High school email-an-expert projects: Respond or ignore?

I have been experiencing a sharp uptick in high school projects that are apparently titled: "Email questions to some random expert on the internet" lately.

Is anyone else getting these?

Do you respond? In what depth?

17 responses so far

  • AcademicLurker says:

    It depends. Were they asking for your advice on which study section to submit to? The perennial RO1 vs R21 conundrum? If so, I think you should help out.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Very funny, AL.

  • Grumble says:

    When I get one from a high school in an underprivileged neighborhood, I respond. When I get one from the Snootsville Day Academy, I ignore it, because if you want me to help your rich ass get into Harvard, my assistance is not going to be gratis.

    Same goes for judging your goddamn science fair.

    Problem is, I've gotten zero requests from the former kind of high school and several from the latter.

  • I always respond. But all of these questions can be answered by some bibliographic research and reading, then I point the student towards what to read.

    And there was an excellent handling of this last year by Carl Zimmer, actually.


  • Dave says:

    Grumble living up to his name!!!

  • Pinko Punko says:

    I just got my first one yesterday. I guess I have no idea.

  • Grumble says:

    Damn straight.

  • Pat says:

    I get a lot of these--if the kids haven't done their homework I give them a pretty generic answer and some urls. The ones who do know what they are talking about I give more thoughtful answers (and then ask they send me a copy of what they write/submit-- accountability is always good)

  • Susan says:

    Recently I got a request probably not from a hs student, but from "My name's Joe Schmo and I'm writing an op-ed piece for an online publication about Subject". The email went on to request that I provide peer-reviewed research in Subject, and some specific questions/areas in particular, because he was having trouble locating source material.

    But Mr. Schmo did not provide any source of personal credibility, only a gmail address; any professional crediblity, like where he expected to publish or where he'd published before; or any indication of his own efforts towards understanding Subject or preliminary source material.

    So ... I did not jump on that opportunity.

  • Susan says:

    (to be clear, I changed only the name and Subject in the sentence I quoted. the rest of the vagueness was what he wrote)

  • dsks says:

    I've never had one. Now I feel professionally diminished.

  • I've gotten several of these, and I try to answer, but it isn't clear to me why teachers think this is a good idea or what it is supposed to teach. I don't go around sending unsolicited e-mails when I have a question about something; I do some reading, and if that isn't enough, I ask my questions on a relevant Internet forum. I think a more realistic assignment would be to post a question on a message board like SeqAnswers and then summarize the replies in a report.

  • imager says:

    I had a few where the teacher also emailed me and we met. Those were usually pretty good.

  • Jon C. Jensen says:

    I replied to in a similar vein to proflikesubtance's follow up, but thinking about Jonathon Badger's comment I'm curious, is this blog not "a relevant internet forum"?

    While I don't send unsolicited emails, I do sometimes drop in on instructors at my college and ask "Do you have a few minutes for a question?" It seems to me that an email to someone with a science blog isn't that different.

  • Jon C. Jensen says:

    Tangentially, I have a half-dozen unsent draft emails along the lines of:

    Dear Tenured Professor/Major Textbook Author,

    In my duties as a tutor for a class using your textbook I couldn't help but notice the following egregious error/typo/oversight...

    If I'm mistaken could you explain my mistake, if not do you have plans to correct this in a future edition?

    I've never had the courage to hit "send", mostly because I assume they are busy and that others would have made the same point, but I do hope that anyone who would put their name on textbook would be willing to accept legitimate criticism.

  • The Other Dave says:

    Jon- SEND THOSE EMAILS. Textbook authors and publishers love it when you help.

  • Cynthia Wolberger says:

    I always respond - it doesn't take much effort and you could be encouraging a budding young scientist. I politely decline to help students with their homework if I get the sense they are trying to take the easy way out, but I do help out if it is clearly a project or question where the advice of an expert could make a difference.

    I recently heard back from a girl in the U.K. who had asked for help with a project she was working on (I answered some factual questions and also suggested some resources). She wrote recently to thank me, sent me her final paper (which was excellent) and shared the news that she had been admitted to Cambridge University. I was delighted to hear from her again and was gratified that I could help a talented student in some small way.

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