September 22, 2010

Automated Message

Category: Academic,Humor — Biella @ 6:04 pm

So I suspect folks have received a message from a professor when on sabbatical and it usually goes something like this:

Thank you for your message. This is an automated reply.
I am on sabbatical leave and unable to reply to my email. For all matters concerning the __________________________ Department of __________ Contact ____________–.
Thank you for your patience,
Professor …

I have been thinking of writing one myself, being I am also on sabbatical but thought I might be a bit more honest and forthcoming. This is what I have so far come up with:

Thank you for your message. This is an automated reply. I am on sabbatical leave and while I am able to reply to my email, in fact, I have a heck of a lot more time compared to when I teach, it is customary to write a message like this and claim otherwise.

However, being on leave does relieve you of (most) all department responsibilities. And given the grueling pace of academic jobs and the contemporary burden of email avalanches we all suffer from, I am taking the license (the sabbatical license) to say: 1) I may never get back to you 2) I may but it may take longer than usual 3) honestly I suffer from MEAD (Massive Email Anxiety Disorder) and hate it when people don’t respond to me, so I will likely get back to you but don’t you get MEAD if I fail to do so.

Thanks for your patience,
Gabriella Coleman
On leave 2010-2011


  1. The last sentence can stand on its own and, in an anthropological context, could have interesting implications,

    There’s a lot of discussion about email overload and there’s some thought on the power relationships in asynchronous communication (Broadbeck was on France Culture’s “Place de la toile” thoughtful Web-focused show about this, this week).
    Seems like we’re still negotiating these norms of behaviour. Sometimes, canned responses can help. But all the tricks and tips about email management can help, including three-line replies , email bankruptcy, and “Aent from my iPhone” signatures.
    MEAD may not be an actual disorder (and Bateson would have interesting insight to share if it were) but the anxiety involved has a broad scope. And some of it has to do with social structure.
    Maybe we’re too accessible.

    Sent from my iPad

    Comment by Alexandre — September 23, 2010 @ 4:43 am

  2. Best automated reply ever.

    Comment by Nicole — September 23, 2010 @ 7:18 am

  3. My advice: use a sabbatical autoreply saying you might be delayed responding.

    Then, respond to your emails at a pace with which you’re comfortable, using your usual criteria about whether a reply is in your interests, or ethically the right thing to do, or a complete waste of your valuable time.

    Don’t use the “honest” one.

    Comment by Andrew Chadwick — September 23, 2010 @ 7:28 am

  4. personally… i like it when people either reply or don’t reply. I don’t like automated replies. I don’t mind being ignored, but i really dislike being told that i’m being ignored. I don’t like non-replies either, but i understand non-replies much better than… auto-replies.

    that said, currently i don’t have any business emailing you, though I do have some leads that might interest you if they ever develop to anything, re hackers, social innovation, participatory stuff.

    Comment by jeremy — September 23, 2010 @ 7:32 am

  5. It is interesting, for me, to see the different ways that people negotiate this particular thing.

    Over at work, some people are surprised that I: 1) avoid top-quoting and think it’s a misfeature that Outlook leads people to do it, and 2) never set a vacation message on my email but do on my voicemail.

    The reason for #2 is pragmatic, but also seems to be common with sysadmin types: if a computer responds to email for me for any length of time, it is going to be rude to someone or something without my knowledge.

    I am on a lot of mailing lists. One bane of the mailing list administrator’s existence is automated vacation messages that get sent to thousands of people. I’ve been on the receiving end of that stuff for too long to inflict it on others. Of course, I can try to craft a filter so it doesn’t hit those, but I’m on *so many* that it is unlikely I’d get them all.

    I also get all manner of automated messages sent to me: cron job output, status of those servers I ordered last month, warnings about expiring warranties, notification that a system is sick, etc. While many vacation programs try to not send many replies to a single sender, these represent dozens of senders and I’d likely annoy my colleagues for some weeks before they were all tired out.

    Now, probably few of my colleagues outside of IT or maybe engineering have any of these considerations at all. I doubt very much that any of our accounting people are on mailing lists. So what you are doing is probably just fine and not rude at all (actually refreshingly honest!). But you asked, so you got an answer ;-)

    Comment by John Goerzen — September 23, 2010 @ 7:32 am

  6. John, that’s why you set your vacation message to only auto-respond to messages which have your address(es) in the “To:” field.

    Personally I say use the short version. The honest version, though honest, somehow feels more personally punitive. If you don’t reply it then means that my message has been individually rejected.

    Just say you’re on sabbatical and will only be responding to email sporadically.


    Comment by Adam Shand — September 23, 2010 @ 8:02 am

  7. I’m with Adam. I know it would be nice to go for the honest version, but then whoever you don’t respond to will be more likely to be offended – nicer to lower everyone’s expectations together and surprise some of them with a personally crafted reply.

    Faced with the ‘honest’ version a person with MEAD would be more stressed, not less :-)


    Comment by Andrew McMillan — September 23, 2010 @ 1:17 pm

  8. [...] Interprete Automated Message – view page – cached So I suspect folks have received a message from a professor when on sabbatical and it usually goes something like this: Tweets about this link [...]

    Pingback by Twitter Trackbacks for Interprete Automated Message [] on — September 24, 2010 @ 5:37 am

  9. I agree that short and sweet is optimal. You’re out, you’re not able to respond and if the recipient of the autoreply has a syllabutical emergency, please contact such and such. Your email is funny, and certainly more human than my recommendation, but brevity rules with these let-down replies (and you should even be able to work in a pun).

    Comment by Looby — October 19, 2010 @ 6:35 pm

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