it’s not just helicopter parents — it’s helicopter professors too

A reader writes:

I’m fairly new to the workforce – just a couple years of experience. I’m the internship coordinator in my department at a cultural nonprofit, so I field a lot of questions from students (applicants and general interest) about how to make it in our industry. At least once a month, I get an email with questions, and I’m always happy to help – I remember being in their shoes!

However, sometimes a student will email me, and before I have a chance to reply (within a couple hours!) their professor will follow up and ask if I received the email and if I’m going to answer. This is usually accompanied by some guilt-trip language about how they asked because of a homework assignment and I’m affecting their grade if I don’t reply. (This has happened twice in the past three months, and from different schools so it’s not an isolated incident. Ick.)

Here’s the one I got today, after a student emailed asking for an informational interview (and I had already agreed!):

“I have been notified by Jane Doe that she asked you to be her Ask-A-Designer for my summer class, Advanced Design. She is required to ask a professional designer 10 questions I wrote and 5 of her own for a homework assignment. Did you receive her email? If you agree to be her Ask-A-Designer, please download the attached assignment sheet and read the instructions. I need you to return the sheet to me if you agree to participate.

Jane’s grade is dependent upon this assignment, so it’s important that you do it. Let me know if you have a question.”

It occasionally happens with internship applicants, as well, and unfortunately for the students, rules them out of the first round. We love our interns but we don’t have time to deal with weird needy professors.

I sometimes also receive emails from faculty advisers asking why I didn’t choose their student for an internship or trying to verify if their students’ application materials were received. Those are easier to answer – we only communicate about applications with the candidates themselves and cannot confirm or deny receipt to outsiders. I have been debating whether I should tell those professors that their actions reflect poorly on those applicants, and generally get them disqualified. But the ones that come from professors about homework assignments are baffling to me…. I have no idea how to reply.

It’s really off-putting and frankly feels strange. I don’t want to feel like I’m getting homework assignments from random professors I’ve never met. On the other hand, our industry is very small and I feel I’m sort of representing the company with my reply. What should I say back? (Or am I overreacting by thinking it’s weird?)

Whoa. No, you are not overreacting by thinking it’s weird.

It’s very, very weird.

What the hell, professors of the world?

Professors are not their students’ assistants, and they should not be facilitating this type of correspondence on their behalf. Nor should they be acting as if total strangers are in any way obligated to them or their students. Their students are requesting a favor, and they should do it in the most gracious, least time-consuming way to you possible — which means that you shouldn’t get double emails, you shouldn’t get an email from anyone but them, and you certainly shouldn’t be presented with demands.

If I were you, I’d write back to this professor and say: “I’m glad to talk with students who contact me directly, to the extent that my schedule permits — but I’m confused about why you’re reaching out as well, rather than allowing Jane to manage the contact herself (as someone asking for a professional favor would normally do).”

It’s pretty screwed up that in the very process of encouraging students to learn about the work world (hence the assignment to talk to someone in their field), they’re hand-holding them as if they’re third graders, undermining the way they come across to potential networking contacts, and missing a major opportunity to help them practice basic professional skills.

{ 245 comments… read them below }

  1. Bluefish*

    Yuck. I can only imagine this is the result of professors having to deal with excuses of why the project doesn’t get done, or gets done late. Basically, “I have proof they said they would do this for you, so please don’t tell me you need an extension because they bailed”. Instead the professor should probably make it clear that part of the assignment is managing task like a professional. If it doesn’t get done on time they will be marked down, accordingly. Regardless of the excuse. You are responsible for the outcome even if someone flakes on you. It’s called accountability folks! And it should be learned at an early age!

    1. Andrea*

      Yeah, I can almost guarantee that the student is way behind on the assignment and has maybe missed a deadline altogether, and then tells the professor that the person never emailed them back. Then, student immediately emails for help with an assignment, a week or so after they should have, and the professor thinks, well, maybe I should reach out and make sure that my student can get what she needs for the assignment, since she hasn’t gotten this information yet. I taught at the college level, and I dealt with this kind of thing a lot—and I’m sorry, AAM, but I think you have missed the real situation here. In these situations, the only way I ever got involved was if the student could produce proof that they had indeed tried to get the information sooner and that they had followed up appropriately. But almost always, they couldn’t, and were just hoping to buy some extra time by claiming that someone else was holding them up.

      1. Colette*

        Even if that’s the case, why would you want to alienate people who are helping you out of the goodness of their heart?

        1. Andrea*

          I don’t want to do anything, and this isn’t at all how I would have dealt with this situation when I was teaching. That said, I don’t know that the professor’s email, described here, is especially alienating. Inappropriate, sure. But in any case, I’d suggest that the OP reply saying that she only received the initial inquiry from the student on (time & date), and forward the email from the student to the professor if necessary.

          I used to give an assignment that required something similar to this from students, but they had to contact people who had already agreed to help, and students had to follow clear deadlines and guidelines along the way.

          1. fposte*

            It would alienate me considerably, so I’m calling it “alienating” on that basis.

          2. EngineerGirl*

            It is absolutely alienating. Someone, with whom I had no prior agreement, emails me and demands that I follow rules that they have created. No, no, no, no, no. Delete.

            If the profs want that level of micromanagement they should work to create an agreement between the university and the company. That should all be performed ahead of time, with inputs from both sides.

            But out of the blue like that? No way.

            1. NotAnExpert*

              Yes – this. I regularly place students in internships using this kind of system as well as advising students to make their own contacts. If I really need to know a student is genuinely contacting the person they need to be in touch with I’ll just ask them to copy me in. No fuss to the host agency, but enough to hold the student accountable.

      2. Andrea*

        I should clarify, but the timing described in the OP’s letter is what is really telling–she’s getting these emails from professors a few hours after receiving an initial inquiry from students. That’s what indicates pretty clearly to me that the student has lied to the professor about not being able to finish, and that’s when the professor decides that maybe reaching out is the best and fairest thing to do to make sure that the student can finish the assignment (which other students are well on their way to completing at this point).

        1. Observer*

          Well, here’s the problem. Emailing the coordinator to verify that your student did (or didn’t) contact her is one thing. Giving the coordinator homework is another thing, and totally out of line.

          If it were me, I would be tempted to email these folks back saying “we cannot accept homework assignments, and we cannot be responsible for the intern’s homework assignments, either.”

          1. Andrea*

            Oh, agreed. This is inappropriate, certainly. I’m just saying that I’m relatively certain that it happens because the student failed to follow deadlines and instructions. I still think the best reply would be for the OP to write to the professor, cc the student maybe, and say that she hasn’t replied because she just got the request a few hours ago (or whenever it was). Then affirm that she will provide the information (offer a timeline) or say that she can’t.

            1. Colette*

              If I were the one who received a follow up email like that, I’d reconsider whether I wanted to help out at all. I certainly would not respond to the professor to provide her with information.

              1. fposte*

                I don’t know if I’d do it, but I’d certainly consider informing the professor that this approach made my participation less likely.

        2. Tinker*

          It actually reads to me as if the student contacted the OP, received the response, forwarded it to their professor or turned in their assignment listing the OP as their contact, and then the professor sent out a fairly stock email to follow up with the description of the assignment. Which seems a bit aggressive, and probably relates to the behavior of past students, but the behavior of past students and the behavior of the professor is not the behavior of the instant student.

          The email says that the student asked to work with the OP, and that is indeed what the student appears to have done, so I don’t see where dishonesty is indicated on the student’s part and it seems a bit sketchy to extrapolate that far based on the evidence we presently have in hand.

          Of course, I’m sure the update will conclusively prove that the student is all this plus a former recipient of participation ribbons who wears pajamas to class and posts incriminating photos to the social medias. :)

          1. OP*

            I did reply and he said he routinely verifies the contacts his students make because his students frequently cheat and make up a designer and their answers, so he’s following up with every designer from now on. (I don’t know why he thinks they wouldn’t just make up a Gmail address too, if they’re so determined to cheat.)

            1. College Professor*

              Yeah, I can see the need to follow up with student internships to make sure they are legit. It sounds really poorly worded, though. The email should
              1) come after you’ve agree to do it and
              2) say something like, “thanks so much for your participation in the internship program, I am sending you the relevant paperwork, let me know if you have any questions.”

              1. Court*

                I completely agree. Sending the follow-up email before a designer has even agreed to take on the task is so off-putting. I can appreciate wanting to make sure the students aren’t making a person up, but I think something like your approach would work so much better than “So I heard you were doing this and here’s all the work you have to do for it.”

            2. Melissa*

              This is a terrible idea, and this professor probably needs to rethink the assignment if it’s so easy to cheat this way. I’ve been responsible for grading assignments that require students to go into the community and make contact with professionals, but the assignments are designed in such a way that it’d be far more work to make up something than it would be to actually interview/contact someone.

  2. Leah*

    That is weird. I could understand a professor sending out a message once an intern is hired or the OP agrees to work with the student in another capacity. That message being along the lines of, “Here’s the paperwork… if you have any issues that you are unable to resolve with the student or you feel I should be aware of, please don’t hesitate to contact me…”

    I would be uncomfortable with a professor contacting a possible internship on my behalf unless I mentioned that I applied and they offered to put in a good word with someone they happened to know.

  3. University Allison*

    The email that the OP received read like a form-letter sent out by the professor to all the designated participants. The professor is in a difficult place — they want to grade the student on the student’s performance in this interaction, regardless of the participant. The participant might flake out, leaving the student with no grade due to no fault of their own. The professor is trying to ensure that all the students get an equal response.

    That said, this is a ludicrous way of handling it and the professor and student both come out of the interaction poorly. Not a good way to start getting interactions with potential employment!!!

    1. Bluefish*

      I agree that this is probably why, but this lesson should be part of the assignment and part of the grade. You should research who you choose, and only choose someone that you are confident will come through for you. Manage your time to account for unplanned circumstances and always have a plan B. It’s an important skill to have for real world jobs. This should all be part of the grade. The professor needs to stop trying to defend against excuses and dole out grades as earned. Life’s nt always fair.

      1. University Allison*

        I absolutely agree! I would actually bet that the assignments are coming from small liberal arts colleges. The professors there hover more than university professors. In their little bubbles, they probably no longer see the disservice they’re doing their students.

        1. College Career Counselor*

          You beat me to it. The employer/internship site should in no way be obligated to be part of the student’s assignment, project or grade for the course. UNLESS it’s been agreed to in advance of the start date by all parties.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        Yep. During my Washington semester we had a class on lobbying and the assignments included interviewing people at a lobbying firm. I could have done something like the Kumquat Growers Association but I stupidly chose the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, one of the most effective, influential and controversial lobbying groups in the country. Of course nobody there returned my calls, so I had to do a last minute change to another organization that would actually let me interview them. Oh well.

        1. Mimmy*

          Honestly, it’s these kinds of assignments that make me nervous–not every contact person has the time and/or willingness to be interviewed or allow the student to visit an agency/company to observe the day-to-day functions.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            I agree! And I haaaaate cold calling strangers, or bothering people at all. So these kinds of assignments are just the worst.

        2. Stephanie*

          That reminds me of a college project. I took a GLBT Studies survey course. Our professor wanted us to do a project about some aspect of the GLBT community in Houston that included going out and talking to people. This was 2005, right after Katrina and Houston had a ton of Gulf Coast evacuees. Our bright idea was to see how HIV/AIDS services were impacted in the area with the population influx. The collective heads of our school’s IRB basically exploded. We spent most of the semester filling out IRB review paperwork. In the end, we just ended up doing a literature survey of HIV/AIDS care for vulnerable populations.

          1. Melissa*

            Why? I’m not sure what the assignment was or your approach, but I could see students interviewing HIV service providers – employees of organizations, or physicians and nurses – for their account of how service provision is impacted by Katrina. At some colleges that wouldn’t even require IRB approval because it’s minimal risk interviews for educational purposes.

            …but now it’s dawning on me that your group may have wanted to interview actual people living with HIV who happened to also be evacuees about their experiences with HIV services. Which, yes, would make IRB’s heads explode, lol. I do research with drug-using HIV-positive folks and it’s like doing battle to get things through the IRB sometimes.

        3. Noelle*

          I had a summer class in DC one year and we were supposed to advocate a policy issue to any senator/representative we could meet with. Of course, no one wanted to meet with us so we were basically harassing every office we could just to sit down with a staff member. Now that I’m a hill staffer myself, I cringe when I think how annoying our constant calls must have been, and how horrible my presentation was.

      3. C Average*

        It should be part of a required “navigating bureaucracies” course designed to equip students with life skills, with a passing grade dependent entirely on outcomes rather than efforts. It could cover HR offices, DMVs, insurance companies, corporate phone trees, and other real-life settings where you have to navigate a complex set of written and unwritten protocols to get to a desired result.

        An effective class in this stuff would’ve been worth everything else I learned in college put together.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          1,000 times yes. My high school aged son couldn’t get online to check his McD’s-issued debit/paycheck card balance. I said call the number. He got a phone tree that he couldn’t get out of. After I got off the floor and quit laughing, I said he would have to talk to his manager. Momma is not taking on this task. Essential life skills, people.

          1. Onymouse*

            on a side note, paycheck card? They’re controlling how money gets spent how? My opinion of McD’s just dropped a little loewr.

            1. AnotherAlison*

              You can use your own bank account with no penalty. My son was not proactive in opening a bank account, so, he’s still on the paycheck card. (He got the job about 2 weeks after his 16th birthday. . .not like he’s 25 and figuring this stuff out)

              1. Jenna*

                If it works the same as mine(mine was a disability EBT card managed by B of A), then, it is free to transfer the money to a bank or credit union account, but, you have to figure out how to do it. This requires, at minimum, internet for research and access, an account to transfer the money to, and online access to this account.
                If you do not have any of these things, you can use the card at merchants, or pay an ATM fee to withdraw money, etc.
                The bank wins because transferring the money all over at once is a pain to set up the first time if you are unfamiliar with the hoops, so, MOST people just use the cards to buy things(the bank gets a percentage of the purchase) or use ATMs to withdraw cash, incurring ATM fees.

                1. Stephanie*

                  This exactly. I found stopgap work (kind of) at the fulfillment center of a very, very large online retailer. The default payment method is one of these debit cards. There’s no fee, but the company makes it intentionally difficult to get money deposited into a bank account. And the card’s not associated with any retail bank, so you’ll incur fees later to withdraw cash. Plus, if you do have a bank account, you might incur fees for lacking direct deposit.

        2. Ornery PR*

          Yes! In addition to this, I would have loved a class also on how insurance works. Dealing with insurance companies and learning all the language of it has been the biggest learning curve of my adult life.

          1. Muriel Heslop*

            As a former high school teacher, I think this needs to be a high school class of at least two semesters. Maybe four.

          2. Chinook*

            This class about dealign with all the sorts of s…tuff that you have to do as an adult exists in Laberta and is called Career and Life Management (CALM 20) and is a requirement for graduating. The only way you can fail it is to not do the work (as my brother found out – we still bug him about that. He pointed out that doing it alone by correspondence was MUCH harder than doing it a class with friends) but they give you a chance to do all sorts of inane things that you don’t appreciate learning until years later.

            1. Loose Seal*

              I cannot tell you how happy it makes me that the course that’s designed to teach you how to deal with life’s crap has the identifier CALM!

            2. Ornery PR*

              That’s so great. I do remember taking a personal finance class in college, but it mostly focused on investing in stocks, not how to deal with real life finances a college kid would have. And it definitely was not required. I wish I could hire someone to manage my life, because I kind of suck at it. Turns out, the bank only pays your bills if you actually set up the autopay correctly :)

            3. samaD*

              we had something similar in my province – Consumer Education, also required to graduate. Just basic, useful stuff

          3. Jeanne TW*

            I’m not incapable of handling complex stuff…I have an Electrical Engineering degree, but I’m about ready to hire someone to handle all my insurance paperwork. And I’m single, no dependents, no major medical issues! How do families with chronic medical issues keep up?

          4. Melissa*

            This…I’m about to begin my first full-time job after graduate school. At 28 I do have some advantages of maturity and the ability to research really, really well – moreso than I would’ve had at 22 straight from college. But I have to set up all kinds of insurance now and deal with getting financing for a car and I’m like bzuh?!

        3. Hooptie*

          Add in a semester on how messing up your credit in your early 20s can haunt you for years and I’ll gladly accept a property tax increase to fund it. I have a niece who is 22 and has a credit score of less than 500 due to one stupid mistake…

          1. Dan*

            I know a bit about credit, and I’m curious about this “one stupid mistake.” What you didn’t say was “little”. Did she let a student loan default or something? Did she get evicted and/or otherwise have a judgement on her report? A simple late payment isn’t going to affect her score that much.

            For her score to be that bad, she’s got a thin credit file (not much in there), a maxed out card that she hasn’t had very long, and a high number of inquiries, on top of whatever actual “mistake” that she made.

            Have you seen her report or are you just taking her word for it?

            FWIW, the lesson I learned is “just because you never received a bill in the mail, doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay it.” If you owe it, you better find a way to pay it, bill or no bill.

            1. Melissa*

              Even letting a student loan default or getting evicted alone most likely wouldn’t drop your score below 500. I had a state tax lien on my credit report from my teenage years in college (I didn’t know I owed the tax – my address was changed and it took a while to get to me, lol) plus a couple accounts in collections, and my credit was still mid-600s (although who knows what it was when I was 22 – I didn’t really check it until I was about 24 or 25).

              …cleaning that all up now. All the collections gone, woot! The tax lien stays for 10 years, but the 10 years are nearly up.

        4. Stephanie*

          In elementary school, my district was involved with Enterprise Ctiy. We had a field trip day where we had to run a fake city for a day and students did different tasks in the city (run small businesses, hold elected office, buy supplies, etc). We learned about budgeting money and writing checks (ok yeah, this was the mid-90s). I remember I was the city manager.

          My high school had a life-skills course called SUCCESS (it had the appropriate backronym). I am at a loss as to what we did in there. I think career assessments?

    2. Del*


      We had a similar assignment in one of my high school classes that wound up having to get scrapped entirely because of a lack of response from the vast majority of participants. It was disappointing, but at least the teacher recognized that badgering would get us nowhere and also didn’t penalize us for the folks we contacted being unwilling to engage with a bunch of 16-year-olds.

      1. C Average*

        The company I work for actually has a canned response to these types of inquiries. I know this because I wrote it. *ducks rotten tomatoes*

            1. C Average*

              That’ll have to wait until after work! I’ll have to edit out the identifying details, which will take a bit of time.

              1. C Average*

                OK, here it is (with some identifying details changed):

                Hi NAME,

                Thank you for your interest in COMPANY. It’s always great to hear from students who have selected COMPANY for their class project.

                As you can imagine, COMPANY receives numerous requests for information about the COMPANY corporation and our products in general. We recognize the value of academic pursuit and provide a wealth of information about COMPANY on our website at URL. You’ll find the answers to many common questions about COMPANY there.

                Be sure to check out COMPANY’s corporate responsibility report at URL. You can print out sections of the report of interest to you, or you can download and print out the entire report. Some sections may be more relevant than others, depending on your area of interest. Do note that specific information about our perspectives on marketing and related information are proprietary and not available to the public. While we understand that sample products, promotional materials, etc., may be important for your project, requests for these specific items and some hard copy material cannot be fulfilled. We apologize if this creates any inconvenience in your efforts to complete your assignment.

                Our current annual report is available on URL under “Investors.” Older reports are available as well. If you do not have access to the Internet, please visit your local library or research center.

                I encourage you to work hard in school. Maybe someday you can become part of the COMPANY team!


                I can see that others have made some tweaks to this since I wrote it about five years ago. It’s definitely longer than it used to be!

                1. C Average*

                  One further note: Although as a company we have canned text to respond to these requests when they come into our corporate email queue, most individual employees go out of our way to help people who manage to find us through some personal connection or through research.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  That’s a great letter! I can only imagine the requests that led to “While we understand that sample products, promotional materials, etc., may be important for your project, requests for these specific items and some hard copy material cannot be fulfilled” being included!

        1. Lamington*

          We do too, basically we point people to a section on the website where most of the information can be found. For more particular information we denied it based on proprietary information.

          The worst email I got was a girl saying: Hi I can’t find some information k thanks? email me back. Ugh!!!

    3. ljinlondon*

      If the professor’s in a difficult place, it’s because they’re handing out crappy assignments. If it’s so crucial to the course that the students do something like this and be graded for it, then I would say the professor needs to reach out and get agreement from designers to participate, and let the students know they need to pick from a list (working between themselves to not overwhelm any one volunteer!) The OP is right, the professor is trying to guilt trip them into granting a favour neither the student nor professor has a right to and that they may not have the time to do. (Seriously, “it’s important that you do it”? Nobody I don’t know, who doesn’t work in my organisation, knows what’s important for me to do.) And the professor is making them both look terrible in the process; I’d have been mortified to have had to demand someone’s time like this in university. In terms of whether the OP has to do this in the small community, unless the professor is somebody very well known and valued, I’d guess they’ll get more mileage from chatting to colleagues in the field who also got this rude request and you can boggle at it together.

      1. Allison*

        Agreed! Or at least, they should offer advice on how to seek out professionals and ask for their help in a way that would likely get a response. If they’re trying to help the students with their real-world professional skills, they can’t just send the kids in cold.

        Also, they could have the students log their attempts at contacting potential leads and, if needed, turn over proof that they did try to get someone to help them. That could be a better way to weed out excuses.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I agree with the professor outreach. In the engineering education world, senior capstone projects are often sponsored by industry. A significant financial commitment from a corporation is required, as well as appointing a designated employee who is the go-to person to answer technical questions and act as the liaison. The outreach to companies takes up a huge amount of the department head’s time, but it’s a mutally beneficial project and all parties seem to take it seriously. And once you have these types of relationships built, you could call on those same companies or industry employees to help with smaller things like this Ask-A-Designer type project, a site tour, etc. [I’m sure there have been projects where the students/prof/business didn’t do their job, but *usually* the way it’s done in my field is good.]

      3. Turtle Candle*

        I agree. This has been a persistent problem for writers–one fiction write I know fields multiple “please answer these 20 questions, if you don’t write back I’ll get a bad grade” requests per week (ranging from college level all the way down to grade school, and boy is it hard to say no to a nine-year-old in that situation!), and it’s a massive time suck to answer the giant list of questions, even if most of them can be answered with some boilerplate. (I get this occasionally, but fortunately I haven’t been hit quite so hard.)

        I honestly blame the teachers and professors for giving assignments that can only be completed if a professional who doesn’t know you from Adam is willing to donate a significant amount of time. Obviously there are ways that a smart student can work around this–if it were me, I’d drop the guilt-tripping but send the list to a whole bunch of authors in the hopes of getting at least one response that I could use–but the fact of the assignments really annoys me. It puts the students in a tight spot, it encourages obnoxious behavior (like this professorial hovering!), and it makes professionals feel guilty for not being willing to spend a couple of hours answering a slew of questions in the middle of their work week.

    4. Elsajeni*

      Yeah, my guess is that this sort of email is a result to past complaints from one or both sides of the assignment — students who couldn’t get a response from a professional who originally agreed to help them, and/or professionals who felt that students were misrepresenting the amount of time and effort involved in participating. The form email is intended to protect the professional by making the terms of the assignment very clear, and to protect the student by getting the professional’s agreement to participate clearly on the record.

      Personally, I think a better way to handle it would be “Do not base a significant part of students’ grades on an assignment that some outside person can torpedo regardless of the student’s efforts.” If it has to be done, though, how about requiring the student to turn in a copy of their chosen professional’s “Yes, I’ll participate” response by an earlier deadline, and allowing them to earn at least partial credit if their professional flakes by showing the record of their messages trying to get a response? That way the professor can confirm that the student’s initial request was accurate and appropriate, that the professional did in fact agree to participate, and that the student did their due diligence in trying to get the assignment done, even if the professional didn’t hold up their end.

  4. Katie the Fed*

    This is how you handle asking someone to take Flat Stanley out for some pictures to send back to the 3rd grade class, not how you deal with professional interactions.

    Nope. No no no.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I’m the Flat Stanley master. Basically, I am a Flat Stanley expediter – if I’m not going on cool trip, I probably know someone who is. I’ve gotten Flat Stanleys to Sudan, Burma, Uruguay, Fiji, you name it. I take my role as an aunt very seriously.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Nice! Our last Flat Stanley went to Foot Action and the mall carousel. I put the responsibility on my kids, and my youngest is disorganized.

        2. NavyLT*

          I’ve always taken Flat Stanley pictures. Who doesn’t want to see Flat Stanley on an aircraft carrier?

          Of course, no student’s grade should actually hinge on the amount of effort someone besides that student puts into an assignment.

          1. Judy*

            Ours went to a goat farm and learned how to make yarn and knit. I knew my cousin was the right pick.

    1. Melissa*

      Aw man, I had so much fun helping my little cousin with her Flat Stanley assignment. I live in New York, so Flat Stanley took pictures with me on campus and on the subway and in Times Square and whatnot. :D

    1. Vancouver Reader*

      Not the ones I used to work for, and certainly not my b-i-l who’s a full professor. I don’t know of any professor who has time to hand hold adults through any processes.

      1. AdjunctForNow*

        The thing is, so many of the professors have NEVER been in the real world, and it’s a problem in a lot of fields. As a very junior adjunct, who went back to school after a decade in industry, I have tenured professors coming to me and asking for help in finding their students internships and stuff, because I have connections they don’t. Fine. I’m glad they admit that.

        But some of them *don’t* admit that, and that is way worse. I have heard of terrible career advice given out so many times…an especially common one, being that these are academics, is “if you can’t find a job, just stay and get a masters.”

        While I am absolutely against the adjunct-ification of higher ed in the sense that it is used as a means of obtaining a low-cost work force with no job security, benefits, etc., I am absolutely in favor of having enough working professionals teaching at your school to give real advice to your students.

        1. Melissa*

          Academia is a part of the ‘real world,’ with professional norms and standards. Many of the professors I know may have never worked outside of academia, but they wouldn’t send an email like this. I think this goes beyond never having worked in non-academic positions and is more a person who doesn’t know or adhere to proper corporate etiquette – which is a problem in many fields, I might add.

          …but I definitely agree that they give out terrible career advice, chief among them telling my undergrads to stay in school if they don’t know what to do. NOOOOOO

      2. Melissa*

        Yeah, I was just thinking that none of the professors I know would even have time to do anything like this, but even if they did, they wouldn’t.

  5. Celeste*


    The only reason I can think of for this behavior from the professors is that maybe the schools have made some kind of commitment to help facilitate students getting these contacts. I actually can’t believe anybody would think of it as something they want to do with their own time, and never mind the rudeness of causing somebody to get double emails.

    I think the students need to make sure they get their requests made in plenty of time, and maybe even send out an extra one as a backup, and be prepared to be every bit as polite to the second one even if their interview is not ultimately used.

    I think it’s okay to make a template reply that you can only respond to the student. I don’t think you should be on the hook for what sounds like an evidence file.

  6. My Scintillating Pseudonym*

    I’m just hazarding a guess here, but I’ll bet these particular professors are responding to pressure by their schools to inflate grades and/or help their students obtain jobs or internships so it reflects well on the school’s post-grad employment statistics. I don’t know if this is universal, but my SO was an adjunct at one of our state schools and had to quit after a semester because of the crazy demands. He said he felt like he was back in customer service where you have to give in no matter what. The worst example was when a girl didn’t show up for class for three weeks and complained to the department dean that my SO should have emailed her the tests she missed. The dean basically said to give her the tests and make sure she passes.

    The student was 45 years old.

    I just tend to doubt that professors really care all that much. Most of my friends in education complain all the time about having to hold their students’ hands constantly and how burned out they are being a babysitter. If the professors are taking the time and energy to do this, it must be linked to their performance in some way.

    1. anonymous*

      Yes, adjuncting is demanding and thankless customer service.

      I’m a professor, and I don’t care when students botch assignments or blow off my classes. That’s when I give Fs, levy grade penalties, or suggest that they withdraw. But sometimes there is pressure to pass people, and it’s a PITA to negotiate.

      That said, I would never, ever spend my time contacting somebody on behalf of my student (except for recommendations). What an absurdity. It’s so absurd that I would honestly suspect forgery, like somebody impersonating the instructor.

      1. Dan*

        Adjuncting is even worse, because them folk frequently “serve at the pleasure of the president” meaning that they piss of the admin (er, don’t “give in”) and they can get the boot.

        At least with tenure, a prof can extend the proverbial middle finger to the administration every once in awhile

        1. Life in Adjunctistan*

          As I was reading the OP’s inquiry, I was thinking to myself, “Yup, an adjunct.” I was an adjunct for > 10 years and you would not believe how tenuous their thread to gainful employment is. Adjuncts are handed so many tasks that there’s scarcely any time for teaching! In addition, they are judged on many factors, up to including the number of students in their class who drop out! Crikey.

          To be fair, failing a student was never an issue, but having them drop out was — $$.

      2. AdjunctForNow*

        I have made introductions for especially good students looking for internships or entry-level jobs, but it’s less hand-holding, and more “feel free to go on linkedin and use my network.”

  7. CodeWench*

    I had a couple of people bail on me on these types of assignments when I was in grad school. Like the other commenters, I suspect it’s because the professor was getting too many complaints of lack of cooperation, either because the person genuinely flaked, was difficult to schedule or because the student didn’t get the work on time. I would also wonder if it’s to verify that the student didn’t fabricate a person to interview. I know the thought crossed my mind when I had an assignment that was difficult to find people to interview.

  8. Mishsmom*

    i work in a research one university. i can confidently say that any faculty member worth their salt would not send this. i can also confidently say most (95%) of our faculty would not only not write this type of email, but would let the student know it is their responsibility to secure an internship. they might help if time passed and a nudge was needed but nothing like this. our department culture is to help students learn how to conduct themselves in the real world, not to do things for them – and certainly not in this rude manner.

    1. University Allison*

      I also suspect the assignments are NOT coming from R1 institutions. I could believe it of liberal arts colleges…

      1. BRR*

        I went to grad school at an R1 and we had a project where we had to do a profile on a non-profit organization including two interviews (one with a high-level employee and one with a trustee).

        1. University Allison*

          Sorry, I meant that the professor contact put me in mind of my undergrad professors (liberal arts). The assignment itself could come from any school.

          1. BRR*

            I think it’s just more how the particular professor is and probably more a personality type thing than anything. I have a coworker who would think nothing of sending an email like the one above.

            1. fposte*

              Agreed. I don’t know that this is an institutional tendency so much as somebody getting a wild hair.

              1. fposte*

                Okay, re-reading the OP, it sounds like this is happening to her a lot from various sources, so I may have to let go of the “wild hair” theory. I still don’t know that it’s liberal arts vs. R1, though, since I can’t imagine the places I’ve been involved with in either category doing this.

                1. OP*

                  You’re right, it really doesn’t have anything to do with R1 vs. lib arts. The requests I’ve received have been from the huge universities (like, ones that play to the Final 4 in March Madness), all the way down to tiny ones you’ve never heard of before. Maybe it has something to do with my region? (Midwest/bordering on South)

            2. Mallory*

              I bet it’s a particular professor, too. I can think of one prof in my university department who, if any of them were going to do something like this, it would be him.

              I don’t think he means to come off as rude or out of touch, but he’s kind of clueless and just thinks about the outcomes he wants without giving much consideration to how it looks from the recipient’s side.

          2. TL*

            I went to a small liberal arts school and I can’t imagine any of my professors doing this.
            The most that happened was one arranging weekends to visit a Hindu temple beforehand with the temple and telling us to use the class website to organize carpools.

      2. A Teacher*

        The junior college I adjunct for requires the service learning project, similar to a mini internship I guess. Its not my idea, but I’m required to do it so we do it. Sometimes its not the professor’s idea, its the institution’s requirement. As posted below, I DON’T contact different organizations for my students, I explain how they can go about contact organizations but that’s about it.

        1. Anna*

          My undergrad school required six weeks of practicum. I volunteered with La Cruz Roja in Spain. My professor made the initial introduction but after that, it was all up to my friend and I to get everything set up. Mentoring through a process is how I looked at it, but he definitely did NOT put the onus on the person we worked with to get things set up.

      3. Faith*

        I agree with you and mishsmom. I am an academic advisor at a Big 10 school, Research 1 university, and my husband is a faculty member here. There is zero chance that he would ever send an email like this, and given that the faculty in my department can barely be bothered to actually teach the classes they are assigned to teach, I highly doubt they would send these emails either! That said, we both work in more research/science heavy departments, and full time, tenure track faculty at research 1 schools do not have the same pressure of pleasing students that part time/adjunct faculty do. Trust me, NO faculty member of ANY kind actually WANTS to be doing this babysitting BS. Ask A Manager, I would direct your ire to university administrators instead!

    2. Stephanie*

      Yeah, I thought this was kind of a weird assignment for college students. I did something similar for a grade back in high school. I could maybe see this as a career services exercise, but even then the professor shouldn’t be contacting the employers.

  9. OriginalYup*

    I’d be really p*ssed off about the “it’s important that you do this.” You’re not my boss, buddy. So my email would read a bit differently than Alison.

    “I’m glad to talk with students who contact me directly, to the extent that my schedule permits. We at Company are happy to provide our time and support to University’s students as our business allows. In the event that I’m not able to help a student with their project, I let them know promptly.

    Is there a reason you reached out to me regarding Jane’s project in particular? I ask because I’m not in a position to be fielding multiple requests regarding each project.”

    1. BRR*

      To me that just sounded like the professor was stuck in the mindset of talking to a student. It’s annoying and they should be corrected I just understand where it could come from.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      Yeah, that sentence rubbed me the wrong way as well. It would immediately put me on the defensive, like “who are you to tell me what is important for me to do?”

  10. BRR*

    Please let the professors know. There are many out there who have been involved only in academia for so long that they need to be updated about the customs of the non-academia world.

    Also, it bums me out that you automatically rule out interns if this happens. The professors are acting in good conscience many times since a recommendation is more common in their world. It should definitely be considered but to have it always be a deal breaker is punishing the student for the professor’s mistake.

    1. Persephone Mulberry*

      Re: your second point…TRUE. What if the student doesn’t know the professor is doing this?! I’d die of mortification if I found out my academic advisor was following up on my internship contacts behind my back (not that she would, because she’s awesome).

    2. Observer*

      There is a difference between a recommendation on the one hand, and challenging the organization’s decisions or asking about materials on the other hand.

      It’s hard on the students, but it doesn’t make a difference if the student knows about it or not. It’s not a matter of punishing the student, but of making sure you wind up with an intern who won’t create problems. And, no matter whose fault it is, if this professor already shows that he’s getting involved where he shouldn’t that’s a huge red flag. What are the odds that there won’t be demands for information and further “homework” from such a professor?

    3. Vicki*

      Re: “It occasionally happens with internship applicants, as well, and unfortunately for the students, rules them out of the first round.”

      I would love to know why the OP thinks this is appropriate. Someone (not the student) did something you don’t like (for good reason, but still) and you punish the student.

      I realize that “life isn’t fair”, but penalizing someone for something they cannot control is… a lot more than “life isn’t fair”.
      Why is this a good idea?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s not about penalizing the student; it’s about deciding that the situation will be more hassle than the OP wants to take on. Just like if the student were enrolled in a school that was known for sending internship managers daily singing telegrams, that might be something you’d decide you didn’t want to deal with; sucks for the student, but a totally reasonable call for an employer to make.

  11. fposte*

    And now I’m reminded of kids’ letters to authors as school assignments. Betsy Byars got an epic one hoping that she was alive, otherwise the letter writer would have to write a poem.

    1. Jenna*

      I had that assignment, too, and somewhere in my old school papers there’s a reply that I received from Anne McCaffrey.

  12. Jeff A.*

    I’m staff (not faculty) at a medium sized private university in the northeast. I’m not at all surprised hearing that there are professors or schools out there participating in this kind of behavior.

    I don’t want to generalize based on how my University operates, but I would anticipate seeing a lot more of this coddling of students and catering to them to make their academic experiences flow smoother. Higher administration officials (here, at least) are constantly putting pressure on department heads to optimize the student experience. We’re competing for tuition dollars, and students are becoming increasingly more vocal about what they feel this entitles them to. And the University is listening. Scary.

    1. Jessa*

      Yeh, there’s a very fine line between “I am the consumer, I am paying you for this, I want/deserve a decent experience here and I’m not getting that,” and “This is a school part of the contract regarding that experience is that I participate by going to class and doing work.”

      I insisted during registration at a school I lived an hour away from, whilst looking after my dying father, that I’m bloody well paying the bills and will not be making umpty separate trips to complete things that I can do in one. I was an older returning student, had the entire course mapped out, did not need to see a counselor except in the sense that the process required a signature. There was absolutely no reason to run me through some kind of annoying gauntlet. Lo and behold they managed to get me through it in the one trip. They didn’t like me for it though, and I really didn’t care. I was paying plenty and wasn’t going to stand for running me around.

      On the other hand, I showed up at classes properly and did the work, and as long as the grade was fair for the work done (IE I wasn’t marked down for something that was correct/on time, etc.) There’s a HUGE difference. And some student’s do not get the part of the contract where THEY have to make grades on things.

      Administrative garbage? NO I pay for that stuff, I don’t deserve to be treated like their time is more important than mine, as I AM actually paying for their time and while I’m willing to be reasonable – I was more than willing to sit around for hours to meet their schedules, I was not however willing to spend another 2-3 one hour each way trips, with a dying man at home that I had to schedule Hospice to be with while I was at those meetings. I already had to deal with scheduling the nurses for my CLASSES. And yes that made me a specific type exception to their “you must go through all this rig to show us you want to be here, students.” On the other hand, that’s kind of what exceptions are for.

      If I had been all special snowflake about grades, and doing the work (as in contacting someone to do an assignment like the one above,) they’d have every right to fail me. That’s part of the contract. But if a professor embarrassed ME like that (going around me to a professional contact I was trying to speak to,) I’d be in the Dean of Department’s office complaining.

      1. De Minimis*

        I was thinking this too, that there may be pressure from above for the assignments/internships to be successful. I could see it especially for the professor’s advisees.

  13. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

    This also sounds like the professor is trying to shoehorn the professional into her own idea of what an acceptable assignment is, rather than having the student approach the designer, have a conversation, and rely on the student’s skills to elicit information and make critical judgements about what she’s told.

    I mean, what is this supposed to be gained from this assignment?

  14. JW*


    It would be different if a professor were reaching out to you before a student contacted you to gauge your willingness to participate in this kind of activity. Like, “Hi, OP. I’m a professor and ABC School and am writing to ask you might be willing to participate in our Ask-A-Designer program, which involves a request from a senior level student to have you answer 15 questions in a timely manner…”

    You know?

    1. Jessa*

      Exactly, this makes sense. When I was managing at the answering service we had work study high school students. Before that happened though the school reached out to the owner and asked if he’d be willing to do that. THEN and only then did students apply, and interview for spots. Nobody called him before the school verified he wanted to participate.

  15. Adam*

    My brain just blew a fuse. Never mind that professors are contacting people on their students behalf in the first place; the fact that one had the gall to contact her and bluntly ask her to do paperwork without so much as a by-your-leave is amazing to me. I’m no etiquette expert but that’s beyond rude to me.

  16. holly*

    i was in grad school about 5 yrs ago and every class required an interview with a working professional (that was my school’s thing, working professionals in the field.) but i can’t imagine the professors doing stuff like this. they might suggest specific people or organizations, but jeez. yea, sometimes my first choice wouldn’t respond. that’s why i had backups. school isn’t supposed to be the easiest thing ever.

  17. A Teacher*

    As an adjunct, I’m required to have my college classes do a service learning project and they have to bring back something signed saying they did that. I WILL NOT contact the agency they are volunteering with and if the students say “well so and so hasn’t responded” I tell them to either a. wait, b. make sure they contacted the right person, or c. use some creative problem solving to figure out how to handle it. I’m talking about high school juniors and seniors that are taking dual credit. A professor contacting a coordinator is way over the top and I would say is not something a good chunk of us would do. Its on the candidate (or my case my student) to handle and coordinate all contact.

    1. Jessa*

      I would only make contact if I pre vetted people and gave the students a list and one of them flaked, but only in a “I’m so sorry this was too much work for you shall I take you off the list of available people,” kind of way. But that’s at the high school level, on the condition that the students are given a list of potential interviewees.

  18. Ellie H.*

    I genuinely cannot imagine any of the professors I know at the school I work at (I’m staff) having the TIME (not to mention the inclination) to send this type of email. Yikes!

  19. Timon*

    There is another side to this: the professor is very likely to be evaluated by the students at the end of the class, and these evaluations can determine if the professor continues to teach at that school. (The exception here is a professor with tenure, but tenure is difficult to get. Most professors are actually adjunct faculty, hired on a term-by-term basis, and these evaluations carry a lot of weight.) A professor who goes all out to help their students complete assignments is probably going to get better evaluations that one who simply hands out the assignment and grades it at the end.

    1. Brett*

      More importantly, the professor who doesn’t go all out often gets ripped and finds themselves quickly out of a job.

      1. Timon*

        True. I’ve seen more than one academic career crash and burn over bad evaluations. I do see why it’s annoying to the recipients, though.

        1. fposte*

          Really? In my experience it’s tough for evaluations alone to sink somebody, though often the bad-evaluation people are also pretty crappy with colleagues.

          1. Timon*

            I’ve been on the fringe of academia for close to 30 years, and it’s sad but it does happen. My roommate came close to losing his next term assignments when he wouldn’t inflate an athlete’s grade; a good friend did lose her writing lab job because several students said she was too hard to please when it came to grammar and spelling!

          2. Melissa*

            If they’re contingent faculty, evaluations alone can certainly tank them. Contingent faculty (adjuncts and non-tenure-track folks) are typically at the university for teaching alone, and they are usually teaching large service/intro courses. If they’re bad not only do they potentially lose $$$ in that particular course, they also may lose $$$$ for the department in terms of majors – many universities allocate funding to departments based on the number of majors they have.

    2. Anonsie*

      Eh… I’ve known plenty of people seeking a full time appointment or tenure who were really gunning for those good evals who didn’t think to do anything dumb like this to get them, though. One person’s a fluke, several has to have a cause. I feel like this would really have to be specifically suggested to them for multiple profs to start doing it at once, not just pressure for evals.

    3. holly*

      what on earth could the evaluation say beyond “my professor wouldn’t’ do my work for me. whaa.” i mean, do schools not take the quality of the evaluation into account?

      1. Brett*

        Students can just write down every little thing you ever did wrong, and only those things. And then mark down all your numerical ratings as 2s and 3s.

      2. CAS*

        “Instructor was completely unhelpful.”
        “Instructor wouldn’t respond to my requests for help.”
        “I asked for help, and she was rude and wouldn’t help me.”

        Some students with axes to grind will mark me as a 1 on the Likert-based questions just because they can.

        I got an eval recently in which a student called me a witch who is only teaching for a paycheck. According to her, I don’t participate at all in the course, I don’t reply to anyone’s e-mails, and it is impossible to get an A because I don’t “give” any. None of those statements are true, and they can’t be substantiated.

        I’m fortunate to work as an adjunct for low-level administrators who don’t believe students’ evals are the end-all, be-all measure of instructors’ performance. They actually take the time to validate students’ complaints. However, these low-level administrators have deans who believe students’ evals are the only valid measure of instructors’ performance. They believe in the “customer service” model of higher ed.

        When an instructor’s name comes up in discussion, the only data those deans want is the instructor’s student evals. They can be and are used as the sole determinant of an adjunct instructor’s opportunities with my institution. The low-level administrators do their best to cushion the student evals with other performance data, but they’re not always successful.

        Adjunct teaching is a tenuous endeavor, and yet institutions around the country rely on adjuncts. They’re largely perceived to be a dime a dozen.

        1. holly*

          i’m not sure what the point is of relying on something where people are known to lie.

          1. CAS*

            Neither am I, but they do. They’re anonymous surveys. Students can say whatever they want, and some administrators believe what they read. It’s a ludicrous way to measure performance, but it happens in institutions all over the country.

            It prompts some adjuncts to water down their methods, their grading, their policies, etc. to ensure positive student evals so they can maintain their livelihood. There’s no protection for an adjunct, and there’s certainly little to no academic freedom.

      3. Melissa*

        I had a student once write that I never answered emails. He or she was alone in a sea of students who praised how responsive I was and how quickly I responded to email.

        I mean, sometimes students stretch the truth, and sometimes they just whole cloth make things up – especially if they are trying to cover their own butts or justify their lack of work.

    4. Lora*

      That’s what I was thinking, actually–the tenure committee requires X% of community relations/interactions or whatever and they are doing this to make double-triple-quadruple sure all the t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted. And they just do not know how it comes off, if they have no work experience outside of academia.

  20. David*

    I can’t get past the tone and content of that email. As someone else observed, it reads like the professor thinks he’s communicating with a student. The first thing that went through my mind was that this is one of those professors that thinks his class is the most important thing in the world (hence everyone should bend over backwards to accommodate the class requirements, even if they aren’t in the class) and that he’s blind to the fact that his authority only extends to the campus borders.

    Considering he’s trying to get his students direct exposure to professionals, I’m guessing there’s a strong focus on career development–as in, this is to prepare you for your job after college. I shudder to think what other professional advice he’s teaching. I bet he also tells students to march into a potential employer’s office without an interview/appointment and say “I’m just the person you need for this job!”

    1. AnotherAlison*


      “Jane’s grade is dependent upon this assignment, so it’s important that you do it.”

      I really hate being told what to do, and when it’s coming from someone with zero authority over me, a statement like that is probably going to make me sorry I *volunteered* to work with the students at all. I sure wouldn’t participate next time.

      A nice little “out” statement at the end might soften the email. Something like, “We understand how work schedules and committments can change quickly. If you no longer can participate in this project, please let us know by X date.” Because I would definitely understand it’s important, and not want to hurt Jane’s grade, but helping Jane isn’t always as important as real work deadlines.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        “a statement like that is probably going to make me sorry I *volunteered* to work with the students at all.”

        Yes, this. Especially since, if I’m reading correctly, the LW hasn’t actually said yes or no yet–the professor’s email comes in after the student’s, but before LW replied. At least if they’ve said ‘yes’ you can say that the ethical thing to do is to follow through; if they haven’t even accepted the request yet, I can’t see how it’s “important” that I do anything besides give a polite and honest answer (and that answer may be ‘no’).

        1. Judy*

          Yes, why wouldn’t it be “Jane’s grade is dependent upon this assignment, so it’s important to know if you will be able to commit to doing it.”

  21. A Jane*

    To what extent are some of these professors acting on the perception that colleges don’t prepare students for the workforce? I could see this behavior among naive professors trying to get more involved with the workforce, but not having a good sense on how to approach it.

  22. DrJulieSunny*

    Completely. Heinous. I’ve been an adjunct professor in the past and I’m having a visceral reaction to the OP’s experience. In my opinion, the best and ONLY way to deal with this kind of inappropriate, parentified, hand-holding behavior from the professors is to nip it in the bud ASAP. Alison’s advice is spot on. Good luck!

    OP – I’d love to have an update whenever there is one!

  23. Anonsie*

    This is going to sound like a stupid question, but why would you automatically reject a candidate for having a professor contact you like that without providing any feedback or mentioning it to the student? I’d be willing to bet the students didn’t ask for it. If these are all from the same school, I’d be willing to bet it comes from a top-down departmental or institutional push.

    Unlike with the hovering parents from other discussions, I don’t think you’re running the risk of having Professor Buttinski continue to bother you about them or otherwise mess with their behavior.

    1. Annie O*

      Some of the internships for academic credit require the employer to do a great deal of documentation and ongoing assessment. If it’s overly time consuming or too far from the norm, I could see a company avoiding those kinds of arrangements.

      1. Artemesia*

        Exactly. The whole point of an internship is learning. The business or non-profit gets some free labor and should only undertake the process if the free labor is worth it for the instructional care they need to be taking as well. The professor should be managing this process (not necessarily the obtaining of the placement, but the learning process including what the student is expected to do.)

        I have seen plenty of ‘internships’ where businesses essentially exploited students to provide scutwork they would otherwise have to pay for and provide little in the way of professional development. That is why there should be a learning contract and close coordination with the faculty manager or professor involved in the process.

      2. Anonsie*

        I might be misreading the letter, but these are almost all internship candidates, so that’s going to be the case sometimes regardless of whether PB is contacting them or not. Looks like they’re saying that if a professor contacts them, they’ll take them out automatically no matter what the purpose of the contact was. That’s different than removing someone because their institution requires too much work on the nonprofit’s part.

    2. Observer*

      Considering that she’s getting homework assignments from some of these folks, I think it’s actually highly likely that Professor Buttinsky WILL contact her again. “It’s important that you download this form and spend a couple of hours filling this in, or spend a couple of hours making sure that you give my student the answers to these questions, even if she doesn’t get around to asking them.” “Why haven’t you filled out form q45t for my student? I’m grading the class on the form filling skills the their internship coordinators.” etc.

      1. Anonsie*

        I’m talking about the internship candidates. They say anyone whose professor contacts them gets pulled from the running but that they also don’t provide feedback about it to the professors… Do they let the students know, though? Because they really should, as it’s costing these kids opportunities.

        The guy who’s quoted is probably going to keep being aggravating, though, for sure.

    3. fposte*

      Put it another way–why would you extend your day to do a time-consuming favor for this particular institution, which has already proven to be inconsiderate?

      1. Anonsie*

        But the student didn’t prove any such thing. A third party did, probably unprovoked. This isn’t a favor to the professor or the university. That’s what’s sticking with me– the students most likely didn’t ask for it and may not even know the professor did it, so if they’re going to reject them over it, I would think they should at least mention why to the student so they can run interference and protect themselves from PB’s meddling.

        1. Mints*

          Students might not even realize how weird it is. I mean, they might know it’s weird for parents to follow up with jobs, but since the professor is tangentially related to the request, if the professor said “I’ll follow up with the designer to make sure things get done promptly” I don’t think it’s immediately obvious that this is weird. Professors are presumably more experienced with the professional world

          I mean, I see it, being a convert to AAMism, but I don’t think this is so obvious. And it’d be really nice if the OP sent a note responding to the professor and/or student (even of it’s a “no, because you’re pushy”)

          1. fposte*

            Definitely agree that the student doesn’t necessarily know that it’s weird, and that I wouldn’t be mean to the student about something she had no control over. But it’s still a request for me to write an essay unpaid when I didn’t volunteer to do that, and if the task is made more unpleasant I sure won’t oblige.

          2. Anonsie*

            That was my other thought– if they do know, I’m sure they don’t understand why it’s a bad idea. I mean, you’re a student, the professor is training you, you assume they’re doing it the right way, right? How would they know better?

        2. fposte*

          It is a favor to the university, though–you’re taking part in one of its courses and being part of an outsourcing that the professor relies on. I get that it’s upsetting that the student has no power over what hurt her chances at getting some of my time, but that’s an ongoing truth that isn’t just relevant here. And it’s my very extra time for something I didn’t volunteer for, so it’s not that she’s punished, it’s that she didn’t get a favor because I don’t wish to be involved with the system that made her ask it.

          1. Anonsie*

            I’m not saying they should give them the internship, just that they should let them know the contact was a big thing that hurt their chances so they can try to remedy it if they can.

            1. Colette*

              But that sort of feedback is itself a favor – and one that you may get pushback about. (“I’m not the one who contacted you! You have to hire me!”)

              1. Anonsie*

                I guess I don’t feel like the potential to get a snarky email from someone is so scary that I wouldn’t spend ten seconds adding another line to their rejection, especially if they were otherwise a strong candidate that I would have considered.

                Plus I think you’re unlikely to get a lot of vitriol out of people if you separate it out as if it’s not the reason for rejection, but a heads-up as if they were unaware.

                1. Colette*

                  It’s not that it’s scary, it’s that it’s something that could have negative consequences that you’re not obligated to do. Getting entitled or abusive email is not fun – it’s distressing, and it tends to provoke an emotional reaction that makes it difficult to effectively work (for an amount of time that varies based on your emotional state, how many emails of that sort you get, etc.). It’s nice to do, but there’s nothing wrong with choosing not to do it.

            2. Mints*

              I think it’d be easier to respond to the initial emails “no, this request is unusual from you as a professor” or “here’s a response to the questions. No need to involve your professor.” Rather than as feedback to the internship rejection

        3. LQ*

          But that third party has already show they will act inappropriately with regard to that person. If you agree to move forward you’d have to spend a lot of time and energy laying down boundaries with PB. So you aren’t just agreeing to have that person as an intern, you’re also agreeing to deal with the BS that the other person is putting out. It isn’t fair that someone else’s actions can impact you, but life isn’t fair. At all.

      2. Kelly L.*

        Yeah, I think it’s less “rejecting a particular candidate” and more “opting not to establish this kind of relationship with this class/school because it’s a PITA.”

    4. OP*

      For us, it’s because we don’t want to deal with a helicopter professor all summer. We get dozens or even hundreds of equally-qualified applicants for our program and it’s an easy way to eliminate some right off the bat.

      And we do mention it to the student, in case they were the ones pushing for professor contact. At the least, they can report the behavior to their dean and see that it stops.

  24. CTO*

    I used to supervise service-learning students and interns, and the only time the professor would contact me was occasionally at the end of the semester to independently verify the student’s service or check on their performance. (Sometimes they’d also contact me at the beginning of the semester to confirm it was okay to send students my way.)

    To me, that kind of follow-up is understandable and appropriate, because it’s around a much larger “project” than just one paper. And because students’ performance issues affected our organization, I appreciated having a line of communication.

    But that’s totally different than what you have here. My students were always responsible for finding their own community partner, following up, getting us to sign their paperwork, etc. And those that didn’t follow through (like not starting the process until the end of the semester) suffered their own consequences. In my experience, the professors always respected us 100 percent and never pressured us to lower our standards or otherwise pander to students.

    I’ve never encountered something like what OP is experiencing. This is bizarre. I agree with the others–make your expectations clear to these professors and don’t bend to pressure to change your policies/procedures for them.

    1. Artemesia*

      I would think that any service-learning project where the professor was not engaged with you from the gitgo would be a very poor example of service-learning. This is not supposed to be ‘hours for credit’ but a learning process integrated into the class throughout the semester. The professor should be a partner with the ‘community partner’ and both should have an understanding of what is needed in the community and what the student needs to be able to do to learn about the subject matter from the process.

      Student shows up all semester and the professor asks for feedback at the end of the semester is a textbook description of a badly designed service-learning experience.

      1. CTO*

        Agreed. Like I said, I appreciated having an open line of communication with the instructors… but not all schools/departments have good service-learning programs. Over time, I was able to be choosier about who I worked with and what I expected of the instructor.

        But I’m sure we’re both agreed that the OP’s situation is very different. It doesn’t sound like the assignment is as major as a service-learning commitment could be, and no professor has ever condescendingly assigned me “homework” as the community partner. It was always the students’ responsibility to bring me any paperwork they needed me to complete.

  25. Random College Admin*

    When one of our classes started requiring verification of a meeting with an academic advisor for a whole mess of points, they got a few instructor e-mails due to students saying their advisor didn’t have any open appointments before it was due. 9.9999 times out of 10, the student had either waited until the last minute to try to schedule it, despite knowing about the assignment for up to 12 weeks, or the instructor received a polite response that the student had no-showed the scheduled appointment and a reschedule could not be accommodated before the due date. I believe the e-mails from instructors regarding this matter have stopped.

    No one is ultimately responsible for a student’s grade but that student, and anyone who behaves otherwise does the student a disservice.

    1. Jessa*

      The problem with this one is the person in question is an employee of the school and it’s POSSIBLE that they are the one flaking out. I’d be annoyed if it was the other way and I bent over backwards to make an appointment and my professor didn’t help me navigate the idiot in the other department after my efforts failed. Sometimes it’s NOT the student, and in that case you kinda have to go around over someone’s head especially if it’s a school decided requirement. They could have hired not enough advisors, given them not enough hours or had one slacking off.

      I would however have an email chain proving I did my level best to do the assignment as written before going to the professor. In one school I went to (I moved so I went to more than one) you got assigned an advisor and if they were a flake you were kind of stuck with them unless you really, really loudly complained. It was also considered not on to end run them to someone else. So an assignment like that if you had a lousy one needed the prof to complain to the dean.

    1. AVP*

      to elaborate…if it’s a phone conversation or sit-down informational interview, I can understand how 15 questions could get asked, with all the back-and-forth and follow-ups and niceties. But a list of 15 point-blank questions that most likely are not yes-or-no is asking way too much of someone you haven’t met.

        1. Adam V*

          On the other hand, in an email exchange, I’d be more likely to respond back and say “I’d love to help, but since these questions are somewhat in-depth, I’ll only be able to answer one or two each day, so it’ll take me two to three weeks to finish. If that’s not going to work, I’ll have to decline.”

  26. M. in Austin!*

    “…please download the attached assignment sheet and read the instructions…”

    I just had a horrible flashback to being a student. Yuck. I would be very peeved to receive that! Felt too much like homework instructions. That is not how to talk to an adult who is doing your student a favor!

  27. Annie O*

    “If you agree to be her Ask-A-Designer, please download the attached assignment sheet and read the instructions. I need you to return the sheet to me if you agree to participate.”

    Whose assignment is this?! Shouldn’t *the student* be the one filling out the assignment sheet and returning it to the professor? Why in the world would a prof rudely expect the OP to do it? I wish the professor could read the comments here….

    I see two ways of making this assignment work. (1) The professor prepares the students to complete the assignment professionally and responsibly, and then backs the hell out of the way, or (2) the professor realizes that the students need help navigating this new experience and therefore does the leg work up front to recruit a list of willing professionals for the students to contact.

    I wish I could think of some better advice for the OP. I have a feeling that any gentle suggestions to these types of professors will fall on deaf ears.

    1. Artemesia*

      Exactly. If the assignment is quite structured and it is felt that the professional needs this material then those professionals should have been recruited by the professor and have agreed to be part of the process.

    2. Nodumbunny*

      This is what I came here to say – it isn’t the fact that there is a follow-up email from the professor, it’s the “download the instructions and I need to you return the form to me.” Hell to the no – you need to make this as easy on me as possible if you’re asking me a favor. Let the student download it and bring it to me for signature if you need that, but I’m not pushing your paperwork.

  28. Mimmy*

    Wow, and here I thought I’d seen everything!

    I agree with those who say this is likely coming from some mandate from the school–that was my first thought too. but I wouldn’t be surprised if this assignment is something all professors are required to give, and are pressured to ensure that it gets done, hence the persistent emails.

    I’m absolutely in favor of incorporating real-world skills and experiences into college/grad school courses–I’ve always felt there was some disconnect between the two worlds (at least in my Masters program). However, this is not how you do it!! Yes, interviewing professionals in your prospective career and learning to manage these contacts on your own is an excellent exercise, but your grade should not depend on it. And my goodness, the professors should not be contacting people in the field in this manner–they have enough on their plates as it is.

    If schools are that insistent on students interviewing professionals as part of their assignments, I think there are more collaborative ways to do this where the schools can facilitate the contacts (perhaps through career services or field placement offices), but put the onus on the students to initiate the connections.

  29. Anonaconda*

    I’m pretty speechless. I remember the email response time of my professors, and I can’t believe one would send a follow-up when they hadn’t gotten a response in mere hours. Do they not understand that these kind of requests are favors? I had to do some assignments like this, and I always had a back-up plan for someone else to interview. Isn’t that kind of the point?

  30. Artemesia*

    If it is an internship, those are generally officially registered and supervised by faculty (if the University is doing a good job) so I would expect to be getting contact from the supervising professor about expectations and such. The professor is one of the actors here.

    But for an informational interview? Perhaps a thanks later for assisting students, but this does seem a tad twitchy two hours after the request.

  31. Polaris*

    I’m baffled by this. I took some college courses that required me to work with someone from the larger business community, but in every instance, the person had been preselected, knew the scope of the assignment, and had agreed to help. The professor or a staff member made the initial contact before the semester began and explained what was needed. Students were given a specific person to contact and that person knew the level of commitment that was expected. We were never asked to cold call or email a someone.

  32. Kate*

    Am I the only one who thinks it’s rude for the professor to assign this at all? Maybe they could give extra credit for reaching out to professionals in the field (as proven by emails or something, with the professional’s knowledge of course), but expecting any busy person with work to do to answer a student’s questions is kind of rude. Yes I love helping people, but I have a million other priorities and can in no way guarantee answers by a specific deadline, and don’t see why anyone else at my level in my field would be any different.

    1. fposte*

      I think you have to do it very carefully, and you have to frame it to the students as their asking somebody to do a big favor. A lot of that’s going to get drowned out by the pressure of semester deadlines, unfortunately, so I don’t know if there’s a way to rude-proof it.

      I think it’s less of a problem in a professional school when you’re basically part of an established chain; you’ll be helping young pre-professionals in a few years just as you were helped.

    2. Crow T. Robot*

      I don’t think the assignment itself is rude, but this: “So-and-so’s grade depends on this, so it’s important you do it,” is pretty rude. Professionals have zero obligation to care about a random college student’s grade in one class, and it’s ridiculous to try to use that as some sort of guilt trip.

    3. Miss Betsy*

      This whole thread makes me so glad I went to library school. Meeting librarians, interviewing them, doing observation sessions – they were all required for multiple classes – and every single librarian I worked with seemed thrilled to help me. They appeared to enjoy these sessions as much as I did and I certainly learned a lot. Of course, my professors had nothing to do with setting up the interviews and observations sessions and never, to my knowledge, contacted the various librarians I met with. They just graded the resulting papers and projects. After so any positive experiences, it seems bizarre to me read a post like Kate’s.

      As far as internships – we were encouraged, though not required, to do a practicum and we had nothing to do with setting those up except for submitting a list of possible libraries to the coordinator. The practicum counted as a class and cost the same as any other 3 credit class would. It was valuable work experience and frankly, I’m glad there was a coordinator who did all the initial outreach. Once the practicum was set up, we had the responsibility of meeting with our supervising librarians to work with them in determining the details.

    4. annie*

      This happens a lot in my field, and to me, and it is kind of to the point where I think it is rude. There are a dozen schools in my city and I have a somewhat specialized job, where I am potentially asked to do this five times a semester. I just don’t have time. When I get a bunch of questions all at once, I usually ask if they are all in the same class at the same school, and the reach out to their professor. I am happy to go to speak to a class for an honorarium, but spending days answering emails or doing phone interviews is just not realistic to expect.

  33. Lily in NYC*

    I don’t think people realize how disruptive this type of request can be to us working stiffs. I have the dubious honor of answering emails that come to our general info@XXX on the “contact us” part of our website. We are a well know org, so I get tons and tons of students writing in asking for help with their research projects and expect the people who work here to know the entire history of the field we are in. It’s like expecting a pop star to know everything about classical music and music theory. We are a modern office, not a historical society. I’m nice about it, but I always say no. We just don’t have time for the 15-20 requests from students that come in every week.

  34. CAS*

    I’m an adjunct instructor who teaches online for a liberal arts college. One of my courses requires students to conduct an informational interview with a professional in our field. They are required to ask questions that relate to concepts we cover in the course and spend some time observing the professional. This is an eight-week course, so they don’t have time to waste in finding a contact they can interview and observe. They have two weeks to identify a contact and get started on the project.

    My students are all over the U.S. and sometimes stationed in other countries. I couldn’t possibly provide a list of organizations or contact people for them.

    Students have to provide me with their project details so I can approve them. I request contact info for the contact person just in case I need it. Students who don’t identify a contact in that tw0-week window get a 10% penalty on the assignment.

    In a class of 25 students, one or two might e-mail me to say they are having difficulty identifying a contact person. I offer suggestions to help them. Perhaps they need to broaden their search or adjust their approach. Maybe they need to learn how to make follow-up calls. And I often learn that these students didn’t start looking for a contact until close to the deadline. All of these are part of the learning experience for students.

    Regardless, I do not make phone calls or send e-mails on a student’s behalf. I do not send a question list for the interview. I do not tell any contact person that the student’s grade depends on their participation. The syllabus details the assignment expectations, and it is the student’s responsibility to carry them out. The student is responsible for letting me know if there’s a problem with the project so we can troubleshoot it.

    During the last term, a student’s contact e-mailed me to request confirmation about the project. It’s the first time in seven years (and teaching the course five times per year!) that I’ve had any interaction with a student’s contact person.

    My institution does not provide internship or service learning opportunities for online students. For my discipline, this project offers the only chance students may have to interview and observe a professional in the field. I consider it to be a critical part of my course and their college experience overall. Though it can be stressful for them at the beginning when they’re trying to find contact people, most students report at the end that the experience not only was valuable, but also perhaps the most realistic of their college careers.

    1. AVP*

      Two weeks still seems like a short amount of time (from the standpoint of a busy professional) but I guess it depends on the industry and how big it is. And hopefully they are being advised to approach more than one option, so that if the first person they ask can’t get them an answer in time, they have a chance to reach out beyond that.

      1. CAS*

        Yep, they should approach several organizations. It wouldn’t be to their benefit to contact only one. They have access to a syllabus before the course even starts, so industrious students could review the syllabus and start reaching out to potential contacts before Day 1 of the course. However, students are told on Day 1 about the project and the requirements so they can get started ASAP. Eight weeks go by pretty fast in an online course. If I didn’t have a deadline for setting up the contact, some students would wait until the week the paper is due. This at least gets them moving on it sooner rather than later.

  35. Crow T. Robot*

    I find the phrase “Let me know if you have a question” very funny. A question. One. If you have more than one question, too bad.

    Also, what kind of professor has time to be sending emails like this? I remember when I was a student and it was hard enough to get a prof. to answer my emails.

  36. J-nonymous*

    Am I the only one who doesn’t think these requests from professors are that unreasonable? The first example sounds like the professors in question are providing contextual information ([Student] is graded on this interaction / feedback) to ensure that the people who are asked to provide feedback understand there’s more to the request. I may not agree with grading a student like that, but the contextualizing request isn’t *that* unreasonable.

    In the second example, “Ask-a-Designer” seems to have some shared meaning between the professor, the student, and the person being interviewed. If not, then yes – there’s a clear fault of the student for not providing full details. But this sounds like a “If you agree to be a professional advisor/resource for this assignment, please return this form to acknowledge your participation.”

    Again, maybe I’m missing something here entirely, but this sounds like overreaction on the OP’s part to me, not some awful Helicopter Professor syndrome.

    1. Hous*

      It’s unclear to me why the professor needs to be involved in the first place. Surely once the OP, the student could pass on the necessary paperwork (and, if they didn’t, isn’t that on them?)? I had a similar assignment when I was in grad school and the professor never interacted with the professional at all–I reached out, explained the process and what I needed, and asked if the person I’d chosen would be willing to meet with me and answer questions. Having the professor follow-up–especially before the person has even responded–seems very odd to me.

      1. Hous*

        Oops, I misread the OP–didn’t see that she had already agreed to do the interview. Which makes the professor’s email much weirder (since the professor does not seem aware the OP has agreed either), and still unnecessary, as the student could just say these things herself.

    2. Observer*

      “The student’s grade” was not there to provide context, but as the basis for a presentation of obligation -“It’s very important that you do this”- to someone who has no obligation.

      As for the form, why would the professor expect anyone but the student to fill out any paperwork? If they need a signature, the professor could ask for that, but asking her to read homework instructions and fill out a form is a bit much. And, preferably, the student would just bring the form to the teacher and get it taken care of that way.

  37. Elizabeth West*

    This is what got me:

    Jane’s grade is dependent upon this assignment, so it’s important that you do it.

    That’s not asking; that’s DEMANDING.

    1. J-nonymous*

      Sure. But I read that clearly as “if you agree to participate” then completing this is very important because then the interview process with the assigned questions is something [Jane] is graded on. I just don’t see this as an example of something unreasonable.

      If I am approached to be the Ask-a-Designer, I would want to know what’s expected before I agree to do it.

      1. AVP*

        I think the discrepancy is that it’s insinuating that if you don’t agree to do this, the student will fail. Which isn’t really fair if you don’t have time, or if you receive a lot of these requests and can’t answer them all.

        Hopefully the students have been coached to approach 3 or 4 people in order to get the assignment done, but they don’t mention that.

        1. J-nonymous*

          It’s open to interpretation. My reading of the OP’s letter makes me think that he or she *wants* to see a pattern of helicopter behavior in the requests and so reads this one in that light.

          That said, I agree with Celeste – the OP should craft some sort of templated response that s/he can use when answering these types of inquiries.

        2. Anonsie*

          The LW had already agreed to do this one, though, so it takes on a somewhat different light than if this was the initial approach for participation.

      2. Anonsie*

        I wonder if this is what they were getting at but just worded it very poorly– like they’re one of those people who write super blunt emails that always sound rude no matter what because they don’t do the softening of language most people do with written exchanges.

        Because on the one hand, demanding it is crazy. On the other, making it clear what you’re getting yourself in to is very necessary.

        1. J-nonymous*

          That’s how I interpreted it – though based on the OP’s additional comments, it sounds like the professor in question is forcing people to reply in order to verify that students are being honest.

          And now I call take-backsies on my original comments!

  38. Anonathon*

    Related tale: I’m also the internship/related inquiries contact at my organization (good-sized nonprofit, large city). I got an email from a student who was taking a class in my field, and his final assignment was to produce a project utilizing those skills for a nonprofit. And … we actually had to use his project if he was going to pass the class. For real, he couldn’t just give a presentation. This was an undergraduate class and the student wasn’t majoring in the subject. Maybe, maybe my boss would have said yes if the student could come into our office and be supervised. But his school was 700+ miles away.

    I wrote back and advised him to look within his own city, and maybe focus on organizations that didn’t currently have full-time people in that function. He sent me a very nice thank-you. But I felt bad for him. First, is this a normal assignment? Second, he clearly didn’t have any guidance on how to select an organization that was likely and able to say yes. If classes are going to involve “real world” assignments like this, instruction on how to do research, reach out, and follow up appropriately should be right at the forefront.

    1. Adjunction*

      That is very odd. I would not assign a student a project that a business had to use in order for him to pass. That makes no sense at all since businesses are not typically going to use random things produced by students.

    2. A Kate*

      What!? This is just crazy. I find it hard to imagine that enough organizations said yes to this for most of the class to pass. Initiatives undertaken by well-managed organizations fit into larger strategies. Who would implement random projects made by random students?

      I almost wonder if the assignment was just to get feedback on the idea from an organization in the field and the student was trying to manipulate you into using his idea to impress his professor or guarantee himself an A. Or from a less cynical place, maybe the student misunderstood the assignment?

  39. Adjunction*

    WHAT? No. This is not OK. I teach college freshmen and one of their assignments is a career exploration project wherein they must do an informational interview with someone in their field of interest. I would never, ever contact that person for them. They need to learn to do those things for themselves. As well, who has the time for this? I have enough to do with handling my own job.

    And don’t even get me started on the guilt trips. That is just bizarre. As Alison noted, this is a favor that a professional is taking time out of their schedule to do. Jane will fail if you don’t do this for her? Well then, I guess Jane is just going to have to re-take the class because that kind of nonsense would make me refuse the request on principle.

  40. Callie*

    Part of my job is arranging field experience and student teaching placements for my teacher ed students with teachers in the community. I never send students out to ask random teachers to do this. I email teachers (ones with whom I think my students will have a good experience), explain what the students are required to do, what would be required of the teacher (this varies depending on the reason students are going into classrooms) and then ask if they would like to have a field experience/student teacher this term. This way they aren’t pestered by ten different students if they don’t want to participate for some reason. When I was a K-12 teacher, there were some terms I wanted someone in my classroom and some terms I didn’t, so this was how I liked to be contacted. And then *I* know when students are placed and who they are with, so they can’t use the “blame the cooperating teacher” excuse.

    I guess if I was outside education I would still want to know who my students were doing internships/projects with and want to organize those instead of just sending them out to random people to bother.

    1. Observer*

      That sounds like a very different thing. It does make a lot of sense. It sounds like the school wants to insure certain things, and works with the schools / teachers to make sure that it gets what it needs, and in turn they smooth other parts of the process for the school / teacher. That’s good – and the student doesn’t get incorrect ideas either.

      1. Callie*

        Well and I guess it’s a little different with education type internships because every teacher has had to do them, they’re regulated by whatever requirements the state has in place for licensing, we have to get our students fingerprinted and background-checked before they can work with children, the principals at the schools have to approve–in other words, a lot of hoop-jumping that might not exist in other fields.

        I still like the idea of a professor (or, their TA) asking up front in a single email who is willing to participate, and then notifying students who is available, rather than a situation where multiple students might end up asking the same person who isn’t even interested. And unless the student is doing a substantial amount of work, there shouldn’t be much more on the professional participant’s part than signing a form. Definitely nothing that involves “homework”.

  41. Lora*

    I have a question or two…starting with “why do you think this is an appropriate way to contact a professional designer” and ending somewhere around “who taught you manners?!?!”

    That said, I sadly know some academics who would totally send this email. They are exactly the type of person you would expect would send this email–never actually worked in industry, only consulted once in a great while, generally egomaniacal individuals who feel that they are such absolute geniuses that they are entitled to be boorish.

    In conclusion, people are jerks, the end.

  42. Becky*

    To: Jane Doe
    CC: Professor

    Dear Jane,

    I received the below email from [professor] following up on your request for an informational interview with me. Before receiving it, I had already replied to yours, as it happened I was available on one of the dates you requested.

    While I remain happy to meet with you and discuss the issues you mentioned in your initial inquiry, it will not be possible for me to engage further, nor to complete the written assignments your professor has sent me. If that is a requirement for this assignment, I’m afraid you will need to reach out to another designer.

    I think you will find many [people in your field] will have a similar reaction, given how busy the average day is in this industry! While most of us [designers] are enthusiastic ambassadors and love to talk about our work with students, it’s just not appropriate to make a completely unconnected party responsible for a major portion of your grade.

    I would also suggest that you will get a more positive response if all communication remains between the student and the [designer], with your professor cc’d when appropriate to keep him/her in the loop on how things are progressing. If we do go forward, it will have to be on this basis.

    Please let me know if you would like to proceed with our meeting. I’ll need to have a confirmation from you by [x date] in order to block out the time.

    Best regards,


  43. OP*

    Hi all, I’m the OP. I took Alison’s advice and emailed the professor back to ask why he was following up instead of the student. He said it’s because other students – not Jane – have turned in made-up assignments and now he distrusts all students. I’m very tempted to write back and say it’s not our (the professionals being asked favors) fault that his students are untrustworthy. Especially because getting an email back saying that I’m a real person isn’t actually proof – they could make up an email address themselves.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      How about: “While I sympathize, that sounds like a problem that will need to be solved on your end of it, rather than asking the people who your students are asking for favors to take on additional inconvenience. I think you’ll find people are less inclined to help when a student doesn’t appear to be managing the contact herself.”

    2. Brett*

      I wondered if that was why the professor was so involved. I bet the professor actually personally looked up your email too rather than relying on the student to give it to them (that would be the next step to deal with potential fake emails).

      Guess the next step in the cheating continuum would be a fake website and company. Sadly, I’ve seen students spend four figures to cheat on a class, and walk away with nothing worse than a W. It is not that cheating is any worse now than it used to be. It simply has become more and more sophisticated.

    3. Lora*

      The ding-dong can’t use LinkedIn to find them? Professional associations? He can’t just say “and oh yeah, please get a real in-person business card/marketing materials from the company too”?

      Yeah, I would make up a form letter explaining why he can go to his room and think about what he’s done.

  44. summercamper*

    On behalf of students like the one who is caught in the middle of this nonsense, THANK YOU for calling out the professor for his/her overreach in this matter.

    During my undergraduate work I did an internship in Washington DC. My school is strange and insisted on handling “placement” themselves, following the same model some schools use for nursing students in their clinical rotations. While us prospective interns were “allowed” to “participate” in the process, it was ultimately the school’s responsibility to get us interviews, etc.

    Of course, this is a dumb idea. It did very little to prepare students for the real-world hiring process, and the students who ignored the “helpful placement service” and did their own internship-hunting anyways turned out to have far better experiences.

    For a variety of reasons that I won’t elaborate here, I ended up relying on the placement service and was largely pleased by the internship I ended up with – working in a US Senator’s office. Two weeks in, though, I learned that the director of my school’s placement services had, as part of his initial contact with the senator’s office, faxed an 8×10 portrait of himself to them.

    This, combined with a host of other equally unprofessional and stupid gaffes on the part of the placement director, was the story of the semester. I was MORTIFIED. It soon became painfully obvious that I had landed the internship not based on my own merits, but based on the political clout that my school had in the senator’s state.

    Needless to say, it was difficult for me to overcome the stigma attached with the circumstances surrounding my internship. While I complained about the man’s actions to the appropriate authorities at my school, nothing was done – what does an undergraduate student know about hiring, anyways? It worked, didn’t it?

    It would have been so much better if the folks at the senator’s office – and at the dozens of other offices where he no doubt pulled the same stunts – spoke out against this nonsense. So thank you for doing your part with this professor – I hope it will help other students who are caught in the crossfire.

    1. Stephanie*

      Bwhahahaha, what? Why do people think a portrait is suitable business gift? Did you placement director think he was just that attractive that a business contact was dying to have a giant photo?

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wait, WHAT? We really need to hear more about this. A photo of himself?! Do you have any sense of what his thinking was? Please write back with additional details about this man. Any and all will be welcome.

    3. Adam*

      *Head tilts sidewise*

      Was the school desperate for funding or something? Was getting as many interns as possible into high ranking government offices part of a concerted marketing effort. Was the director Stephen Colbert?

    4. Onymouse*

      I’m REALLY hoping that it was some multi-page school brochure that happened to have a large picture of the director…

    5. Lora*

      OMG. This is hilarious. I want to hear about all the other gaffes. I would have been tempted to set up a Wall Of Shame of all the weirdness, then invite the guy over for coffee. I don’t know if I would do it, but it would have been a fun thing to think about on a slow day.

    6. summercamper*

      Ok guys, here’s the scoop:

      The placement director was an older man (65+?), supremely unqualified for the position but hired because his daughter was the dean of students. While other students thought the guy was fine, I always considered him to be about halfway between “sleazeball salesman” and just plan creepy.

      He was also very full of himself and thought that he was way more well-known than he actually was. So he sent the portrait with a note along the lines of “you may have seen me around DC, this will jog your memory.” Gag. Me. With. A. Spoon.

      My internship was part of a pilot program that the school was running, where they would send 12 students and a professor to DC for the semester as a cohesive unit, integrating internships with classes taught by the professor. It was a basically good program until the career services office demanded involvement – the professor who came with us later told me that allowing these guys to “play important” was the only way he could get the program approved.

      So the placement director took 2 trips to DC the summer before, in order to “wine and dine” various people who he deemed to be “decision-makers” at important offices. He really thought that my school (3,000 students, religious, liberal arts, in the midwest) had the potential to “Change The World!” and become a sort of reliable brand that conservative political organizations would turn to for their interns.

      Never mind the fact that students at my school were not all political conservatives. I think that’s part of the reason why the placement director demanded to be involved in the whole process – he was seriously miffed by a fellow student who got herself an internship with Amnesty International.

      Oh, and his resume and interviewing advice was just awful. Here’s some gems:

      – “Debate team? You are on the debate team? Well, now that you’ve done that for a year you should join intramural sports instead. You know, to be well-rounded.”

      – I started (from scratch) a weekly after-school club at a local elementary school, recruiting leaders and designing the program myself. I did this every week for 2 years. His comment: “Well that’s just one line in the activities section. Instead, you should participate in the university’s Day of Service each semester. You can save so much time – volunteer for just one day a semester instead of this every week nonsense, and you still get to list volunteer activities on your resume.”

      – “When an employer starts an interview with the ‘tell me about yourself’ question, you should start by saying that you were raised on a farm [which is accurate, if you consider two cows and a dozen chickens to be a farm]. In fact, talk about the farm a lot – it will show that you are honest and hardworking.”

      The man left the school in 2011 after 15 years in the department. According to his linkedin, he’s now a consultant “with a particular emphasis on higher education career center effectiveness.”

      1. Melissa*

        When you started the last sentence I thought you were going to say he left after 6 months…but 15 years? And still a consultant in the industry? *smh*

  45. Cath in Canada*

    Alison, I usually subscribe to comments on posts I’m interested in via RSS, but the RSS feed for comments on this post seems to be broken. I’ve subscribed to another thread since then, but still can’t make this one work – just FYI, and also so I can subscribe via email, which I think you can only do after leaving a comment :)

      1. Ruffingit*

        There’s a link to do that right above the submit button for new comments. It says “Subscribe to all comments on this post by RSS”

      2. Cath in Canada*

        At the very bottom of the page, just above the “Submit” button, there’s a hyperlink that reads “Subscribe to all comments on this post by RSS”. I click that link then copy-paste the URL into my RSS reader. It makes things like scrolling through lots of “+1” comments way faster than if I read the comments on the original page, and I can always click through to any given comment if I need to see its context

  46. Laura*

    I think it is pretty obvious that the professor has a form email that he sends to all industry contacts as a follow up to prove that the assignment/inquiry is legitmate. I don’t think its that weird, although the implementation is. The few hour delay is probably because he asks his students to submit a list of emails and he does a mail merge so you “know this is legit.”

    1. CAS*

      I agree. It’s not something I’d do as an instructor, but I understand why these instructors are doing it. They’re trying to be proactive about nipping dishonesty in the bud. Personally, I think it’s an exercise in futility, but it’s their call. I also would not want to assume up front that all my students are dishonest.

      I have no doubt that some students in my courses have attempted to fake their research projects. I can usually tell when I read their papers. Often, the only quoted material in the paper is from the organization’s website, brochures, or possibly a training manual. In some instances, there’s zero quoted material and no mention of interaction with the contact person. Some students will take material from the organization’s website and cite it as if their contact person said it. Needless to say, these are not successful projects.

  47. jennie*

    Weird, I had the same situation last week. A student sent a cold email inquiring about internship opportunities. The email was vague and poorly written and I didn’t make it a priority to respond, especially when I found out he’d also spammed all my recruiters with the same email. A day later his prof emailed to follow up and ask if I’d received his request and could I please respond. Turns out they didn’t realize our company is in a different city two hours away and wouldn’t work out for him anyway. Poor communication all around.

  48. Melissa*

    I can’t imagine a professor who has *time* to be doing this. If you have 30 students, are you emailing all 30 of their contacts?

  49. Kaitlyn*

    This is more than a year late, but I did want to add that it’s fairly common (at least at smaller colleges) for professors to write into departments after the student has submitted a graduate school application. Often applications are forgotten or looked over too quickly and I know of several friends who got into graduate school only after a professor reached out to ensure that they looked beyond the transcript and actually read the letters of recommendation.

    Now that I’m writing this out it seems really sad, but I guess that’s the inefficiency of academia? *sigh*

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