It’s 1 a.m. in the Alice Cook Gothics and my contact-lensed eyes are burning as I stare into my laptop screen. My roommate is snoring gently and all I have to do is fire off a few quick notes before I can hit the twin bed. I assume my signature slump against my pillows and start typing.
“Dear Professor, would you be so kind as to …?” No, it’s not the 1800s. “I was wondering if I could ask you to …” Why am I wondering instead of just asking? No one wants to be that kid who starts essays with “I think” instead of cutting to the opinion. “Would you mind …?” Something feels off, but I continue. I agonize over the conclusion: “Sincerely” is too formal, I’ve said “Thank you” no less than 22 times in the email and though “Love” is probably the most accurate (the Professor is a PILF), I settle on “Best Regards” and send my paragraph into the void. My inner masochist urges me to reread it once sent — I’ve spelled my first name wrong.
Writing emails is the soul-sucking WORST. Why it takes me an hour to formulate two sentences asking a professor to change my grade from the four percent he entered into Blackboard to the 40 percent I actually earned (at this point, does it even matter?) is a point of constant amazement to my family. Cornellians, unite. Admit it. You’ve definitely meticulously crafted an email that is unnecessarily apologetic, ingratiatingly brimming with gratitude and could successfully ask for your correspondent’s hand in marriage … all to stay in the good graces of a professor who once called you ‘Miss Purple Jacket’ in Bailey Hall. You reread your piece of art for the seventh time, click send and heave a sigh of relief. Three days later, the professor replies, “Sure, whatever — Sent from my iPhone.” You begin the process of concocting an even more grateful follow up.
And this is the best-case scenario. Don’t even get me started on the angst of asking a professional contact if she could go over your resume “real quick when she has a chance,” or reaching out to someone you’ve never met on the advice of a casual acquaintance (“Just mention that you know my husband’s dog’s uncle! They went to college together!”) or following up after your dream job when the interview lasted 10 minutes and no one’s gotten back to you for … 10 months.
Cornell, can we please, please have a class on this? A flowchart? A detailed set of rules? For example, a how-to guide on an email to a distant family member, as you wonder innocuously about any summer jobs she might have at her law office:
Dear Aunt (who I threw up on when I was three and never saw again),
How are you? How is your daughter? I hope her college applications are going well. If she wants to talk (about how I made the horrible mistake of getting stuck on an Ivy-League glacier), I’d love to help out!
Remember to include questions about adored spawn, and offer help before you raise your own request.
Now onto the body:
My mother mentioned that you worked at Snooty & Snootier law firm. I am a history major (hopefully — I forgot to submit my application to the college) at Cornell and am looking for internships in the legal field (as I frantically attempt to begin a career that will leave me financially stable). If your firm hires any undergraduates over the summer, I would love to be considered (I will fetch coffee, make copies, do any soul-numbing, menial task). Thank you so much for your time! I would love to see you at the family reunion in (god-forsaken, who-chose-this-state) Alaska this summer.
Get straight to the point, throw in the Ivy League clout. Make sure to thank the relative, and once again, emphasize the family connection even though you know she and your mother have been feuding for the past decade. Cross your fingers, pray, hope for the best. Conclusion:
I miss the third grade days where the biggest worry about emails was whether to change your signature from a breezy and cosmopolitan “chiao” (this was my actual fourth-grade signature — che bello!) to “Live, Laugh, Love.” Or whether the email you forwarded to your 50 best friends that guaranteed your crush would kiss you tomorrow was actually a virus. Or whether the nasty rant you sent Mimi over the club she and Emily secretly made to exclude you from the friend group counted as cyber-bullying.
But enough reminiscing. Email writing is a pain, a punishment from God sent in the name of ‘networking.’ Words can come across badly enough in person, and that’s with the weapons of vocal tone and facial expression in your arsenal. But sending digital communications splayed blandly on a white screen is playing with fire. Cornell, universities nationwide, the Gods Above — please, create a class, an acceptable template — a support group! From Archies, to engineers, to Klarmanites, the woe and discomfort of email writing unites students campus-wide, as anxious 20-somethings striving for professionalism in a shark tank incubator of finance bros. And kids, this doesn’t get easier; I’m a junior facing my third career fair, comfortable in the knowledge that no matter how charmingly and consistently I email Goldman, they’ll never email back. So please, end my anguish over which phrases would be acceptable to address my mentor’s favorite professor’s grad student, who’d “probably, maybe, love to speak with you — shoot them an email.”
Pallavi Kenkare is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jabberwocky runs every other Wednesday this semester.