How to defeat your tutor in passive aggressive email wars

Image description: A screenshot of an email to a Professor, subject line ‘Re: Where tf is your essay you little sh*t’ all in Caps Lock. The email body states ‘Dear Professor, I really appreciate you taking the time to respond to me. But…I find your points to be rendered somewhat incongruous by the precedent of Gov vs. Simpkins of 1906, where the application of critical thought to the lateness of essays was deemed unconstitutional’

We’ve all received that email from a tutor, the one that politely suggests you perhaps ought to  consider submitting your essay that was due two and a half weeks ago or it might not be worth turning up to your tute. Normally appearing in your inbox optimistically early in the morning after you’ve spent the night in Bridge, most of you will have read between the lines and appreciated that your tutor was a step away from providing the plot for the next, particularly gruesome, episode of Inspector Morse. 

At this point, most of you will have had the standard Oxford reaction: panic, try and remember the last time you handed in a decent piece of work (year 12 usually), write 2000 words of unintelligible garbage to be attached to a grovelling email full of regret, and promise yourself you’ll be more organised in the future. One trip to your college bar later you’ve forgotten all about it, and the hideous cycle continues for the next 3 years.

However, as all good therapists (oh all right, mine) will tell you, you have to break the cycle. Doing so is easier said than done though: after all, you do still have to work with your tutor so telling them quite what you’d like to do with their essay title isn’t really an option. Instead, you must follow the age-old tradition of students everywhere and engage in passive aggressive email warfare. 

Not so fast, I hear you cry, and you’d be quite right.  Engaging in verbal combat with some of the smartest academics in the country is no mean feat. Whilst a simple “as I told you last week” might have sufficed at school, you’re playing in the big leagues now.. 

One of the easiest techniques to perfect is the standard guilt-trip. Being Oxford academics, your tutors will inevitably be just as late marking your work as you are in submitting it. Whether it’s a problem sheet that you submitted before the vac or a collection still sat unmarked in the corner of their office in 5th week, it’s all ammunition. However, you can’t just call your tutor out on it, or you’ll receive a long email detailing the various committees they sit on, how much time they have to spend on research, and how unimportant they think you are. Instead, you have to take the feedback angle: “I was so keen to find out how I could improve on my last essay that I thought I should wait to see what you wanted me to work on” is all but guaranteed to win you sympathy.  Not only does it point out the hypocrisy of your tutor without explicitly naming it, but it also paints you as a conscientious student who only cares about doing as well as you can in your degree (not that any Oxford student is actually conscientious).

For one or two of you though, this just won’t do. For whatever unfortunate reason, you’ve drawn the short straw and have ended up with that rare breed of tutor who not only expects you to be on top of your life but is also on top of theirs. They send your essay feedback within minutes of you sending it in and collections are tucked neatly into your pidge two day later: trying to guilt trip them just won’t fly. If you find yourself in this sticky situation, there’s only one way out: pit your tutors against each other . There’s nothing an Oxford academic likes more than moaning about their colleagues in other colleges and departments, so exploit this weakness to deflect your tutor’s irritation. This can be particularly effective if your degree includes multiple subjects: telling your tutor that one of your other tutors is asking for too much will set them off on a rant about how much more important their subject is. Chime in and agree, whilst nodding along enthusiastically, and with a little luck your tutor will have forgotten why they were ever annoyed at you in the first place. 

So, next time you receive one of those emails from a tutor, don’t sit back and accept defeat. With a little email trickery and a willingness to unleash your inner Karen, you can subtly roast your tutors and remind them just why they offered you a place to start with.