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Overseas TT

I largely agree with these, with two qualifications.

As to 4: I don't think there's a need to give feedback if you are largely satisfied with the way things are run. I was in grad school and usually ignored these surveys - I saw now point in saying something just for the sake of saying something.

As to 1: I agree that comments should be acknowledged, but it's also possible to err on the other side. There are comments that make substantive criticism of the kind that could be the starting point of a fruitful exchange. But there are also comments that point out straightforward, clear errors that would be clear to anyone competent and well-read in the relevant area. Initiating a lengthy exchange about the latter type of comment is annoying. It unnecessarily wastes the supervisor's time and won't make the student look good at all. This is an instance of a general rule: if you try too hard to impress, you won't impress. (I can't say I never made this mistake in grad school. It's certainly a forgivable mistake when it doesn't become a habit. And of course, advisors should be clear about when they make a substantive criticism and when they point out an obvious error.)


I think "professionalization" was Marcus' term, but 1-3 strike me more as just issues of good interpersonal relations. Timely replies to emails, offering thanks for help, and good communication in general are how you develop friendships, or at least solid intraoffice social connections. So, I think you should want to do these things (a) so you're not an ass, and (b) because it builds social capital that will help you later. Even if others don't judge you negatively for your lack of (let's call it) social responsiveness, they will at best be ambivalent towards you.

To be clear, I don't think only grad students have this problem. A lot of us philosophers fail at stuff like timely emails (myself included). (Very) late referees and unresponsive journal editors are another manifestation of this problem. Graduate students obviously have a unique set of anxieties that might exacerbate these behaviors (as Marcus mentions), but I suspect that work environments which are laid back, minimally hierarchical, and largely self-directed create space that naturally allows us to forget about "social graces". Basically, if there are no incentives to be responsive, we usually aren't.

So, while I certainly agree with Marcus that faculty should be understanding and not judge their students for these behaviors, I don't think graduate students should see this stuff as "professionalization". It's just basic intraoffice social cultivation.


This is regarding understanding students in general.

Perhaps professors should have some sort of university graduate forum website for graduate students and faculties to formally introduce themselves and get to know each other a bit better. Meeting frequently in person may be difficult.

When I was at community college taking online courses, our professor had us write an introduction about ourselves and what are goals or plans are to the whole class. I was surprised by the diverse kinds of students that were in my class. Some had children, some were old enough to be my parent, some were working full time, some had interesting jobs, etc. I also knew quite a bit about my professor as well. We were all fascinated by each other’s stories and interests.

I never been to graduate school so I don’t know how it works in terms of community. From what I’ve been reading so far, there seems to be a lack of robust communication amongst graduate students and faculties.

Come to think of it, I only knew a few other philosophy majors when I was at undergraduate. This was largely due to the fact that we didn’t have any form of robust community for our department’s students and faculties to get to know one another. So I went through college not having met many of the philosophy professors even though I read some of their bios on the school faculty website. And at worst, I only knew a few other philosophy majors.

It was hard making friends *within* my own major because people were so competitive and because a lot of philosophy students are introverted already. Most of the friends that I made were outside of my major.

Grad Student

The original post is phrased as if it is meant to give helpful advice, but many of the points come off as petty or pedantic.

Re 1: What is the exact situation being envisioned? Feedback on a seminar paper? On a dissertation chapter? If a seminar paper, why should a grad student be required to thank you for giving comments? If an undergrad sent me a thank-you email every time I sent back comments on a paper, I would view them as a bit odd or naive. It could even come off as obsequious. Certainly if you see the professor in the hallway or at a departmental event it could make sense to thank them. And if you really have a question it's usually a good thing to ask about it or schedule a meeting to discuss the feedback. I myself regularly thank professors for their comments and ask questions about the feedback. Still, I don't see why one should feel obliged to thank the professor via email for fulfilling their basic professional duties if the feedback was on seminar paper and there isn't an independent reason for writing the email.

Re 2: Certainly if you're scheduled for a presentation or something of that nature, you should let the instructor know you've dropped. But is it otherwise really always necessary to send such an email? Again, it seems like the answer is going to depend on the situation: how much you have participated and integrated yourself into the flow of the course as well as how late in the semester the drop would be. Some professors might find such an email odd if it came very early or from someone who was mostly a fly on the wall in a large seminar.

Re 3: It is true that grad students shouldn't disappear, but that's sometimes unavoidable for reasons Marcus points out. Committees should be understanding and proactive in helping to keep grad students on track. And sometimes giving the student space may be exactly what they need. Intellectual breathing room is one of the great benefits of grad school. But I have to believe that it is just as much the professor's fault as the graduate student's if the first draft you read of a student's work is immediately before the defense.

Re 4: What other commenters say about this seems right. If one doesn't feel the need to complain, why manufacture complaints? And perhaps grad students have other stresses that seem more important at the moment. But more importantly: how could failing to fill out an anonymous survey do anything to shoot oneself in the foot? It's anonymous! On the other hand, writing a complaint that accidentally identifies you and somehow annoys the department could easily harm a grad student.

Re 5: We don't always have time. Everyone knows it is good to get feedback, but grad school is very demanding. The harm already lies in not getting the feedback, so why hold it against a grad student for not taking you up on the offer? That would just serve to compound the pre-existing harm of not having an early draft read.

Given the fact that the complaint in (4) couldn't even come back to harm an individual grad student, the original post reads like a laundry list of minor grievances. It would strike me as excessively petty if any professor were to hold a grudge when writing a letter of recommendation simply because a student didn't thank them the correct way for feedback during the coursework phase of a 5+ year interaction. As someone who is lucky to work with faculty who are far more understanding than this, my own advice to my fellow grad students would be to avoid professors who think like the original poster. Ask around the department to find out who is like this. Another good way to identify such professors is to note whether they self-describe as "easy going."


@Grad Student: Does the OP have legit complaints? You say: "Again, it seems like the answer is going to depend on the situation." Wouldn't a charitable reading of OP then be that they also have this sort of contextualization in mind? The OPs complaints seemed to be that many graduate students *never*/*always* do these various things, regardless of the context. So, it's not clear that the OP is being pedantic, even by your own standards.

Also, as I said, I think there's a further charitable way to read much of the OPs advice: These aren't "obligations" you need to do not to piss off your pedantic or overly sensitive professors, but instead are just things to do to cultivate solid intraoffice social relationships.


I agree with Grad Student on the “thank you letter” part. I think giving feedback is and should be part of the responsibility of the professors anyways.

Personally, when I was in undergraduate, I only thanked my professors on their feedback when I felt necessary to write them about it and ask for more clarification or if I needed their help. Otherwise, I wouldn’t write them a “thank you” email because I assumed that’s what they’re supposed to do anyways. And I didn’t think they would be offended by it either if I sent them nothing.

In terms of recommendations, I don’t know what that process or content entails. How much of the recommendation letter is devoted towards describing the student’s character or interests? I’m assuming it must take up a significant portion if professors are demanding of their students to be so communicative and virtuous. I understand that professors would feel more comfortable writing a recommendation if they sufficiently know the student well.

However, I doubt that constantly demanding them to write “thank you” emails or unnecessary notifications are considered excellent forms of communication in regards to getting to know students better.

You know how my teachers knew me better? They’ll give us a topic to write about it and we wrote on it in our school journal entry webpage. They weren’t academic topics of course. Most of them were just our reflections on our plans, work, schooling, interests, personal things, etc. so that our teachers could get to know us better.

The journal entry was accessible to all of my teachers. We weren’t obliged to write things that are too personal or uncomfortable of course. But we were encouraged to reflect on things pertaining to our post high school plans, our current activities, or jobs and certain struggles that our teachers can offer advice for. They read my personal journal entry every couple of weeks and offered comments of sympathy, advice, or encouragement.

But this was back in high school of course. Things are different in graduate school I assume. Nevertheless, that journal entry mechanism was instrumental in them writing me recommendations for college as they knew me better and it was also good for my mental health because there were people to listen to me.

Grad Student

@Mike: So often it is those who demand charity who in turn are the least charitable. When I said that the answer would depend on the situation, I was making a concession to the original poster that there will be times where what they say about notifying the professor about a drop will be true in terms of proper etiquette. It was an attempt to be charitable. But my overall point was that even if a student never follows that particular piece of advice, anyone holding the perceived faux pas against the student in their letters of recommendation would be overly petty. So instead of lecturing graduate students on the prudential reasons for proper etiquette, the original poster and other faculty members should work to undermine those very prudential reasons by making sure their colleagues aren't tanking students for not displaying the appropriate degree of servility or sociability.

There are legitimate complaints against graduate students that I imagine would and should influence letters. Poor scholarship should be at the top of that list. So too would acting in a generally sexist, racist or otherwise bigoted manner. Even just being mean or antagonistic in one's interaction with others in the department seems like fair game. But small lapses in social graces like the ones the original poster generally describes should be at the bottom of the list. Instead of lecturing grad student on the prudential reasons for proper email etiquette for replying to feedback or dropping a course, your efforts would be better spent working to ensure that your colleagues aren't tanking their grad students' job applications by holding petty grudges. This is especially true in an environment where professors regularly fail to respond to student emails or provide timely feedback. There is plenty of bad etiquette on the other side, which is all the more alarming because of the power asymmetry between students and faculty. If the original poster was really just making a call for greater civility and social grace, then it should be addressed to all bad actors, not just grad students under the guise of prudence. Because the comment was directed specifically to graduate students and framed in terms of the bad effects their actions could have on their recommendation letters, the original post struck me as a general complaint about how graduate students act rather than genuine advice motivated by concern for the students. I thought this overall point was in line with your earlier comment, so I'm surprised to find you disagreeing.


I would like to echo Grad Student’s concerns. It is unfortunate how often graduate students ask for advice about their job and are given advice about how to grovel before coddled, privileged sociopaths.

Can you imagine writing someone a bad letter of recommendation because you don’t find them grateful enough? Gee, I wonder where that could go wrong. Perhaps in the extremely widespread phenomena of philosophy professors pressuring women students for sex. Perhaps also in the other widely documented phenomena of white people being more punitive to people of color for perceived social transgressions.

I think it’s a joke that this website will host discussions by black professors about how to make philosophy a more welcoming space to crickets, but there will regularly be a lot of traffic on these posts about politeness norms. It really shows where the priorities are.


@Grad Student: By comparing the behavior pointed out by the OP with similar behavior by faculty, I didn't mean to exculpate it when done by grad students. I think it's bad across the board.

While I agree with Marcus that faculty need to be *very* understanding about why grad students do these things, and I mostly think this sort of stuff should stay out of official evaluations and rec letters, I think you're overplaying its superficiality when you call it "proper etiquette". No one wants to work with an unresponsive ass. It really can make life miserable, and not just in superficial "oh, get over it" way, but in a substantive "god, I'm having nightly panic attacks" way.

I think it's wrong to view "social etiquette" as just some superficial trapping of the job. Social relationships are fundamental to how we work and important for thriving. It's hard to be happy in a job with colleagues who treat you as a mere instrumental means, it's very hard to get things done when people are only motivated with carrots and sticks, finding collaborators once you have a reputation for nonresponsiveness will be tough, etc. When I was a grad student I didn't really understand the social dimension to work (or getting a job), and now, several years out from the PhD, I'm still precariously underemployed in part because I didn't understand that social dimension until recently.

I also don't think it's correct to interpret the OP as asking grad students to be servile. Thanking someone for doing something that helped you isn't being servile, even if it was their job to do that thing. I smile at, and thank, cashiers when I checkout at the grocery store, even though they are paid to ring me up. I thank professional service people I hire for jobs (mechanics, accountants, etc), even though I'm paying them and they're just doing their job. None of these cases are me being servile, and expecting people to not be jerks isn't asking them to be servile.


The OP did not demand that grad student's "constantly" thank them. As was just pointed out, we think people all the time even if they are doing their job. That is just basic manners. And besides another reason to reply is to communicate to the professor that you and did indeed get the email. People of course and miss an email here and there, and so if there is never a reply, then Professors cannot be sure if you even received the email.

I just am very puzzled by grad students getting offended that a professor would recommend somebody has basic manners. And besides it was written as pragmatic advice so even if professors are being unreasonable in expecting these things, there are all sorts of ways in which humans are unreasonable and often in order to do what's in your own professional interest, you have to cater to this to some degree. One of the most common problems I've seen in grad students back in my old institution was that those who had problems with professional success were oddly idealistic. They expected the world including the professional philophy world to be one hundred percent just, fair, and when it wasn't they didn't see any need to work within the system the way it was. Well it isn't just the professional philosophy world in which you find these problems, i.e., persons behaving in a manner that is less than 100% fair, you are going to find them everywhere. YOu can insist on living according to some type of idealized system in which owed sevice providers should never appreciate nor expect gratitude, but you're probably only hurting yourself.

As far as no need to create problems when there isn't any, well first I don't believe the above post suggested as much. And second, maybe grad students should think about whether they're missing a legitimate opportunity for discussion and learning. Often a problem with grad students s that they seem to assume there is not anything to discuss when there is something to discuss. In fact lost a first of all people can pretty much discuss anything and come up with further things to say about anything so it seems an odd situation in which there would be absolutely no sort of conversation to have about feedback. When I think of my own case, I honestly can't imagine getting feedback on a paper and then having absolutely nothing to say in response. If you do have nothing to say in response, then maybe it's a time to work on the ability to engage philosophically. This doesn't mean absolutely every time you should, but just thought it is often worth it to think about it. And supposing that you agree with the comments, then you could at least send a reply that says you know what I really agree with these comments and I'm going to work on making changes. No not because the professor is somehow entitled to that response, but because that is a way of fostering a good relationship, which benefits grad students intellectually and professionally. This doesn't mean that every single time it has to be done, but just that it is intellectually mature to think seriously about whether there could be further discussion and philosophical advances to be made. The professors are there to teach grad students, after all.

I suspect that the attitude gradstudent expresses explains why sometimes people who seem to have great CVs don't always get hired. There are all sorts of interpersonal skills that are important to being a philosophy professor and the ones expressed in this post are really basic. If you interview four incredibly talented people that have similar but not identical levels of success on their CV, very often the committee, especially if they are at a school other than an R1, will want to hire the person with interpersonal skills that some of the others seem to lack.

Leslie if seem to notice that whenever somebody who identifies as a faculty member gives advice there is almost always grad student to get very offended at the advice no matter what it might be. Maybe it is because those who go to graduate school or the same type of people who tend to be skeptical and critical of authority. Well that's good in some ways I think but I just don't understand the desire to see everything as type of battle. I don't read the OP lesbian critical or trying to disparage graduate students but that seems to be how some people have taken it.

Grad Student

@Mike: I wrote "servility or sociability," so please stop twisting my words after lecturing me on charity in interpretation. And I never said that thanking someone is inherently servile. However, demanding that one be thanked for fulfilling one's basic job function *on pain of a bad letter of recommendation* does seem like a demand for a kind of servility. I'm glad you are polite to cashiers, but the cashier isn't going to tank your chances of getting a job if you don't smile at them.

In any case, you've fairly radically misinterpreted my point. We both agree that politeness and sociability are important in one's (work) life. I also get fed up with the degree of assholery in academia (and the workplace more generally). If the original poster's point was only that we all need to be more considerate, I'm on board and it is very likely that I wouldn't have written a reply in that case. But the original poster directed their complaint to graduate students alone and assumed it was unproblematic for faculty to make substantive judgments about a grad student based on what I take to be rather minor infractions of etiquette or sociability. The idea that you are having nightly panic attacks because your grad student isn't replying to your email is patently absurd. If you are experiencing psychological distress as a result of the above situations, then send a follow up email, give them a call, or maybe just see a therapist. I'm not being facetious about these options, especially the last one. You shouldn't be having panic attacks because of any of these breaches in sociability.

And I never said I thought that etiquette was "just some superficial trapping of the job." What I attempted to express was that breaches of politeness or sociability, like the ones the original poster described, shouldn't be enough to hurt grad students in their letters. As it is, grad students often spend many hours writing emails to professors trying to find the correct phrasing that won't anger or annoy only to receive terse or cryptic replies in turn. This is a not-uncommon employer-employee dynamic. We shouldn't compound this fear by further lecturing grad students about their mistakes. Again, if the general point is that we all need to be more sociable and polite, that's fine. I agree. But don't direct that complaint to grad students alone. Professors are often the most guilty on this front.

I'm sorry you're underemployed because, as you say, you didn't do the kind of relatively minor things mentioned above. If the job market weren't such a nightmare, I doubt these considerations would make a difference. If they in fact do, it is a lamentable state of affairs and not a dynamic I would seek to reinforce by acting as if it's acceptable to allow such considerations to impact recommendation letters.

Ultimately I agree with @Fedup. We need to rejigger our priorities. Stop lecturing grad students on their perceived unsociability and start worrying about how inclusive your own practices are. Politeness norms are exactly the kind of barriers put up in order to gatekeep in our profession.


Fedup: You write: “I think it’s a joke that this website will host discussions by black professors about how to make philosophy a more welcoming space to crickets, but there will regularly be a lot of traffic on these posts about politeness norms. It really shows where the priorities are.”

I agree with the black philosophers on what they’ve written about and their advice. Many of the “traffic” we see here are disagreements. Are you suggesting that we should post more disagreements on posts written by black authors? If so, then you’re out of luck since I’m going to assume that their silence is their agreement with the black authors.

One could argue that there are those who disagree, but are hesitant to post. But that’s no excuse since our comments and identity can be anonymous.

What they wrote were reasonable and truthful for anybody who has studied even a rudimentary level of philosophy of race. There wasn’t really anything that was controversial, far fetched, and unreasonable to disagree about for me.

Other than disagreements or concerns, I would refrain from writing things that would be patronizing since that can be perceived as or actually be disrespectful. Sometimes we should just listen, read, understand, and to just give them space to voice their thoughts without us having the impulse to interject especially at a time of rampant anti-blackness.

Grad Student

@Amanda, much of what I just wrote to Mike applies to your comment. What I've been objecting to is offering a thinly veiled complaint about grad student behavior in the form of "helpful advice." You can, of course, attribute a bad attitude or a kind of misguided idealism to me. You would be wrong. I'm incredibly grateful to my professors and don't do the things OP criticizes. Nonetheless, I found it to be distasteful to post a list of complaints about grad students as if it were friendly advice.

clarification ... I think

Grad Student
I think Mike's point about panic attacks is that when you end up hiring an @hole or work in a department with one - and I have - you end up having panic attacks. These @holes are unresponsive with respect to their shared responsibilities in the department. I was in such a department - but I left. Hence, whenever we were hiring I was really concerned with collegiality. It is very easy to find people who have the basic academic credentials - it is harder to find one who is not an @hole.


@clarification: yes, that's what I was talking about.

@Grad Student: I think you're trying to cut distinctions that just aren't there to be cut. You agree that this sort of social etiquette is actually substantive, but don't think it should ever be held against people? If it's substantive, then it's something appropriate to take into consideration in evaluations, hiring, etc. Also, you're focused on the point about this sort of stuff hurting rec letters. I think everyone here (Marcus, myself) has gone out of their way to say that we think this sort of formal step should only be taken with great caution, that it should be minor, that we must do everything we can to be understanding, etc, so, I'm not sure what else you want anyone to say.

Sometimes I read your responses and think we're in agreement, other times I read them and it sounds like not. I'm not sure how to reconcile the apparent differences.

At the end of the day, I agree with Amanda. I just don't see what's so bad about the OPs suggestions.


Also, I agree with everything Amanda says.

Grad Student

@clarification ... I think: Thanks, I didn't see that reading. It's a fair point that unsociable colleagues can make one's life very difficult, but better captures the problem with unsociable faculty colleagues than the problem with unsociable grad students. There are very different dynamics and power asymmetries between professors and grad students than amongst professors. And where the power asymmetries exist amongst faculty, I think the same considerations I have put forward on behalf of grad students should be put forward on behalf of junior faculty. That is, don't criticize someone in a tenure file just because the person didn't always thank you in the proper way. Here, though, the concerns may turn out to be more disanalogous, because departmental service and fulfilling basic responsibilities certainly should matter for tenure. And keeping someone around indefinitely as part of a tenured hire is very different than being kind to a grad student who is ultimately just passing through the department and perhaps struggling to stay afloat.

Again, this is different from confronting a graduate student who is genuinely acting badly in any number of ways. I just don't think the issues raised above rise to that level. And generally I have no problem with a call to greater sociability all around (except for when it only serves to gatekeep).

Grad Student

@Mike: I also sometimes think we are agreeing, but then you go on to say that you agree with everything Amanda said and I realize there is little chance we could be in agreement, since I found her characterization of my argument and motives to be highly uncharitable.

You say:

"I think you're trying to cut distinctions that just aren't there to be cut. You agree that this sort of social etiquette is actually substantive, but don't think it should ever be held against people?"

I won't apologize for making a nuanced argument. My point is that none of the original criticisms raised by OP were substantive if by 'substantive' you mean something like 'rises to the level of hurting a student's job market chances' (e.g. impacting a letter of recommendation). I can simultaneously believe that (1) a student shouldn't have done something for reasons of etiquette and sociability but also (2) that what they did wasn't so substantive in the foregoing sense that it should harm them in their career.

I think you are saying you agree with me about this. But if the criticisms mentioned by OP aren't substantive in the foregoing sense, then either the supposed prudential reason for not doing them goes away (and the original post just becomes a thinly veiled complaint); or else the prudential reason remains because the system is, as Amanda points out, inherently unfair (in which case I believe OP should instead be posting about how professors should be more understanding with students who are missing the mark in certain ways rather than lecturing grad students about etiquette). Of course, the third option is that OP really does think the original complaints were substantive (and perhaps you partly agree?). In that case, I think OP is just being petty by punching down.


Sorry for the previous typos in my voice to text post, haha.

Grad student: suppose that professors, with some frequency, unjustly hold violations of etiquette norms against grad students and that this shows up in recommendation letters.

IF the above were true, would it not make sense to warn grad students about this reality? You say that the OP should be criticizing colleagues who hold these things against grads. But this blog is for early career philosophers. So that is why the advice is more often aimed at grad students than professors, as all grad students are early career but most professors are not. IDK, I heard advice along these lines as a grad, and while various injustices of the system really bothered me (and still do), I found hearing the unfortunate truth professionally helpful.


I'd also want to point out that while a lot of the OP was about etiquette, not all of it was. I was always one to kind of naturally obey etiquette norms. But what I struggled with a lot was taking advantage of feedback from faculty. I think that is an important part of the OP:there are opportunities for feedback from faculty and it can be both intellectually and professionally prudent to take advantage.


Amanda: You make a really good point about the purpose of this blog. It is primarily aimed at giving graduate students or early career philosophers advice(s).

However, to be fair, a lot of professors have contributed to this webpage as well. From what I’ve been reading from guest posts and comments, it seems that many (philosophy) professors visit this page as well.

Also, the fact that Marcus addressed faculties in this post indicates that many professors also read this blog. Thus, it’s reasonable and permissible to address them and we shouldn’t brush this fact under the rug or take it for granted.


Hi Evan,

Which fact are you talking about brushing under the rug? The point that Marcus makes, i.e., that professors should be understanding of grad students? If so, then yes, I definitely agree with that. I think in general R1 professors often fall short of their professional and ethical duties toward grad students. I think it is a shame that there isn't more standardized rules about this, e.g,.requirements that there be a certain number of meetings between faculty and grad students, and/or that faculty offer a minimum amount of feedback. I also think faculty should be especially understanding, and always approach grad students with an attitude of wanting to help and never one of trying to judge. Of course, this sort of attitude/approach is much harder to put into a department policy than policies about mandatory meetings.

Or was your point that professors are often guilty of the same etiquette mistakes as grad students? I also agree with that, and I have brought up many times before that the manners of the profession are just inexcusable. However, often professors can get away with this, i.e., the bad behavior will have minimal impact on their career. I think the way that grad students face consequences that professors often avoid is very unfair, but alas, it is reality. So pragmatically speaking, grad students have more cause for professional worry about these things. Again, that is not to say that as a profession we shouldn't care about rude faculty behavior. Indeed, I think we should care far more than we do.

I'd also agree that it is fine to address professors on this blog, especially in comments. And even sometimes it is apt to have posts aimed at professors. But if the blog's mission is to stay what is (and what seems to have worked), then most posts should be focused on early career professionals. Hence, it seems reasonable to me that the OP would direct their post at grads and not professors. Besides, for all we know the OP does address these issues with their colleagues via other means. After all, the OP said that,

"I know many other professors who don't have the same views as I do, i.e., they think it is okay to hold certain types of behaviors against grad students."

The above implies that he OP does NOT think holding these things against grad students is okay, indeed, they clearly think it is not okay.

Sorry if I misunderstood what you were getting at.


Amanda: I was referring to just the demographics of the visitors on this site.

But yes I agree with a lot of points being made here. Even in elementary school my teachers would gossip about our principal and complain about how bad she’s doing and the direction she’s putting our school towards. I’ve always been observant of these sorts of things lol. My mom would constantly come home telling me how toxic her some of co-workers, especially her boss were. Most of the time there was nothing they could do about due to the asymmetry of powers involved. I’m quite aware of intra-office environment issues.

Personally, I’ve had my fair share of good and bad teachers and professors. Most of the time I tried to be understanding of my professors. I had a very kind and friendly professor, but a few students have said they were not a few years ago possibly because they were going through a divorce. I’m not sure if that was true, but I can understand that personal issues can affect how professors treat their colleagues and students.

And then there are professors who just have different personalities in general. I can’t always expect every professors or anybody else to be very friendly or approachable. That’s just the fact of life in general. Just different personalities I suppose. To which case, I try not to take too personally.

I will say though, the good relationships I’ve had were with teachers or professors who were so kind, friendly, down to Earth, and not overly-judgmental. Even if I just had them for a semester either in high school or in college. Interestingly, most of them were my non-philosophy professors (I have a theory for why that is). Obviously, I respect their knowledge and intellect, but them treating me with such respect and friendliness just made my learning experience a bit better and made it easier to even get know them.

Of course, these are case by case since I’ve seen students who have great relationships with professors who are intimidating and tense. And that’s fine. I figured, establishing a good relationship with your professor(s) is similar to selecting your friends. For the intimidating ones, I only relied on them for their knowledge and experience in the intellectual realm, and for the very friendly and kind ones and ones I had a good relationship with and who knew more, those are the ones I had to write me recommendation letters even if it’s just for post college work.

Grad Student

Amanda, you say:

"The above implies that he OP does NOT think holding these things against grad students is okay, indeed, they clearly think it is not okay."

However, your claim is far from obvious. If anything, it's pretty obvious OP thinks it's inevitable that they will hold such small infractions against their students, like not kissing the ring by emailing a thank-you after receiving back a term paper:

- "I try my best to not let any of my personal judgments affect how I treat students, but of course, no one is perfect"

- "I do my best to not hold anything of this against them"

Implicature: Sometimes I hold my personal judgments concerning the above complaints against grad students.

- "maybe my experience is off base, or maybe I am just expecting too much"

Implicature: I expect students not do the above.

In their first item, the OP clearly states that not thanking a professor for comments "makes it much harder to write a strong letter." Letters are mentioned directly four times in the post. That's extremely petty. Yes, if the view is really widespread I would like to know. But I doubt it is, which is why I attempted to clarify the matter in my first reply. As I said, if OP means to say this with respect to a term paper, then they are making an almost absurd claim. If the point is in reference to independently solicited feedback, then the claim makes more sense, because it would be incredibly rude not to respond to someone who did you a favor by providing feedback. But many of the other complaints, like dropping a course or providing feedback to the grad program, also struck me as petty griping. As an early career philosopher, you're right that I come here for substantive advice. But I don't come here so that overly-sensitive or annoyed faculty at R1 universities can complain about things grad students do that aren't even clearly problematic, prudentially or otherwise. It's punching down in an unhelpful way that I find rather disagreeable.


OP: Here’s my advice to you and other faculties. If writing a strong recommendation letter is difficult in some circumstances, then you should ask the student about what other things you should know about them that would make it easier for you to write them a strong recommendation letter.

You’d be surprised by what you will learn about them. These sorts of miscellaneous, but still praiseworthy things might be relevant and could function to compensate for a lack of adequately expressed gratitude or other minor grievances on the part of the student if the ultimate aim is to write them a strong recommendation letter.

If you’re skeptical about certain claims the student makes about their story, then you can ask for evidence or third parties to verify.

It never ceases to amaze me that many times, the people who desire to know so much about a person, are the ones who don’t usually ask them much to begin with.

Current grad student and incoming prof

To offer another grad perspective: sometimes I have trouble responding to emails from professors right away because I get caught up in wording them just the right away, without inadvertently causing offense, etc. I'll start the email, get hung up on a certain line, and then forget to send it. Most of the emails I send belatedly are due to anxiety, I would say, and given the power relations between professors and students anxiety is much more likely to arise with emails to professors (and hopefully, given the more equal standing, much less likely in interacting with future colleagues).

Also, I feel uncomfortable asking for meetings when a professor sends feedback without suggesting a meeting themselves. It feels like they've already put in the work to give feedback, and it feels like I'm asking too much to ask them to take even more time out to talk through the feedback with me. Keep in mind that many professors are already relatively brusque with students, or act in ways to convey that they need/want to limit the time they spend helping students. It makes a big difference if the professor suggests the possibility of meeting ("if it would help to talk these through during my office hours, just let me know"). I never realized, until reading these comments, that not asking for a meeting as a grad student was actually considered by some professors as *impolite* -- to me it always read as the opposite (if a professor has time to meet/thinks doing so would be beneficial, they will suggest it). So I feel a lot of people in this thread have simply forgotten the power imbalance between professors and students, and that not all students (particularly women, students of color, etc -- I'm a very shy woman myself) will feel entitled to take more of their professors' time.


Current Grad: I agree. Sometimes it’s nice getting a specific or general email from your professor asking if everything is going well with the course or if anybody needs help then they shouldn’t be afraid of asking them for it instead of saying “My office hours is X, Y, Z.” Yes we know. You’re required to have them. But we don’t know if you actually care if we come.

I’ve always been the type to look for good-intentions when I ask for help. When a person does not actually care or isn’t friendly about helping me, then their action has no intrinsic value. As a result, I would not ask them for help again. It’s humiliating asking for help only to find out that you’re an annoyance to them. Of course, we shouldn’t overdo with asking for help for respond because that can be burdensome to our professors. They’re humans too and not robots.

I still vividly remember my high school teacher’s quote at the end of his syllabus saying “DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP. I AM HERE TO HELP YOU!!!!!!!!!”

This was over-enthusiastic of course, but he wanted to convey that he doesn’t mind getting emails asking for help. It was his way of displaying his genuineness to actually help and care for our intellectual growth. I even had a professor who pleaded us to come see him for advice whenever we took his class. And consequently, his office hours became flooded with students. Nevertheless, the way he expressed his care for us, made us more comfortable to ask him or see him.

Some professors have better interpersonal skills or emotional intelligence than others. And if both the student and faculty lack these qualities, then it’s a recipe for bad intellectual growth.


Yes, all of this can be very anxiety inducing for many grads, especially because many professors ignore meeting requests and seem bothered by them. This is why I think there should be scheduled mandatory meetings. It is also why professors ought to be as understanding as possible. However, I am just saying it is pragmatic to try and overcome these worries.

Your entire career will consist in dealing with power differences and anxiety inducing situations. Yes, people in power ought to be aware of that and more understanding, but we live in the world we live in. I am simply not confident that things will change such that it is no longer important to force yourself to deal with the mentioned difficulties. The world is terribly unfair. It is up to each individual to decide how they want to deal with that reality. I think the way of dealing with it that brings the most professional success in philosophy is learning to overcome the fear of interaction, sending emails etc. Maybe some people just can't overcome it. That is unfortunate, and probably not their fault. But still, there are all sorts of unfair things in the profession and we give advice on them anyway, simply because that is the way things are, not because it is the way things should be.


I am also unsure why this discussion seems to have turned into a competition about who is more morally obligated to do what. It can be true *both* that professors should (morally should) be more understanding and also that students should (pragmatically should) work on these things. It just seems so puzzling to me that when advice is given the response is so often to say, "But if other people behaved better then I wouldn't have to follow this advice." Well, okay, but other people don't behave better. So what happens now?

Current grad student and incoming prof

Amanda: right, but the way the discussion was initially framed wasn't about what was more 'pragmatic' (I agree) but about what was most polite/what etiquette requires of one, which puts the moral onus on the grad student. I was just trying to point out that, from a certain perspective (and in certain grad environments), the most 'moral' thing for students to do is not to bother/annoy professors by asking for more of their time (or inadvertently sending the 'wrong' email in response to feedback). So I'm not sure the etiquette framing is the most helpful or accurate. Others in the thread were painting these grad behaviors as thoughtlessness or lack of care, but in my experience they've been the result of too much thought or too much care (overthinking, as it were).

I completely agree that getting used to interaction is helpful to one's career (I certainly have seen a correlation, in observing others, between the 'louder' one is, on social media, in reaching out via email, etc., and one's job prospects). But I generally find it more helpful to reframe interaction from "bothering" or "annoying" others to: people *like* to get emails about their work; people *like* to help. I have to reframe in a way that makes reaching out the 'morally right' thing rather than 'wrong' thing. So emphasizing these aspects, from the professor's point of view, might help grad students more than assuming they're simply inconsiderate or socially incompetent.

Third Party

Amanda -- you say the world is unfair, but you deliberately ignore your complicity in its unfairness by promoting unfair etiquette norms.

Consider the racist advice given to Malcolm X, when his teacher, with all the good intentions in the world, told him it was not realistic for a black man to go to law school. Malcolm's teacher, like you, intends to give advice to help Malcolm, but in the end, only ends up reproducing the norms that keep black people down all over the country. Similarly, your advice to graduate students is to kiss the ring. If this website is made to *critically* discuss etiquette norms and the like, rather than merely parrot them, they must be open to rational criticism. And it is abundantly clear that this is all that Grad Student has provided.


Third Party: "Amanda -- you say the world is unfair, but you deliberately ignore your complicity in its unfairness by promoting unfair etiquette norms."

What exactly is she supposed to do? Recommend that grad students shot themselves in the foot by doing things that will intentionally piss people off?

The Malcolm X analogy is not persuasive, since the case is so obviously disanalogous is morally relevant ways.

And can we all stop using phrases like "kiss the ring"? I think we've well established that most professors expecting communication from grad students aren't just looking to have their egos pumped up, and that sending standard polite emails isn't being servile. Anyone who continues to insist on characterizing these behaviors in such outlandish terms is just not operating in good faith, or they aren't paying attention/aren't willing to adjust their initial reactions.

Can I also bring this discussion back down to reality, by pointing out that we're talking about the basic sorts of polite behaviors we all (should) do for everyone in lives, from cashiers to plumbers to our parents. When someone does something to help you, say thanks.

@Current grad: I get the anxiety angle to this, but as Amanda points out, that's never going to go away. Once you're faculty, you'll need to write emails to department members who decide whether to renew your contract/grant you tenure, and once you have tenure you still need to write emails to people who determine your pay, your department's funding, etc.

And, also, it should be pointed out that this isn't special to academics. If you held a "real job" (cashier, cable installer, admin assistant, strategy consultant, engineer, etc), you'd also have to constantly send emails to, and communicate with, people that hold power over you. You'd have to do it more, and under more pressure, because you'd have a job with many daily (or even hourly) tasks and deadlines, instead of just like a semester term paper or whatever.

Make of that what you will. I don't say it in the spirit of "get over it", just in the spirit of contextualizing what we're talking about. The application and specific form may be unique to philosophy grad school, but the general social/institutional/vocational principles in play are pretty much universal.

I guess I'm just surprised that advice which boils down to "maintain good social/professional/working relationships with your professors" is getting *so* much pushback from some people, especially that some people insist on painting this in terms of servility and "kissing the ring".


Let me also say, as someone who has dealt with bad clinical anxiety problems, that I've become a more happy, successful person as I learned to (in some sense) become authentic/assertive and accept the risk that other people won't like me, or that I might mess up. While I, of course, still put some meta thought into how to word emails and how what I say will be interpreted, I've spent a lot of time working on saying what seems best and appropriate to me. Sometimes what I say isn't well received (and sometimes the other person was right not to receive it well), but usually a few more exchanges clear up the matter, we end in better standing than we started, and I've learned something.

Grad students tend to be people who are very reflective and introspective, I get that. It makes it hard to just push forward with life, and brings on anxiety. But I think a fear of being wrong, or messing up, can be paralyzing in ways that are much more destructive than just being wrong or messing up.

Anyway, Marcus asked for other "professionalization" advice. I guess I'm getting at another piece of professionalization advice: work on learning to balance risks with (career-building) action, including inhibiting your fear of failure or messing up, if that fear is hyperactive and paralyzing you. This fear manifests in all sorts of destructive ways, from anxiety over how to craft an email to a professor to perfectionism in paper writing or grading that keeps you from getting anything done.

And fwiw, I have anxiety over whether this is actually good advice and worry that it's going to be uncharitably attacked, but (*shrugs*) I'm hitting "post".


I've been following this conversation with interest because what it seems like is an ongoing conversation about the ways that we "socialize" graduate students into the culture of philosophy and academia broadly. If we think about this as a process of socialization, there are some graduate students who will, as a result of their prior socialization, immediately grasp what is necessary to do or would not think to question these social norms. To this end, their alignment with these norms allows them to avoid many of the grievances aired in this thread.

On the other hand, there are other students who have not been socialized into this behavior, whose embodiment (this is a safe place to use this word, yes?) might resist such socialization by virtue of where it comes from and who it is aimed at. To be clear, I'm thinking about this socialization as grounded in whiteness (and able-bodied assumptions and assumptions of masculinity) and should be critiqued in parallel with other engagements with "professionalism" as grounded in cultures of whiteness, and its enforcement as a form of discipline that is in line with other subtle forms of white supremacist violence. This might raise some hackles, but let's be honest: the standards we're talking about, and the punishments that emerge from their violation, are not applied equally to all philosophers and this is something we need to attend to.

That said, socialization is a process, and one that proceeds in a context, and we need to be aware of crucial elements of this context. Namely, the ways that many folks have indicated that grad students often perceive what we might consider socially appropriate, and in line with the OP's suggestions, as an imposition on faculty. I might trace this to experiences in undergraduate where many faculty treated me as an imposition on their time and space when I would turn up at office hours or schedule appointments. In essence, experiences like these, when circulated through a community, form a dominant perception of what is and is not acceptable to do in interaction with a social superior or a professor. If, in undergrad, your experience was such that appointments were unwelcome intrusions upon spaces, then it is likely you will carry that formative experience into your interactions in graduate school and violate some of these modes of conduct.

That being said, we also need to recognize that there are social and cultural distinction in e-mail etiquette, including requesting meetings, across generations as well as across cultures. As an example, my experience with Black faculty at my alma-mater was a kind of "open door" policy that reflected a culture around meetings where an appointment wasn't absolutely necessary and simply "dropping by" was an appropriate way to get a meeting, regardless of the context of the meeting. To this end, I would say that we need to think about the positionality and context out of which these professional standards emerge and the ways that they are enforced or imposed upon graduate students of multiple identities.

In short, if the aim is to socialize junior philosophers into becoming valuable members of the field, into being able to navigate the cultural structures of the field, then we need to bear in mind the ways that these norms, and the culture they proceed from, are experienced differently by different philosophers, and what these differences mean in practice.

Also, in case it wasn't obvious, I am concerned that much of this conversation has shifted towards punching down on graduate students for violations of these assumed norms.


This is all good advice for graduate students. Thanks for posting!

I'm a bit worried that suggestions about etiquette and good citizenship (suggestions 1-2) are being mixed together with suggestions about how students can maximize their learning experience (suggestions 3,5) and shape the program (suggestion 4).

The ostensible link is that these are all things that faculty can judge you negatively for. Really!? That's the message of professionalization advice?

I think this link is what has triggered many of the negative reactions to an otherwise helpful post. It's as though a post full of good advice for progress through a graduate program has been filtered by the lens of a faculty observer who views students' struggles as an opportunity to form and act on a negative impression of the students.

There's a pervasive mixing here of issues about learning/professional growth with issues about negative faculty judgments. For example:

"And as I said, I do my best to not hold anything of this against them [graduate students]. But it is also prudent to behave in ways that will maximize your learning experience."

Please try not to make your students' behavior about you. I know it can be hard for early-career faculty to step back emotionally and personally from their interactions with students. But this should be a post about growth and learning, not reputation management or faculty appeasement.

Current grad student and incoming prof

John and Postdoc both raised aspects of what I had in mind in this response to Mike (as well as other important points), but just in case it's helpful:

I don't think the analogy to other jobs is helpful, because in a sense it's *not* the primary job of faculty in your department to give you feedback -- primarily, their job, since they're necessarily in a research-oriented (PhD-granting) department, is to publish, and they're compensated on the basis of how much they do that, not for how well they mentor grad students. This isn't the case for any of the other jobs you mentioned. I've worked some of those, and had no problems sending emails or interacting with colleagues in those instances. Because that interaction *was* the primary job. In academia it's often (treated as) a distraction from research. And there's a sense in which academia combines requiring two kinds of tasks which are in tension with one another: the day-to-day admin/teaching/service work required to keep a department running, students educated, etc., and the deep uninterrupted thinking required to produce research. (It's my understanding that writers, actors, artists, and others who also have to engage in intense preparation/concentration of the latter kind also find ways to limit the former for precisely this reason, depending on their means, like going on creative retreats or hiring administrative assistants).

So again, from my vantage point, we're talking about structural problems inherent to the modern functioning of the university, which requires faculty to combine disparate and arguably conflicting tasks. Saying "you'd face this in any other job" overlooks what's unique about being in a university humanities setting (and, in some sense, 'unrecognized' in what one is owed as a student, economically speaking, since grad students don't pay tuition like undergrads). This uneasy position is reflected in the mental health problems grad students disproportionately face.

I don't disagree with the advice given, just with the diagnosis (psychological rather than structural) that grad students are inevitably -- not just inconsiderate or thoughtless -- but also inexperienced in forming 'normal' working relationships, or that the same problems would inevitably follow them in any other setting. (Importantly, in the sciences, where the research results of both grad students and senior faculty are dependent on the work of a team, there is both more interaction *and* more guidance actively given to grad student work, because the two tasks of research and grad education aren't in tension with one another, as they are in the way philosophy departments are currently set up.)


@Current grad: I guess I have to think about it more, but I'm not convinced that the tension between research and teaching roles is really what's at the heart of grad students being anxious about communications with their profs. I certainly imagine it's part of it, but it seems much more likely to me that grad students (and early career faculty) get anxious about emailing (more sr) profs just because of the power imbalance and out of fear of saying the wrong thing, looking bad, or making the person angry. For example, I imagine that plenty of first-semester grad students, with no awareness at all of the structural tension you describe, are just as apt to be anxious about their communications w/ faculty. I don't doubt that at some point awareness of this tension feeds into our anxieties, but at bottom I'm skeptical that the dynamic in play is really that different from any normal workplace.

As I said, I'm open to the idea, and need to think about it more, I'm just skeptical off the bat.


Mike, yes generally we should thank others in everyday life for doing things for us. I don’t think everyone here disagrees with that.

However, there are cases both in real life and in popular culture e.g. movies, books, television, etc. in which some people respond by saying, “No need to thank me. I’m just doing my job.”

Perhaps, this humbleness isn’t internalized or expressed much on the part of faculties for the reasons Current Grad said about the role of professors and the current structure, function, and aim of higher education i.e. their primary function is to publish and not to guide or provide feedback.

However, I am skeptical of the claim that professors are “compensated on the basis of how much they [publish]” because Marcus’ own university is currently hiring a philosophy faculty for one year and it seems like the primary reason is to teach or lecture and not necessarily to publish.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but most professors are hired to lecture *and* do research. And it seems like their *rate* can depend significantly on how much they publish. As to the quality of their teaching, I don’t know if that is a factor in determining their rate or (even) hiring them in the first place, and so you may be right about that part.


Not sure whether I should still engage. I guess I can hope that there are people who don't comment who read some of this advice and find it useful.

Not allowing black persons into law school is morally wrong in one of the worst ways that something can be morally wrong. Appreciating a thank you note is not morally wrong. Perhaps it is wrong to expect it, but not to appreciate it. The original post was unclear about whether the notes are expected or appreciated, probably because that entirely depends on the professor. In any case, even if a professor did immorally expect a thank you note, this would not be anywhere near the same level of evil as that of universities having a systematic exclusion of persons based on race.

Yes, persons from some ethnic/cultural backgrounds will have a harder time, through no fault of their own, picking up on some professional norms. So isn't it all the more important to tell them about it? This is an open access blog read by all sorts of persons. I get the impression that some people think that if a certain practice is unfair, the only permissible response is to criticize those who uphold it. I just don't agree. While criticizing those who uphold it is great, it also makes sense to teach persons unfamiliar with the system how the system might work. I don't see how it helps them to wait on overturning social hierarchies when that might not happen until it is time for them to retire, much less time to go on the job market.

I just don't see the punching down. The OP did not say that they approved of any of these practices. In fact they said that they try to be understanding and that they disapprove of faculty who are judgmental. It seems that in order for advice to be acceptable, it cannot mention any custom or practice that is even the slightest bit unfair. Because if it does, then the poster is blamed for giving the advice when they should (according to the critics)have been focusing on the unfair practice. This makes offering any advice at all very difficult, because the entire profession is surrounded in unfairness.

Third Party: you have no idea what I do in my grad program or how I try to make my program more fair. Even on this blog I have been very critical of the way faculty treat grad students. I will say again that a lot of the time the treatment is morally inexcusable, and that the profession should care about this a lot more than it does. I am doing what I can to make changes in my own department. I have said on this blog that a big problem is there is basically no oversight, and almost no tenure consideration given at all, re mentoring grad students. If grad students are to be treated well, there must be professional incentive. Yet I fear that my envisioned changes are not coming fast, and hence, I think it can be helpful to inform grads about the profession. No one is morally obligated to take the advice. It is just there for people to consume and do with as they will.

I don't mind having a discussion about all these other issues - but maybe a new post would be a good place. So much of this just seems a different topic. How grad students can improve philosophically and professionally is different form how professors ought to treat grad students.

I also agree with Mike that sending a thank you note or asking questions about comments on a paper is not being servile. But if grad students think that it is being servile, well, then it is up to them to way the tradeoffs.


I’m sympathetic to a lot of the points here regarding the arguments for and against expressing gratitude in certain contexts. Granted, issues of gratitude have been debated and are still being debated today amongst (virtue) ethicists and philosophers in general themselves (like we’re doing now).

Source: “https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/gratitude/“

I’m inclined to think that all of us should feel and express a healthy dose of gratitude and also *humbleness* in our everyday lives. It seems in this case, humbleness often is brushed under rug amongst certain faculties, which is why they may hold it against their student(s) so strictly for not expressing the amount of gratitude they want from them.

Maybe faculties should (alongside what Marcus has advised) be (more) humble alongside being understanding, empathetic, and forgiving. Maybe this is right. But again, it’s not a guarantee that every faculty will heed this wisdom. I don’t know. But thanks for reading what I have to say.

Grad Student

It's astounding to me that Mike and Amanda continue to mischaracterize what I have argued. I never claimed that writing a thank you email is inherently an act of servility. I wrote that "the original poster and other faculty members should work to undermine those very prudential reasons [for proper etiquette] by making sure their colleagues aren't tanking students for not displaying the appropriate degree of servility or sociability." The disjunction matters, because I obviously do not believe that every time one observes proper etiquette one is acting in a servile way.

However, the expectation that a grad student regularly send thank you notes lest they receive a bad LOR could aptly be characterized as an expectation to servility. It is not the normal dynamic in "real jobs." And insofar as the cashier, cable installer, admin assistant, etc., is expected to thank you for your largess in some transaction, then I think it may well be an expectation to servility on your part if you would, on pain of complaint to their boss, demand that they thank you. If you did something nice like offer a glass of water, they should no doubt thank you. But their not thanking you for the water would give you no grounds for complaining to their boss supposing you wished not to be petty. That's the better analogy. (And for what it's worth, I have held real jobs before grad school. The way email is used in them is entirely disanalogous from the context we are describing.)

My point, which has repeatedly been ignored, is that even if the disappointed expectation was simply that the grad student be sociable in a certain way, *then that shouldn't be enough to impact their LORs*.

At this point the dialectic has moved on to the claim that OP never wrote about LORs. That's not true! OP mentioned them several times and framed their post in terms of them. Amanda also claims that OP disagrees with the viewpoint that these behaviors should impact graduate students in their careers, writing that "OP did not say that they approved of any of these practices." Again, this is false. There are various implicatures in the original post that OP was worried about the degree to which they should judge grad students for failing to fulfill their expectations. OP specifically wondered: "maybe I am just expecting too much." Part of my original comment was to say: yes, you are expecting too much.

I think postdoc has diagnosed the general situation in these comments correctly. What rubbed me the wrong way with the original post wasn't that pragmatic advice was being given about an unfair situation in academia. The problem was how that 'advice' was given. The original post read to me as a laundry list of complaints *about* grad students rather than genuine advice *for* grad students. And even if OP were attempting to give pragmatic advice, I think in many instances it was bad advice. For instance, I don't think most professors would take issue with not receiving a follow up after sending a term paper. And while there is some chance for departmental improvement if one fills out a survey, there is also substantial risk that a grad student writes a complaint in such a way that it identifies them and thereby harms the student.

Let's not forget that I also gave some pragmatic advice to my fellow grad students in my first post, which was the following: if you think a professor is the type who would take great insult to not being thanked in the appropriate way or who would harm you in your career prospects because you didn't always do things they way they might have preferred, look elsewhere when constituting your committee. Yes, be polite to others, give them a heads up when you might inconvenience them, thank them (especially those in less prestigious positions than your own), etc. And, of course, seek out opportunities for dialogue and feedback. But don't work with petty people. Find those who have the rare combination of philosophical incisiveness and personal generosity. If you find yourself working with someone who takes great offense to small lapses in politeness, then your life will be more miserable than you can imagine while completing your PhD given the power differentials between faculty and grad students.

That should be the takeaway from what I have written.

Third Party

In addition to what Grad Student wrote: consider the asymmetry. When graduate students are rude to professors, professors can ruin their careers. Straight up. When professors (or departments!) are rude, there is no recourse whatsoever for graduate students for anything short of assault. This is not how it is in a normal company, where there are things like an HR department or a bosses’ boss that hold bosses accountable to norms. And if you don’t think HR or further bosses actually fulfill this function, then maybe philosophy should not reflect the petty tyranny of ordinary jobs. Again, this is what everyone in the thread is objecting to: not politeness norms, but attaching punishments to politeness norms in a fundamentally asymmetrical relationship. This leads to a lot of abuse, but nonetheless seems to be endorsed by faculty here (for some... reason...)

etiquette fan

All this talk of "tanking" students in letters of reference is a bit misleading. Imagine a student who is impeccably polite, never disappearing and engaging often and respectfully with faculty. This will impact my letter of reference for her - should it not? I wouldn't hold it against someone who failed to do these things in the sense of resent them or complain about them in a letter, but many things in the profession are zero-sum. Grad students who cultivate a reputation for being professional and responsive will be favored for jobs, as they should be, since ceteris paribus they will make better colleagues, better mentors for grad students and be easier to work with for administrators and assistants.


Third Party
I think you are over-optimistic about HR departments and the world outside universities. I worked out there before. The abuses of power are just as bad - I heard all sorts of sexist and racist remarks from bosses. And in many companies, HR departments are working in the company's interests, that is, protecting the company from litigation. So they are not nice neutral arbiters.


If reference letters are zero-sum, and you reward white people for white behaviors, then you are perpetuating a system of white supremacy. You are punishing people for not acting white. Straight up. You can try to justify it by saying that others will treat them this way too, but this is really just a way of stating your intention to be complicit. This is why all of these etiquette defenders have to ignore this dimension of comments from Grad Student, Fed Up, and Johnathan.

etiquette fan

Tyler, this rests on an empirical claim that at best is not established. On the other hand, when we reward students who are brilliant but unreliable over those who are polite and consistent, there is some evidence that suggests these students are more likely to be white, male and otherwise privileged (e.g. genius illusion).


Pointing out that “white people are rewarded even when they violate the ostensibly universal norms regularly used punitively against others” does not do the work that you think it does. If anything, it highlights how easy it is as a white person to flout such norms and still be considered ‘academic material,’ while others are not afforded the same opportunities. It highlights how unfairly and inconsistently professors wield punitive authority.

You say that the empirical claim (that etiquette norms in philosophy are white, they systematically favor white people) is “at best not established.” Really? I mean, Johnathan and Grad Student have done a pretty good job explaining how this jives with their first person experience. Do their experiences not matter? If anecdotal evidence isn’t enough, why is that everyone else in the discussion so far has been allowed to use them? I’m not going to reread what is rapidly approaching 50 comments, but I don’t recall *anyone* citing any empirical studies.

Why is this dimension of their comments consistently and intentionally ignored?

Is it not worthy of discussion? I mean, every response by Mike and Amanda has been to concede the *obvious* odiousness of these norms while claiming that, though these are unfortunate, students are better off knowing about them. Do we really have to relitigate, over and over and over again, how white philosophy is, when it slaps us in the face everyday?


"If reference letters are zero-sum, and you reward white people for white behaviors, then you are perpetuating a system of white supremacy. You are punishing people for not acting white. Straight up."

I think there are many of instances were white behavior is unfairly privileged in philosophy, including favoring students with white dress, white mannerisms, and white ways of speaking. That's very bad.

But I'm skeptical that that applies in this case. We're talking about doing things like acknowledging faculty when they help you, or taking them up on offers to talk. I'm pretty sure that insofar as there are any relevant culture norms (e.g., the norm to thank people), they extend well outside upper-middle class white America.

Also, the complaint is not that graduate students are engaging in *alternative* cultural performances of social reciprocity, but that many systematically miss these opportunities in ways that hurt not only their social networking, but also potential philosophical/educational development. Many of the explanations given here for why grad students do these things (e.g., out of anxiety) also have nothing directly to do with cultural norms.

All this might be irrelevant if, for some complex web of reasons, it turns out that these various behaviors manifest mostly in non-white students (and thus that any penalties will disproportionately affect them), but I would want to see data on that. My experience as a grad student and postdoc (I've never been faculty at a place with grad students) is that these behaviors are pretty randomly distributed among grad students.

etiquette fan

Tyler, it is worthy of discussion of course. But the question of the effect of how changing these behaviors might effect different racialized groups is extremely complicated. Some on this thread have suggested that judging students based on politeness advantages privileged students. I suspect it does the opposite just as often, so long as these norms are made explicit. On the whole, sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't, and I'm not denying anyone's personal anecdote. But the balance of whether adhering to or rejecting this norm advantages the already privileged is not something that can be addressed anecdotally, it requires empirical evidence.

I am not at all "relitigating how white philosophy is". It is brutally white. But let's not pretend working to undo that is simple.

Grad Student

@etiquette fan, you write:

"I wouldn't hold it against someone who failed to do these things in the sense of resent them or complain about them in a letter"

Great! In that case what I have said isn't really addressed to you. There is a significant difference between subscribing to the policy that one praises students for their impeccable etiquette as opposed to subscribing to the policy that one dunks on them for their perceived failings. I don't see why your praising a student in a letter about one way in which they excel necessarily takes away from another student. It doesn't strike me as 'zero-sum' in the way you claim. Other students may have different, more salient virtues that will take precedence in their letters. If anything, noting impeccable etiquette seems to imply that you have less to say about a student's more substantive abilities, which itself could raise a red flag to a hiring committee: "Grad Student has very nice hand writing" and all that. Failing to mention impeccable etiquette will not obviously harm a student, whereas complaining about a person's etiquette, rightly or wrongly, will certainly raise red flags.

I also want to clarify that I actually agree with what @4th says about the academia/business comparison. Some may have been led to suppose that I think HR departments, different organizational structuring, and the like result in better dynamics and so additional fairness in business. Nothing could be further from the truth. I generally despise HR departments and the way in which they often serve only to protect the employer's interests by, e.g., covering up company indiscretions through the use of NDAs. Strict government regulations in some (primarily European) countries may make it true that business has more protections than academia, but here in the United States nothing could be further from the truth. Our particular brand of capitalism leads to all kinds of corporate injustices, including petty power trips by incompetent bosses. My advice in these cases is similar to the advice I gave my fellow grad students: find a way to extricate yourself from this situation.

My point about the disanalogy between academia and business was simply that the set up in how one uses email is completely different and so the demand for sending thank you emails likely wouldn't manifest itself, nor would the significant overthinking about such emails that grad students often engage in. This is not to deny that bosses are often petty or can make your life hell. However, in business it would be exceptionally rare and petty for someone to complain to your team lead that you didn't thank them in the proper way for the report they sent you. Sometimes you send a thank you, other times you forget. To hold such a lapse, even a persistent lapse, against someone would be downright bonkers. A slight annoyance at the person who never thanks you is fair enough, but an attempt to influence the trajectory of their career is petty. Even in the so-called 360° annual review some employers now engage in (where everyone reviews everyone else) it would be excessively petty to cite a perceived lack of etiquette regarding thank-you emails rather than sticking to substantive grievances concerning poor work, poor collaboration, or a generally bad attitude.

There are, of course, other disanalogies. For instance, in business one could switch jobs much more easily. Of course, this is not always the case, as when you're entering an economic depression caused by a pandemic. Still, it's rare for even a powerful employer to have the kind of absolute control over your future that a letter writer on your committee has. When that situation obtains, it makes for great misery and long rants at happy hour. But often you can find a way out of this situation by switching teams, finding a new employer, going back to do your MBA, or even getting your boss promoted. This is wholly unlike the situation in academia where one usually can't go back several years and rewrite the dissertation with a new committee. What we shouldn't do is look at the awfulness of the business world and suppose that it provides a good pattern for us academics to follow. As I mentioned in my previous post, when particular displays of politeness are *forced* in business, the situation is often just as bad if not worse than the case we are envisioning between a professor and her grad student. In the United States, the dynamic between employees and management (or the customer) often is one of servility. It's not one that we should reinforce or seek to model in academia. Genuine displays of thankfulness can only be had among free and equal persons. Such displays can indeed take place even when there happens to be a power asymmetry between these two people, but not if there is a standing implicit threat that failing to demonstrate one's gratitude might seriously damage one's future employment prospects.

The original post didn't read like a general warning about the kind of inherently unjust dynamic I've just described. If it had, then I wouldn't have commented. Instead it read like a complaint about grad students (or underlings) that was sourced from within the system and served to reinforce its norms. Contrary to how some have interpreted my words, I do not possess an overly sanguine picture of how society is and ought to be structured, nor do I think OP has sinister motives or anything of that sort. Nor do I think that being polite and following rules of etiquette is usually a bad thing or inherently servile. But I suspect OP got fed up about some small annoyances and vented about them in a way that problematically reinforced a bad dynamic. So I responded to that feature of their post.

no longer a grad student

Re: disappearing from your committee

I was guilty of this when I was a grad student in a Leiterrific philosophy department. There were about a year and half at the beginning of my dissertation that I felt like I was adrift and I became very depressed. My advisors were not giving me very constructive feedback (they were not experts in the area I wanted to work in, but they were the closest that I could find in my department) and I felt like I didn't know what I was doing. I felt like I couldn't talk to my committee unless I have completely "figured things out" so as not to come across stupid - I knew I depended on their positive opinion for my career, which further paralyzed me. When my advisor finally reached out to me to stage some kind of "intervention," I tried to explain the depression and how I had recently joined the dissertation support group run by the university counseling center. What I was told by my advisor that (a) if I couldn't take the pressure and produce writing consistently, then I was not cut out of grad school, and (b) when my advisor joined a dissertation support group when they were in grad school, the support group was useless ("they don't understand how philosophy works"). I was flabbergasted and cried in their office. I felt ashamed and humiliated.

I want to stress to faculty to be sensitive to the mental health needs of your grad students. Avoidance is a key sign of depression.

Faculty members ought to "lower the stakes" when interacting with grad students - not every interaction is about evaluating your worth as a philosopher. Making students feel like every interaction with you is about making a good impression or about what will go into a letter that will decide your career is exactly the wrong thing to do. Interact with your grad students like they are human - they will have strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes it's okay to get have a silly conversation where the expectation is not that one is being evaluated. Helping grad students realize that they can come to you with "stupid" or "half baked" ideas, and that will not be held against them, will help with the disappearing problem.

Marcus Arvan

no longer a grad student: I am very sorry to hear you were treated so horribly. What you describe is a lot of what is wrong with the culture in philosophy--and I hope this blog and stories like yours can help the discipline see that we need to do better.

May I ask whether you stayed in academia? Or did this kind of treatment drive you out? I don't mean to pry, so don't feel like you need to answer. But the reason I ask is that I did something very similar, and the only reason I think I am still in academia is that my advisor behaved very differently. I'm curious whether, in your case, your advisor's behavior affected your career long-term.

no longer a grad student

@ Marcus Arvan: There is a happy ending! I did finish grad school, got a post-doc, and I recently accepted a TT job in philosophy. I think that conversation in my advisor's office helped to crystalize for me that I needed to find allies and people out of my committee who will give me the kind of support I needed. The dissertation support group helped me see how my advisor's behavior did not reflect on my worth as a philosopher. I was lucky that there were other philosophers around who encouraged me and read my drafts and gave me constructive feedback.

If any other grad student is reading, I hope that you know you can make "mistakes" in grad school and still come out on the other side. (As far as I know) all my committee members wrote me positive letters, even though I went through a period of disappearance and depression - grad school is tough!

Thank you for running this blog; it has been useful to me as I navigated the job market in the past!

I only wanted to tell my personal experience because I can understand why grad students would behave in the ways that the OP tip giver finds objectionable - and to make clear how NOT to react when your grad students do make the listed mistakes. I think often it comes out of a place of fear. If you drop a class, you are afraid to offend the instructor, so you don't say anything hoping that the instructor doesn't notice. When feedback is asked and no one replies, maybe it is because there are a lot of grievances and grad students feel powerless to change anything. Telling the faculty that you are unhappy in an anonymous survey, which will prob change nothing, doesn't seem useful when you are struggling to finish your dissertation. Grad departments are small and I think people fear that even anonymous negative feedback will be held against them.

Prof L

This is great advice for professors, no_longer. I also recall that anxiety of composing an email to my advisor, beating myself up over having said something stupid in office hours, and so on.

At the same time, as a professor I now realize how overblown these anxieties were. I devote very little head space to judging my students. If they make a typo or a mistake or address me too informally or formally or whatever in an email, I probably don't even notice it, I certainly don't think about it. Colleagues and students say things that are wrong or uninformed *all the time*, I don't really care, think about it, or remember. I've been wrong enough to know that no one's an expert on everything, and especially in students, building up the requisite knowledge takes time. I want my students to succeed and I think of myself as trying to help them do that. If they write a paper that needs work, I think "this needs work, we should work on this" not "so-and-so will never make it!" I do not think of myself as a judge, my primary role is to teach and advise them. I know one day I will write them a letter, but that is not at all on my radar. I think this attitude is almost universal among faculty, at least in my experience.

UK Grad

It seems that some posters here interpret the OP as saying that not writing a thank-you note to a professor who's offered feedback comes at the risk of a bad recommendation letter. Since I interpreted the OP in a very different way, I thought it could be helpful to put across my perspective. I'm not saying that any of the previous posters are wrong - I personally have no idea what the OP's 'true' intention was.

As I understand the OP, their point is that it is important to *keep the conversation going*. The best way to do this is to respond in some detail, but even if this is not possible, a quick thank you is helpful in establishing an *exchange*. For example, having thanked someone before makes it much easier to get in touch at a later stage with a more detailed response, whereas it's quite awkward to never reply to someone's email and then a few months later ask for further advice (and yes, many faculty are guilty of this too!). The thank-you is also an *acknowledgement* that you've read or will read someone's feedback. When someone has spent the time to comment on your work (especially if this is not as part of their regular duties, as I understood the OP), that person would surely appreciate to know that you'll have a look at it.

With regard to the impact on letters of recommendation, I thought the OP's implication was that establishing such a conversation means a professor will *get to know you*. This puts them in a better position to write a positive letter. On the other hand, not engaging in conversation and exchange "makes if far more likely they won't think anything about you either way, positive or negative, and this makes it much harder to write a strong letter." This also seems to be the point in the other instances the OP mentions recommendation letters: "it is hard to write good letters for students when you don't know them well and you don't know their work well." This seems to me a very different point from the interpretation of some posters above, namely that professors hold infractions of the etiquitte *against* students in their letters.

To sum up, I think that the OP makes an important point in emphasising the benefits of *keeping the conversation going*. It's all too easy - as I know from experience - to not write a response in fear of striking the wrong tone or asking too much. But I think the OP's point is that it's often *worth it* to respond and *exchange* comments and opinions. Such an exchange is both a *learning experience*, but also a good way of establishing a *professional relationship* that puts professors in a relationship to *help you*.

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