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I am asking this for a friend who hopes to enter grad school for a PhD next year in science. This person has a cell phone but almost always turns it off and has no voice mail (meaning there is no way to leave a phone message). I think not answering phone calls or being available by phone would make it difficult for my friend to be successful as a grad student, esp. as a RA or TA.

My friend has a variety of reasons for not wanting to have phone on or voice mail set up that I will not specify here.

So I am looking for thoughts from grad students or professors.

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  • 56
    What is this "telephone" thing you talk about. I only do e-mail communications. That being said, there is such considerable variation amongst advisors that this is an impossible question to answer in general.
    – RoboKaren
    Jul 22, 2015 at 11:14
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    You answered your own question and then ask us to endorse you?
    – Nobody
    Jul 22, 2015 at 11:38
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    Is your question about responding to phone calls or about receiving phone calls on their private cellphone? Those are two very different things. For instance, I have never handed out my cellphone number to any work contact, and yet, I regularly (albeit not overly frequently; maybe once or twice a month) receive phone calls on my office phone. Jul 22, 2015 at 12:10
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    a) Phone calls from who(m)? Supervisor? Department? Admin? Students (esp. if they're TA)? Coworkers? Non-academic people? It makes a huge difference. b) Which phone line? Their own cellphone? An office line? Shared or private? Voicemail or live call? Not all offices have landlines. Not all office-mates take messages. Do we assume they consented to giving out their cellphone number (e.g. to students), or not? As to TA interactions, it depends on departmental policy on how, where, when and how much TA's interact with students, inside and outside office hours.
    – smci
    Jul 25, 2015 at 22:10
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    It would be interesting if you mention some of his reasons why telephone is not his preferred communication device.
    – enthu
    Jul 29, 2015 at 6:51

10 Answers 10

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Anybody who wants to participate in scientific life, even as a grad student, needs to have some way that they can be reliably reached in a timely fashion. They also need to provide that information to those who need to reach them (e.g., their professor, students if they are a TA).

Whether their recommended best means is by cell phone, by email, or by instant message, however, matters much less. In fact, the current generation appears to be moving away from voice calls, so cell phone availability is less likely to matter in any case.

Thus, as long as it's easy for people who need to reach your friend to do so, the particular choice of not having a cell phone on should not be a problem.

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Being a TA or RA is not being a receptionist, secretary, or personal assistant. It's also not taking pizza delivery orders. Answering phone calls is not part of the job requirements in the vast majority of cases.

Now, that being said, it's possible that if the desk where your friend sits and the office where their supervisor works are physically separated by some distance, the supervisor may try to call before they come looking for your friend or to ask your friend to come to their office. My supervisor's office was 4 floors up and then he moved across the street and 6 floors up---he called before coming over to the lab to chat.

So, if your friend has a phobia or other problem related to telephones, it's possible they may have to work out an arrangement with their supervisor so that they can be contacted via SMS, instant message, or email quickly when their advisor (or anyone else, really) is looking for them, but otherwise, it will be fine.

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    In the particular case of "advisor or collaborator wants to find out if student is at desk" the school-provided hardwire phone should be perfectly adequate. Of course, it doesn't help so much for discovering "When will you be back at your desk?"
    – Ben Voigt
    Jul 22, 2015 at 14:38
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    @BenVoigt, I'm reading between the lines, but I feel like the friend has a phone phobia. This probably isn't about not having a phone or not wanting to give out a personal number, it appears to be about not wanting to interact with a telephone at all.
    – Bill Barth
    Jul 22, 2015 at 14:39
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I, as a grad student, have never in my life used my phone for work/research/teaching purposes.

In my field (Maths) and country (UK) handing out phone numbers to students or advisors is completely unheard of. In fact, if you do so then people will think you are weird!!

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    It is definitely not weird. With some colleagues from Sheffield it is normal to use the phone to arrange things/discuss things, including the mobile phone. In my Leeds department it was less common but again depending on the situation was an option.
    – DetlevCM
    Jul 22, 2015 at 14:44
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    It could be seen as weird, especially if it comes off as undue fraternization where there is a power imbalance.
    – user4512
    Jul 22, 2015 at 18:12
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    Disagree. In Ireland, where the scientific culture is very similar to the UK, most researchers tend to have their superiors phone number (and vice versa). This is not about socializing, some times urgent matters come up. Since this was also the case for the British people in my institute, I would be very surprised the UK culture regarding this issue is as you mention. As a matter of fact I have the phone numbers of a couple of UK-based collaborators.
    – Miguel
    Jul 22, 2015 at 20:05
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    I find the same, especially if it is a personal phone number.
    – Tim
    Jul 22, 2015 at 23:07
  • I think this is generally just going to come down to your specific situation. Some advisors will want to communicate by phone, others won't. In the case of my advisor, getting him on the phone was the only reliable way to get a quick answer because he was quite busy and often forgot to respond to e-mails. For others, though, e-mail only may be perfectly fine. Of course, if you need to have any sort of discussion, it's much easier with the phone than with e-mail, since the reply latency is on the order of seconds rather than minutes or hours.
    – reirab
    Jul 23, 2015 at 13:50
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No, using the phone is not a requirement to be a successful grad student. It may depends where you work, on your advisor, on your field, etc. But personnally, during my studies in Canada, I have mostly communicated by e-mail with my supervisors and other colleagues. In terms of phone, I have answered the phone at the lab a few times, but it was not a requirement. And I did not have a cell phone either.

8

Is your friend me? :)

Having been a graduate student for years, I've never had anyone call me for professional reasons (except perhaps to ask for directions when meeting up at a conference or social event), and I've never seen this happen to any grad student I know.

The closest thing that I can think of is stories I've heard of naive TAs giving out their cell number to students, who then incessantly call at inopportune times (such as 1 am in the night before an exam). Avoiding this "responsibility" cannot possibly impair a graduate student's success, since TA orientation workshops tend to recommend it.

Academics almost exclusively communicate with email. When face-to-face communication is necessary, it usually happens through a pre-arranged Skype session. I think due to the nature of most office arrangements in Academia, the disruption and break in concentration caused by phones is unwelcome. Often there are conferences, classes or meetings where phones are muted. On top of this, if the person in question does much lab work, they may often be physically unable to answer the phone.

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  • "most office arrangements in Academia" - could you concretely describe the office arrangements you are referring to, please? I am used to one office for two to three people, so it is still well feasible to work as usually at most one person in an office receives or conducts brief phone calls, takes part in longer (up to several hours) online audio conversations with project partners, or is discussing the progress of work with their students. Your statements are certainly very reasonable, but they do not necessarily apply to "most office arrangements" I have personally experienced. Jul 22, 2015 at 21:09
  • @O.R.Mapper In my experience, you often end up with 2-6 people in a room with adjacent or very close desks, or otherwise up to 10 people in a cubicle layout. In either case, whenever you have a conversation everyone can hear. Though perhaps my own experience is not as representative as I thought.
    – Superbest
    Jul 24, 2015 at 4:50
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One issue that has not been mentioned is administrative matters.

Usually when you start as a grad student, your department asks you to fill out a form with contact information, typically including a phone number. (You may have a similar form for higher echelons of the university.) If you put a phone number on that form, the department's administrative staff is going to expect that calling that number will reach you. The vast majority of administrative matters are handled by email, but occasionally there can arise something urgent where someone needs to speak with you right away. ("We need this form signed today or your stipend will not be paid." "Another TA is sick, can you take over her class in 15 minutes?" "Your office is being flooded with sewage.") In those cases, they may very well try to phone you - and it's not so good if this results in them leaving a message you will never hear.

And if you don't put a phone number, it's likely that you will have to explain why you don't want to be called, and hope that your department's staff are understanding and willing to be flexible. Note that administrative staff members tend to conduct much more of their daily business by telephone than academic personnel, and may find it much less convenient to try to reach you by text message, instant message, etc - so keep in mind that your preference is having an impact on other people.

If your friend's reasons for avoiding phone contact are reasonably compelling (hearing impairment, stalkers, etc) then I would expect that accommodations can be made. But if they are frivolous or appear to be personal eccentricity, this may lead to friction with the administrative staff. (And that's not good, they have a lot more power than you may realize.)

I would actually expect this type of contact to be a bigger issue than with your advisor (who is probably fine with contacting you via other means) or your students (who should not get your personal phone number anyway).

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  • Great points, just what I was about to write. Another exception would be if the TA is accompanying students on a field trip – then the TA should have all the students' numbers (and the students should have the TA's number) in case of problems.
    – Moriarty
    Jul 23, 2015 at 20:49
  • Every office I've worked in has had a land-line telephone. If the admin staff want to call me, they should be using that, not my personal phone. Jul 25, 2015 at 13:47
  • @DavidRicherby: Arguably. But grad students don't always get offices. And every department where I've ever worked has asked me to provide my home / cell phone number to the staff. Jul 25, 2015 at 13:57
  • @NateEldredge I've also always been asked to provide a personal number, but only as an emergency contact number. Jul 25, 2015 at 14:29
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I have supervised several graduate students. I don't recall a single phone conversation with any of them. I don't think I ever had any of my student's phone numbers.

When I need to contact one of my students I send them an email; if the matter is pressing, I might walk to their office.

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  • So what? Not everyone who might contact the person in question would be on-campus, or local. Not everyone is a university professor, you know. Would you expect e.g people from the admin block or from a different campus or institution to walk over?
    – smci
    Jul 25, 2015 at 16:20
  • Yes, you are right. Only university professors have access to email these days. You really expect people in academia, these days, to not use email regularly? Jul 25, 2015 at 16:29
  • Not what I said, Martin. People from the admin block will not walk over, people from off-campus will not walk over, people from other institutions will not walk over. Answering the phone for important messages is basic social behavior. By, the way, your flippancy is also misguided, because there are still many people who use postal mail or phone for communications, not email. Also, emailing the admin block in most non-US universities is notoriously useless since they a) don't publish staff directories, so it takes 3+ days to find the relevant person b) respond much faster to in-person/phone
    – smci
    Jul 25, 2015 at 22:01
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    Yes and yes. And I communicate often with administrative offices on my university via email; every single administrative unit in my university lists the email addresses of all its staff in their contact web page. In any case, the question was about graduate students, not about life. A graduate student can and will be successful without a phone. Jul 25, 2015 at 22:09
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    I don't see why the experience in my two universities is not generalizable but yours in a single one is? And, you seem to claim that a deaf/mute person cannot do graduate studies? Jul 26, 2015 at 0:39
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I could very well be your friend. The only reason I got a mobile phone in the first place was because I was coorganising a show with experiments with about twenty contributors and an audience of over 500. As you might have guessed, this was an entirely voluntary thing.

Since then, I activated my mobile only twice for university-related reasons other than pure convenience, once to tell a professor that I may be late for proctoring an exam due to a puncture and once in case a professor might not make it in time to an exam. Both cases were obviously exceptional and even if I had no mobile phone, it would not have been a big deal.

The point I want to illustrate here and that has been missed by the other answers so far is this: If your friend’s attitude to mobile phones is a problem at all, it’s even less so, as he has one and is only reluctant to use them. In those rare cases where there is actually a call for it, he might agree to use them (if I understand you correctly).

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Several points I believe other (fine) answers have not addressed:

  1. Quid-pro-quo for getting an office: If my department gives me an office (which I actually use), and it has a phone, it's reasonable to expect I be somewhat available on that phone. (Not on my cell phone though, that's personal).
  2. Teaching duties: If you're a TA or otherwise teaching, and you have reception hours, it may (or may not) be reasonable to expect you hold them in a place with a phone, since in some situations students can't always be expected to physically visit that space, and might want to talk to you rather than converse in writing. It's possible that no-one will formally require this of you but I think you are obligated that way. Regardless of whether voice calls are more or less popular, a not-insignificant fraction of your students may prefer/need to make them and you should be obliging that in my opinion.
  3. TA-in-charge: If you're the TA-in-charge for a larger course, then you definitely need to be available on your cell phone, and the lecturers and TAs need to have the number. I wouldn't say you need to be available 24/7, but be highly available when it matters (e.g. days before an exam).
  4. Lab work: Some lab work (especially in the life sciences) is very time-critical. This situation is somewhat similar to being a TA-in-charge, since researchers and technicians might need to coordinate what-to-do-when or who-replaces-whom in watching the Petri dishes. Phone numbers are often shared in this situation.
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An aspect hardly mentioned in other comments and answers is the syndrome of interrupting face-to-face interactions to answer the phone, or at least see who's calling, etc., ... thus giving the phone-call higher priority (at least for a moment) than the people right in front of you, and at the very least interrupting the face-to-face. I ceertainly don't like that when other people do it to me. So I tell people that I will very possibly not pay attention to a phone call in my campus office, because I'm there to talk to people face-to-face, or teach a class, or a seminar. Phone calls don't fit in to that. The subordinate point here is that (e.g.) email or text messages allow asynchronous communication, while phone calls insist on at-that-moment response, etc. I tell people to send me email anytime, and that I'll almost always respond within a few hours at most, but I have never given out my cell phone number (nor home phone). Most phone calls to my office phone are wrong numbers, besides, so caller ID doesn't tell me who it is, etc.

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    Surprisingly, this is actually culturally dependent! In a more polychronic culture, an interruption is much more likely to be acceptable and even expected.
    – jakebeal
    Jul 24, 2015 at 3:21
  • @jakebeal, ... not interpretable as disrespect to the person who took the trouble to show up in person, etc? Jul 24, 2015 at 3:55
  • I know, it surprised me too, when I learned about this.
    – jakebeal
    Jul 24, 2015 at 4:11
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    @jakebeal and paul: I'm used to working that way. I'm in an office with two other colleagues and we experience interruption every 10 min or so, from phone calls, or students and other people dropping in etc. I don't find this an issue, I've always been able to switch quickly between tasks or to work and study in a noisy environment.
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Jul 24, 2015 at 11:29
  • This was bumped to the top of the queue when I happened to click on Academia just now, and the answers and comments I'm seeing (which I don't think I've seen before) seem just astounding to me in the generational changes. I didn't have a phone from Fall 1977 until Spring 1990 (2 undergraduate stints, 4 graduate stints) aside from a dorm phone (the 4 years -- 1977-79 and 1982-84 academic years) and TA office phone (1982 onward, except for Jan. 1988 to Aug. 1989 when I was not in school, and while I taught HS full-time 1988-89, I didn't have a home phone). (continued) Feb 15 at 21:12

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