The myriad delights of academic spam

July 16th, 2009  |  Tags: , ,

If you look at the web pages of twenty American computer science professors, you will probably find at least twelve warnings indicating that one of the worst things a prospective student can do is send a form letter asking for an assistantship or for some aid in admission. Apparently, this sort of spam is very common and — as you might imagine, given the sort of person who is desperate enough to send out many impersonal, dishonest messages to strangers in the hope that some stranger will elect to stake some part of his or her professional reputation on the sender’s future academic work — typically fairly unsubtle. These warnings generally include the provision that the professor welcomes email from prospective students as long as it indicates that the student has some familiarity with the professor’s work and finds it to be a good fit for the student’s interests, aptitudes, and experience.

This sort of spam isn’t confined to professors, though. In fact, I got such a message this February:


I appreciate that this fellow — whose name I have redacted — has instructed his spamming script to mention something about some prose I’ve written, but “ACM Digital Library” is a web site, not a journal. In fact, the piece in question was published as a “Kernel Korner” article in the Linux Journal; I wrote it in 2001, as a very junior grad student. It is not a research article (and thus is unlikely to be “in accordance with” anyone’s research interests) and it is totally unrelated to any of the research I did for my dissertation. (I did briefly conduct some research tangentially related to that article before starting on my thesis work, but I never attempted to publish any scholarly papers on the matter.) Furthermore, anyone who read the article carefully would probably have noted that the technique I described for modifying kernel behavior via loadable modules no longer applied beginning with the 2.6 series of Linux kernels — that is, roughly since 2004. Finally, his script clearly needs a little work; note the funny spacing around the article title.

Unfortunately, I have no hiring authority, so I was forced to disregard this message. It’s a shame that I couldn’t pounce on the chance to hire someone who had almost completed his “B.Tech (Hons)” and clearly has at least rudimentary string-manipulation skills. I do wonder, though, if this young man got any responses. What would someone say? “Sure, kid, I can have you on the next plane from Kharagpur, INDIA. Don’t worry about sending your CV or any evidence of your eligibility to work in my country. I just hope you’re ready to do plenty of work on OS Security, Network Security, and time travel.”