In this article in the Jan 10th 2012 issue of Current Science, authors claim that Indian senior academicians and professors (so, I am excluded!) are either less interested in using email as key mode of communication or not as e-literate as their Western counterparts. I am inclined to agree with their broad conclusion.
Basically, authors posed as a bright student interested in summer internship, and attached a CV to boost their case. They sent out emails to faculties some 15-20 institutions within India and abroad, and waited for a response. As an example, it seems they got responses from 50% of faculty they emailed to at MIT as against 15% from IISc and just around 11% from our neighbors at NCBS!
Just a curious question: did participants have their consent to this ‘experimental study’? Is it okay to send emails with an intention to experiment without participant’s consent?
Anyway, here are some of my funny to sometimes annoying experiences in last four months of joining IISc regarding requests for project assistant/internship positions.
(1) Many emails are very generic. For example, a mail that reads like
My name is NAME and I am a n^th year undergraduate student in the department of ABC, at location (x,y,z). I am looking for a project under your guidance at an esteemed institute like yours in the month of may or june. I am aware of the superior quality of research at your institute. I have enclosed my resume in this mail which contains all the required details and my skills set.Hoping for a positive and speedy reply.
could be sent to 100’s of people without any modification. In fact, in this particular case there was an undisclosed recipient list meaning that Mr/s NAME took the easiest route of sending same email to all people he wanted in just one go! Awesome, so I never reply to such emails (there are exceptions, see point  below!).
(2) Other extreme is when someone wrote
As I’m interested in your work of ecosystem dynamics,animal behavior,animal mediated seed dispersal , and also interested in environmental science. .Could you please give me this great opportunity to work with you.Please Sir!
So, this student is interested in all aspects of my research work (fortunately, it did not include magnetoresistance!) which can happen with such minimal probability, so I tend to think that this student blindly copied key words from my website! Awesome again, so I did not reply.
(3) One student sent the same generic email four times in 2 hours. If someone thought thats the way to get replies for generic emails, yes thats right! I had to reply back to make sure I don’t get more emails from that student.
(4) In one instance, a student wrote “I like to work on so and so” that your lab focusses on. I knew, almost certainly, I dont have that sentence on my webpage. When I googled that phrase, it was on the website of some other faculty of one of IIX’s! I promptly replied back and told that student to be more careful, before clicking SEND, as to who the mail is intended to go!
(5) Another student had sent a research statement, and I looked at it with lots of enthusiasm. It was rather incoherent, which is okay for an undergraduate student with not much experience in English writing (I still struggle to write). But incoherence was punctuated with a sequence of proper good english sentences. I knew something was fishy, and finally some sentences begin to make me feel very nostalgic. This time I did not have to google, since some of those sentences of research statement were picked as they are from the abstract of my very recent paper, still fresh in my memory!
I wrote back, since many students in India are not even aware, saying this is a bad practice and is a serious academic offense. Student wrote back apologizing and said he/she had no idea that we should not copy from other’s sources.
(6) Having said all this, I also do get quite a few emails that are genuinely written. I have had one such student visit me in December, and one is currently working the lab. These are great folks to work with and I hope we will do some good stuff together.