 2014 at 14:32
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    Btw, CC'ing other, tangentially impacted people in angry mails is an often-used strategy for upping the level of severity. Usually, one CCs higher-ups, but ... well ... I guess you PhD students would have to do in this case :)
    – xLeitix
    May 12, 2014 at 14:36
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    Will read for the information and check if I have to act (e.g. send data over, provide feedback, etc.), but ignore the emotional parts. May 12, 2014 at 14:48
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    I'd also like to add that these types of emails can create a tense environment for those students being copied in on them. While I understand the motive from the advisor's standpoint, I often wonder if they understand the morale-killing effect these emails have on a student research team.
    – Mad Jack
    May 13, 2014 at 2:55
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    You could ask your lab manager to remove you from the list on his next reply-all and hopefully it will stick May 13, 2014 at 6:04

1 Answer 1


I would suggest that the proper etiquette here is similar as to how you should behave if you were to witness two people arguing in public. You may listen—the argument is, after all, public—but you probably shouldn't interject unless you are directly addressed. As stated in the comments, this is a very common tactic for raising the stakes in any discussion. This currently isn't your fight... don't get involved unless you want it to become your fight (pro tip: you don't).

  • 1
    I completely agree. Answer only when asked and only to the given question. Never add or reduce.
    – bordart
    May 12, 2014 at 15:31
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    If two people were arguing near my office, I would interject and ask them to do it elsewhere, because it's making it hard for me to work.
    – Superbest
    May 12, 2014 at 21:38
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    @Superbest I'd say in this case it's better to create an email rule to archive/disable notifications from the emails regarding the argument. So he can read them whenever he feels like, without being distracted.
    – clabacchio
    May 13, 2014 at 10:10
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    I agree with eykanal' proposal as the main parties involved are superiors of you. If however you and the oponents were on the same level, I would find it absolutely in order (and in fact often necessary) to tell them to go somewhere else (like you said "please keep me out of this").
    – Zane
    May 13, 2014 at 15:28

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