asking for an appointment

One of my pet peeves is an email that says: “Would you be available for an appointment some time?” but does not give information about when that person is available. The answer to such a request is rarely “No.” This is really an opening gambit for and exchange that will involve finding a time to meet. I would prefer if the opening email asking for the appointment also indicates the blocks of time the sender is likely to be available as I feel I’ll end up spending a lot less time on the scheduling exchange if the asker goes first in listing the possible times they are available. I’ve told students this, and they tell me that it seems presumptuous in sending the initial email to presume that you will agree to meet with them and offer times and that is why they start with what seems like the most humble request. (Although most do comply when they figure out that is how I prefer to operate.)

What do the rest of you think? Am I wrong to want people to list their schedules in the first ask? Or are the students right that seeming to presuppose a yes answer may rub people the wrong way? Are there professors who do in fact take offense if a student presupposes that the request for an appointment will lead to a scheduling negotiation?

13 Comments

  1. Posted September 30, 2013 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    I also find this annoying, simply because of the nuisance of back and forth emails to settle on a mutually suitable time. This semester, I’ve been using a web service called You Can Book Me, and it has made my life a little easier. My students also seem to like the convenience.

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    • Posted October 1, 2013 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      I used the appointment feature in Google Calendar until they disabled it. I agree, it did help a lot.

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  2. J Micah Roos
    Posted October 1, 2013 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    My habits are from my days in industry, but they work well as far as I can tell: The underlying assumption is that scheduling inconveniences roll downhill.

    If I am asking a peer for a meeting, I’ll offer some times, tailored to what I know of their schedule. If I am setting a time for a student to meet, I’ll give them one or two possibilities and leave the gymnastics to them. If I am asking a superior (broadly defined), first I’ll ask if they even want to have a meeting – often enough they will then treat me like a subordinate and pick a time. Who considers who a peer vs subordinate is probably a rather subjective area, and treating someone like a peer who considers you their subordinate may be presumptuous. In some cases regular meetings with someone with more or less status than you can make the interaction more like a peer interaction, but that is no guarantee. If you are the one interacting “uphill” the risk of offense is all yours.

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    • Posted October 1, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      Hmmm. OK. So the students are following industry norms. I’ll revise my “expected interactions” thusly: round 1, open-ended can I have an appointment is ok. High status person offers convenient times. If those don’t work, round 2 low status person gives extensive information back about when you COULD meet, not just “are there any other times?” which opens the door to endless back and forth. High status person can speed this process on round 1 by offering times and saying “if those don’t work, give me information about your schedule.”

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  3. Jenn Lena
    Posted October 1, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    I *loathe* the back-and-forth about appointments. I’ve used wejoinin.com so that all I have to do is reply to appointment requests with a boilerplate email directing them to the site.

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  4. Posted October 1, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    An alternative, which I use, is just to have open stretches of time. I say to people, “I am around most afternoons from 1-5pm. Drop me an email before you drop by to make sure I am not in a committee meeting.”

    Since most meetings are short, the interruption of work is mitigated by all the time saving:

    – you save time writing email
    – you save time managing your schedule
    – easy to triage when you show up in person
    – no time is wasted for no-shows

    It’s something more people should try.

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  5. krippendorf
    Posted October 2, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    “An alternative, which I use, is just to have open stretches of time.”

    Wow. Must be nice.

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  6. SD
    Posted October 2, 2013 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    @krippendorf : that is unnecessarily snarky. Just because some people know how to manage their time and take out chunks of time to meet with graduate students, doesn’t mean they lack other commitments. Some of the most productive scholars I know are also the ones who don’t mind their graduate students dropping in for a chat in these “stretches of time” (I’m not a student of fabio, btw)

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    • krippendorf
      Posted October 2, 2013 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

      Wasn’t intended to be snark. More of a comment on my own calendar, really.

      I suspect Fabio’s ability to find long stretches of time when he can be available for drop-ins is related to his ability to triage service requests (coupled, most likely, with his career stage). Again, not snark, just an observation. Tinged with a bit of wistfulness, no doubt.

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  7. Posted October 3, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    As someone at a VERY different career stage and social location from Fabio – I do the same thing. It’s way easier for me to tell students simply, “I’ll be in my office most of the afternoon; drop in.” Then, as he says, I’m not waiting for them – I’m working – and I’m not arranging any schedules around them – if I step out and they miss me because they haven’t nailed down a time, it’s their loss, not mine. From my perspective the main thing this is dependent upon is having an office in which one works regularly, rather than career stage and service.

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  8. Posted October 3, 2013 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    What I’ve learned from this exchange is that we all have different ideas about the best way to handle appointments (or office hours) and I should be gentle with the folks trying to schedule with me.

    Regarding the “drop in” model, I wonder if it is related not only to work habits (time in office) and temperament (how do you deal with interruptions) but also to the number of students/people trying to see you and what you think the meetings are for. I find the drop in model leads to too many people coming by at the same time. As a typical grad student appointment is an hour, that is a long time to leave someone else sitting around in the hall waiting for a turn. While quick questions often work in the drop in mode (and my job now that I’m chair is to sit in the chair’s office and be available for drop ins), serious talks about a thesis to me don’t seem to, as it helps if I have read the work in question before we meet.

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  9. Posted October 3, 2013 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    @krippendorf: Not sure about the career stage thing. I’m an associate with multiple director jobs at a top 20 program. Instead, it’s about other issues. I think it’s partly an Indiana thing. We aren’t committee crazy like most departments. So it is quite possible to have to a semi-normal schedule. We simply don’t ask for meetings unless we need it.

    As o.w. points out, it’s also type of appointments + temperament + triaging skill. I find it unusually easy to see a few people and then quickly sort them. I don’t like interruptions, but I tolerate them well. Also, I find it hard in advance to really figure out who really needs an hour and who needs a minute. Face to face works well for me.

    Another side of this is that students who know your method will adjust. For example, if we really need an hour for PhD advising, and they see me bombarded by undergrad theory students, they’ll come back the next day after the assignment is due. It’s nice because (a) they don’t wait in the hall way and (b) they don’t “lose” their appointment if the earlier folks run long. An unexpected issue means you get shifted a day, not a few weeks like some busy faculty.

    Finally, I think there is a “Fabio fixed effect” at work. Relative to other faculty, very few people want to work with me. One reason is that I do organization studies and movements in a department that is not known for either. Even though I get good evaluations from undergrads and people seem to like me, I am not touchy feely, so few people just hang out. And I am the rare faculty member of color that does not attract a disproportionate amount of attention from graduate students of color. I won’t speculate as to why this is, but it does mean that I am not “over subscribed” like some faculty members of color. I can more easily manage my schedule.

    What I’m really trying to get at with this comment is that the suggestion for “drop in” hours is not as crazy as it sounds. It is not for everyone, but maybe more people should try it, if you share some of the traits I listed above (mellow dept, good triage skills, you aren’t “oversubscribed,” etc).

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  10. krippendorf
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    A colleague of mine in economics requires his students to send him written agendas in advance of their meetings, which are all by appointment. He claims that because students have to plan and prepare for the meetings, the meetings themselves are higher quality and more efficient. The students have thought more about what they really want to get out of the meetings, he can think about the students’ agenda items in advance, and they can cover more territory in the same amount of time.

    I don’t use this model myself and I’m not even sure it would fly in most sociology programs, given the very different culture of soc departments compared to econ departments (on average). The point is simply that there are multiple models for meeting with students, and that a bit of formality might serve students well in the long run.

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