50

So far, what I have is

First and Last Name 
Title

Group/Lab Name
School Name
Address and Phone

I'm especially confused about the "title". I'm not sure if it should say "Graduate Student", "Research Assistant", or "PhD Candidate".. What do you think is more appropriate?

  • 26
    is this necessary? under what circumstances? if you are emailing someone for the first time you need to introduce yourself to him in the text. – seteropere Mar 29 '13 at 17:43
  • 2
    Concentrate on good, easy to read, body content that is correct and gets to the point and you will gain respect irregardless of the precise form of the signature line(s). Like most truisms, this has limits that are left as an exercise for the reader. – Paul Mar 30 '13 at 4:31
  • 3
    This is also a useful debate for what to put on your business cards. – bobthejoe Apr 3 '13 at 8:47
  • 3
    Just on a side note: while in academia you can spend hours and days meditating about what to put in a signature, I was told by my industry employer to put my degrees (to project the thought leadership) and my phone number (so that people could call me and figure out their research questions). So please have some mercy for the long signatures, sometimes it is a corporate policy -- I've seen corporate emails where people have fancy corporate logo graphics in signatures that weigh 50k... that's 1000x the information content of the email itself :) – StasK May 23 '13 at 3:01

11 Answers 11

64

I'm not in academia, but my email signature looks like this:

If someone wants to know my name, it's sent in email headers and shows up at the top of the messages. If someone wants to know where I work, they can look at the part of my email after the @ sign.

And of course, if I'm contacting someone for the first time, I'll tell them who I am and why I'm contacting them in the body of the message, so there's no need to repeat it at the end of the message.

Here's an article similar to the one that convinced me to stop doing this. Basically, by including a signature, you make it harder to read an email. This is normally just annoying, but it becomes extremely frustrating in long email chains or mailing lists, since no one bothers removing signature when they quote people. So, save everyone the trouble and don't send it in the first place.

  • 5
    “since no one bothers removing signature when they quote people” — if you really think removing all signatures is the good solution to people not quoting appropriately, you might also go one step further and advocate avoiding email altogether :) – F'x Mar 29 '13 at 21:17
  • 6
    I like to see some basic information in signatures, so I'll explain why point by point: 1. “the part of my email after the @ sign” — gives some basic information, but not always as clear… if I read, for example uts.edu.au it's not immediately clear to me what the institution is (apart that it's in Sidney). Sure, I can look it up, but why not give me this basic information? 2. Not giving a link to your webpage: people can sure google you, but if your name was John Smith or Jin Wu, you might change your tune! – F'x Mar 29 '13 at 21:21
  • 2
    Your email signature is entirely appropriate for most. (In fact, I use the same signature.) But the OP needs something appropriate for a graduate student and it is ----- "Will Work for Food" – emory Mar 30 '13 at 12:38
  • 19
    Any decent email client will strip out properly formatted (hyphen-hyphen-space-newline) signatures when quoting, replying etc. The main problem is that kids these days don't know how to properly format a .sig :) – calum_b Mar 30 '13 at 17:31
  • 5
    @BrendanLong most emails I sent are not addressed to individuals, but to mailing lists… where you just don't introduce yourself to every newcomer, yet it may be useful to have a bit of information about you in the email – F'x Mar 30 '13 at 22:27
55

Keep it simple.

-- Name

For initial, formal communication with people who don't already know you, adding a bit more identifying information is reasonable, but keep it short:

-- Full Name
   http://website.university.edu/~userid

If you don't think that's enough, introduce yourself in the body of the email. If somebody wants your physical address, they'll ask you (or Google).

  • 5
    If someone wants your name, they'll look at the top of the message where all email clients display it.. – Brendan Long Mar 29 '13 at 18:54
  • 7
    @BrendanLong no, not always… I have my own account, and I maintain accounts for conferences I co-organize, etc. So, if the person who writes you is conference2013@my.dep.edu, including a signature (like “John Smith, on behalf of the organizers”) is a good thing. – F'x Mar 29 '13 at 21:24
  • 5
    @BrendanLong: I think of "signing" the bottom of the email like signing the bottom of a paper letter. The signature isn't there to provide information; it's there to signal (to the human recipient) personal ownership of the content. – JeffE Mar 30 '13 at 19:44
  • 2
    @JeffE depending on how common your name is, Google may or may not be useful – F'x Mar 31 '13 at 7:32
  • 2
    including postal address and phone number is useful because it can save two mails (the query and the reply). – henning Jun 17 '15 at 19:38
30

Keeping it short, simple and provide only useful information:

John Doe
PhD Candidate / Teaching assistant
Squaring the Circle Research Group
University of North Vermont
http://unv.edu/circle - 1-761-861-1324

Four lines is already a lot, don't exceed it. You may not want the phone number (people from inside your university probably have access to a corporate directory, and people from outside would not usually call you except if you set up a call meeting).

  • 36
    You have quite an unusual concept of "four". :) – Federico Poloni Mar 30 '13 at 17:18
  • 15
    And "short". And for that matter, "useful". – JeffE Mar 30 '13 at 19:46
  • 1
    "people from outside would not usually call you" - I am not sure where that assumption comes from (unless it is a personal preference that you explicitly do not wish to be called). – O. R. Mapper Apr 30 '15 at 10:01
25

Mine looks like this:

-- 
Ilmari Karonen, M.Sc.
Biomathematics Group, Department of Mathematics and Statistics
P.O. Box 68 (Gustaf Hällströmin katu 2b), FI-00014 Univ. of Helsinki
Tel.: +358-41-456 3263, E-mail: <ilmari.karonen@helsinki.fi> 

That's basically all the relevant information, packed into the traditional 4 lines / 80 characters and preceded by the correct dash-dash-space-newline sequence. (Yes, I know that academic signatures often break that old rule these days, but I'm kind of a traditionalist about that. Besides, not having a foot-and-a-half-long e-mail signature is just plain common courtesy. The dashes help many e-mail readers recognize the signature and render it differently, and also omit it when quoting the message.)

I haven't actually included any mention of my position in the group, although there would be room to append "doctoral student" or "graduate student" after "M.Sc." if I wanted to. It's not really as relevant as noting that my current highest degree is Master of Science, though, which already implies that I'm probably a grad student and not e.g. a postdoc or a faculty member. Anyone who wants to confirm that can just look me up on our group's website, anyway.


I also have a shorter signature, which just says:

-- 
Ilmari Karonen <ilmari.karonen@helsinki.fi>
University of Helsinki, Dept. of Mathematics and Statistics

I use that mainly for informal correspondence with people I already know, who don't really need to be reminded of all the extra details in the full signature.

  • 5
    +1 for the old school dash-dash-space and "no more than 4 lines" – Federico Poloni Mar 30 '13 at 20:11
  • 1
    +1, although including the email-address is redundant. including postal address and phone number is useful because it can save two mails (the query and the reply). including the institution is useful, because it isn't always possible to tell from the email-address. – henning Jun 17 '15 at 19:37
  • 2
    @henning: The e-mail address is redundant until someone prints out the e-mail without the headers, or forwards it to someone else in a broken way (e.g. copy->paste->send), so that the header information is lost. Yeah, that shouldn't happen, but I've learned never to overestimate the technical skills of senior faculty. – Ilmari Karonen Jun 17 '15 at 21:00
5

A signature is the equivalent of a letterhead. It makes it easier to contact the sender on other channels without the need to inquire for details (and thus saves a mail and a reply). RFC 1855 defines a maximum of four lines, with 80 characters each. Originally, this was due to bandwidth constraints.

Today, this restraint just makes an email easier to read (less noise), as Brendan cautioned. The answer by F'x almost hits the sweet spot between too much and not enough information. Ilmari's answer also follows the convention laid down in RFC 3676 to divide the body and signature block by -- \n (hyphen-hyphen-space-newline). So far everyone failed to mention PGP, which recently has become more important than ever.

The following example combines all criteria:

-- 
Dr. Joana Doe | Smalltown University, Department of
Rocket Science | Main Street 10 | 12345 Smallville
phone: 0123 543 210 01 | web: rocket.smalluni.edu/~doe
pgp: 5DB3 3ADF 806B BD79 A18F D649 AC09 BDC9 9821 A79C

One more thing: Please, never use an image or other attachment as a signature. I never know whether the attachment is a substantial part of the mail or just a fancy signature.

3

A link to a profile page that makes it clear you're a grad student should be enough. Putting your phone number and address in every email seems unnecessary.

I'd stick with:

Name
Email address
Group/Lab Name, University
Link to web page
3

Mine looks like this:

-- 
\\//_ Live long and prosper.

I prefer to keep email a bit more casual. Granted, most of the people I email are folks with whom I am already acquainted, so there is no need for introductions. But I typically leave the signature even when contacting someone for the first time, if for no other reason than to convey a bit of my personality.

2

Personally I hate signatures, I see it as trying to make a superficial impression based on a title. Better to have a personal friendly connection with the people you work with both clients and colleagues, they will know you and the quality of your work.

But on my last work place my boss demanded that I add a signature, because it creates superiority in his words ( i believe he is a jerk but that's beside the point), which looked like this:

FirstName LastName | Title | Company
email | mobile phone: work phone | Blog Address

So you need to ask yourself what is the purpose of your signature based on who is your target audience.

If it's for applying for work, you have all your information in your cover letter and CV. If I were you I would drop the signature, but if you insist on having one than the "Research Assistant" is your best option.

  • 2
    my boss demanded that i add a signature in his words it creates superiority — Your superiority, or his? – JeffE Mar 30 '13 at 19:46
2

Mine (and that of about everyone in my department - professors, postdocs, and PhD candidates alike - who bothered to find the respective option in their e-mail client, as it is roughly the format suggested by the recommendations for all employees at my university) looks like this (here with placeholders):

--
name and degree
affiliation (in my case: department and university)
address
room number of my office
phone number
e-mail work website

This is optimized to cover basic identification and all generally applicable ways to contact me:

  • name and degree: Who am I? (when writing to someone who doesn't know me, and who would like to know whether I'm a student, a research assistant, a professor, ..., a biologist, an engineer, ...)
  • affiliation: On behalf of what (kind of an) organization am I writing?
  • address: In case the recipient wants to contact me by physical mail, or travel to meet me.
  • room number of my office: In case the recipient actually wants to meet me (and, in the case of students who want to be supervised, probably the most important part of the address information).
  • phone number: In case the recipient wants to call me.
  • e-mail: In case the recipient wants to send an e-mail after printing out the contents of the e-mail (and thus not having any access to header data).
  • work website: Contains all of the above information, but requires an extra step, an internet connection at the time when the recipient wants to look at the information, and is not directly included in print-outs of the e-mail, so it's unsuitable for totally replacing the other information.

Unfortunately, other forms of communication are not standardized enough to warrant inclusion there. There is a dozen of wide-spread instant messenging networks, and another dozen of widely used social networks with a communication feature, so there is no reasonable way to pick one that the recipient is likely to use (if they have any such account at all).

2

My signature includes my name, current job title, affiliation and website. It is short, fits on one line and gives the recipient a short summary of me and a link to more information such as publications, projects and teaching material. I don't like long signatures or signatures with images.


John Doe, Assistant Professor @ RandomUniversity | Web: ru.edu/doe

1

Some universities have "branding strategy", and therefore ask every employee to use the same template. If this is the case in your university, you should definitely use it.

Here are examples from Augusta University, University of Washington, University of Florida, Northwestern University, Seattle University, etc.

As for your title, I would chose "Graduate Student", to me that's the most accurate description of your status.

  • My university is one of those that has a corporate branding scheme, so I use it where appropriate. (For students I’m teaching or supervising, or with departmental colleagues, I omit it.) – aeismail Mar 9 '18 at 22:33

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