Calling for a Friday e-mail amnesty

For academics there are a lot of e-mails in our lives. From the moment we wake up till the moment we go to bed, we are being constantly bombarded by a virtual nerf dart assault of spammy conference invites and pleading students. It’s practically an occupational hazard and one that is, in the main, mildly annoying. But occasionally in this barrage there are some e-mails that send cold shivers down our spines, in particular the twin scary communications of paper and grant replies.

The most anxietyest e-mails

“Dear Applicant” or “Dear Author” is at any stage of your career a terrifying thing to see in your e-mail account. Just those words instil near paralysing fear that could only be worse if the opening lines also included a clown face and a balloon 🤡🎈.

Both papers and grants are the product of impressive amounts of work (mostly) and in some cases a big part of our plans for the future.

One study I found randomly via google (only the highest quality research here) estimated that papers take an average of 40 hours work to write. The last paper I submitted was sent-in about 3 years after we first started working on it and in combination with my other 6 co-authors was a damned sight more than 40 hours of work.

A grant is often an even larger amount of work and can be for hundreds of thousands of monies. For new researchers, the grant might be the difference between a job and unemployment. For senior researchers, the difference between a basement lab and a nice corner lab on the top floor. Getting one can make a huge difference in your ability to pay the bills (or the size of your ego).

So, understanding the near life changing and validating scope of theses e-mails you can appreciate the intense emotions that come with receiving one, and the stress and anxiety that swirls in your mind.

Which is why it’s so mind bogglingly infuriating when these editors/funders keep sending out these e-mails at five pm on a Friday!

Friday!! WHY FRIDAY

Of my last 4 papers ALL of them have sent me decisions on Friday. The last grant I applied for let me know it was rejected Saturday morning. One person on twitter said they recently found out about their fellowship when they woke up Sunday morning.

Editors and funders are real human people (probably) who have at some point all been on the other side of these decisions. Surely they must appreciate the impact these e-mails can have! It can’t have to do with deadlines because I don’t think I’ve ever had either a paper or a grant back by the date that has been initially suggested (or often even the same month).

Is there something in editors/funders that compels them to only send e-mails on Fridays? Is there a complex reason for not sending out e-mails say on a Tuesday morning when the person might be at work with supportive colleagues or at the very least able to contact co-authors etc.?

The only possible reason I can think of is that the people making these decisions are often other academics that tend to put things off till the last minute. So the decision is made late on Friday, then in a dizzying fit of efficiency not seen anywhere else in the process, the editor/funder feels compelled to inform the applicant immediately with a near religious fervour.

A fervour that I have a suspicion is born out of their related obsession with having nothing in their inbox, not any e-mail from any of the applicants.

Stop it now

Obviously one solution to this is to turn my e-mail off the second I leave the office.

I could do that. If only it wasn’t for the billion things I still need to do as an academic outside of hours, like talk to students, communicate with partners in different timelines and get updates from my lab on whether or not it’s currently on fire (last e-mail said not, so we’re all good). For some this is a perfectly reasonable option, for others like myself it isn’t that simple.

Or, and I realise this is crazy talk but, maybe just maybe the editors/funders could pause for just a moment and think “Hmm you know I think this rejection for 5 million monies grant we’ve been reviewing for 6 months can wait till Monday, rather than sending it out from my Sunday breakfast table”.

Just MAYBE they could hold off until the start of the following week – would the world really end? Would their todo list implode if this job stayed on it one more day?

So if you are an editor or a funder please, please resist the urge to send that e-mail for just one more day and go do something else. I realise this goes against every evil fiber of your being, but look deep into the cold empty space where your heart used to be and resist hitting send for just a little while longer.

One thought on “Calling for a Friday e-mail amnesty

  • November 30, 2017 at 13:30
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    The problem here is you seem to be assuming “Journal editor” is their job. I assume it’s the same for funders, but journal editors have a regular lecturing job that is their primary concern. Journal editing is what happens around the edges when they don’t have other work to do, which often means later on a Friday when they’re thinking “I’ve done X, Y and Z from my todo list, I’ve technically got A and B I should have done as well but there’s no point in starting them now and then leaving them over the weekend (and I *need* a weekend), I’ll get some journal reviews done”. And then the journal reviews take a while so they end up working late. Editing a journal (a prestigious one at least) looks good on your CV, but doesn’t actually get your current employer much in the way of kudos. So they’re unlikely to give you time/a workload drop to be able to fit it in.

    If they left the journal reviews to Monday, they wouldn’t get done. Monday, they start working on A and also have the todo list for *that* week to kick off, then someone higher up comes in and dumps a load more additional work they weren’t expecting and needs to be done ASAP on them, so the journal reviews get kicked to the end of the list again. If they do the review on Friday and wait till Monday just to send the email then chances are it’ll be forgotten. Academics aren’t the most organised of people, and if something is done (i.e. some journal editing for specific papers has been done) then it’s no longer on their mind. Come Monday morning, even with the aid of automated reminders and such (assuming they’re technical enough to do that sort of thing), I guarantee you they’d forget to send off about 50% of the reviews as immediate distractions come in just as they’ve acknowledged the reminder, or they’re in a meeting when it triggers, or whatever.

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