Communication Guidelines

We receive many emails every day from students who want us to supervise their projects, who want to do internships in our group, or who have questions e.g. about lectures and assignments. You will make our life much easier (and significantly increase the chance to get a reply) if you follow our guidelines for communication.

Give Meaningful Subjects to Emails

Make it easy for us to anticipate what your email is about, and make it easy for us (and yourself) to find the email later via a search. The subject of your email must be so unique that when we look at it, we know exactly what the email is about. Have a look at how our inbox looks for emails from students asking to supervise their projects. The subjects are all interchangeable and if we look at them, we have no idea what the difference between the first and second email is, and between the first and third email, and so on.

 

email inbox sub optimal email subjects

Hence,

  • Not good: “Final Year Project”
  • Good: “Final Year Project: Request for Supervision ($project_name)”
    or
  • Good: “Final Year Project: Feedback for Project Proposal ($project_name)”

Create New Email-Threads for New Topics

If you start a new topic, create a new email thread (we don’t mind getting three or four emails from you at the same time if they are all about different issues). For instance, if you have previously received (or written) an email titled “Guidelines for applying to Japan internship”, then please do not hit the reply button and send an email to ask about the hand date for an assignment. Instead, create a new email titled e.g. “ML assignment hand-in date”.

Have a Straight-to-the-Point Structure

Write within the first sentences what you want, then provide more details (e.g. motivation; arguments; ….)

  • Not good: Hello, in September I am starting my Master’s thesis. The thesis is about … My first supervisor is person x. … blabla bla Could you be the second supervisor?
  • Good: Hello, could you be the second supervisor for my Master’s thesis? The first supervisor is person x, and the thesis is about….

Outline Different Options (if there are any)

Don’t let us assume what to do next. Provide specific options. Write something like, “I see the following options. a) … and b) … What would you recommend?”

  • Bad: “Hello, I am sick, and need to cancel our appointment for the final year project discussion”
  • Good: “Hello, I am sick, and need to cancel our appointment for the final year project discussion. Could we meet instead next week Wednesday at 10:00? If you like, I could also send you my project ideas by email.”

Beware of “Reply” vs. “Reply all” vs. “BCC”

If you don’t know the differences between these methods, Google it.

Provide all the information needed

Think about how you can minimize the effort for us to reply to you, and think about what information we may need to make a decision. For instance, if you want a letter of recommendation, provide a draft; if you need an appointment, make a specific suggestion for a date and time; if you have questions about your marks then send your student ID; and if you want to do an internship, mention the start and end date, whether you need funding or are self-funded, ….

Do not attach files to emails

Please send files by email only if you think it is important to permanently archive the file (e.g. to prove that a certain file was sent at a certain time). This might be the case for final versions of contracts, protocols, assignments, theses, … Store files, whenever possible in the cloud, and send links to the files via email. This saves our mail storage, and you can update the file without sending it again.

Avoid Instant Messaging

Use instant messaging only if

  • it is urgent (“the production server is down”)
  • you need an immediate reply (“do you want to join us for lunch in 10 minutes?”)
  • the message is of temporary importance, i.e. when I would read the message the next day, it wouldn’t be relevant anymore (“do you want lunch in 10 minutes?”).
  • the message is simple and can be dealt with by sending a short reply. For complex matters that are urgent, send an email in which you describe the issue in detail and then send an instant message to tell that you sent an urgent email.

In addition, please

  • do not write “hi” and then wait for a reply. Just get to the point straight away.
  • do not send split-messages (“hello” … “we have a problem” … “the server is down”…”what shall I do”?) but send all the information at once (“we have a problem, the server is down. what shall I do?”).

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