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It is customary to use one's academic e-mail address as contact address in publications; I have seen once or twice an @gmail.com address being used instead, but it simply looked unprofessional.

However, I already experienced personally twice that system administrators love to deactivate e-mail addresses when people leave the institution. In a time when serving 1 GB of data costs one cent, apparently it is too demanding to set up forwarding for a few old users.

This leads to "e-mail rot" in many published papers, also for addresses that are explicitly designated as contact addresses. If one happens to have a popular name, it might become difficult to identify them using a search engine after the e-mail address becomes invalid.

What is your proposed solution to this problem? Should we (well, the ones of us that have tenure and power) put pressure on system administrator to change this practice? Should we use in our publications a different, more stable e-mail address than the academic one? Should we maybe get rid of the e-mail and contact address in papers overall? Should we insist that the journal publishers set up an alternative contact system (good luck with that)?

Related question: Changing mailing and e-mail addresses as corresponding author--which to include?

1 Answer 1

We should just use the email of our current academic institution, and academic institutions should provide user-controlled forwarding of some type (so people don't need to ask a sys admin if their forwarding address changes). Simple, effective.

Should we (well, the ones of us that have tenure and power) put pressure on system administrator to change this practice?"

Yes. Unqualifiedly. In my opinion, any institution that fails to do that does a massive disservice to its students and non-tenured researchers (i.e., anyone who might leave during their career). Email forwarding is not hard, nor is it costly. If someone tells me their institution doesn't forward, I would suspect they have a mediocre administrative infrastructure for research. Research institutions are built on the successes of their professors and professor's successes are built (in part) on the success of their students and research staff. If you could improve your school's standing in the research community by one peg by adding email forwarding, wouldn't it look pretty stupid not to do it?

Disconnecting those researchers' emails entirely is a small but non-trivial obstacle that could impact their research careers, which trickles back to the institution (particularly with PhD recipients). They might miss out on invitations to collaborate, book chapters, and even a heads-up on job opportunities. To those who say "Well, I always Google anyway," you probably aren't emailing a couple dozen people to contribute to a book (or, for an encyclopedia, think 100+ contributors). If you did and a couple emails bounced, how much time will you spend trying to hunt down the new emails?

I've been affiliated with an institution that did provide email forwarding, by a mechanism that I thought was pretty flexible. At the end of your time there, they closed down your email account after a couple months (the storage, that is). You could request that your emails be forwarded to an alumni address. This alumni address was controlled by you, in terms of where it forwarded.

So then, you would do the following:

  1. Create an alumni address
  2. Set up your original email at the institution to forward to the alumni account
  3. Set up the alumni address to forward to a stable account (e.g., Gmail)
  4. Emails to either your original or alumni emails would forward to the permanent email

So long as your permanent email doesn't change, you only need to do this process once per institution. Even if you did change your permanent email, it would take only a small amount of time to re-route your forwarding (one re-route per past institution).