While we were recently preparing to submit a manuscript, the lead author said they looked at my last few papers and noticed I always used a private email address instead of an institutional email address. They asked, perplexed, if they should also use my private email address with our submission. The answer was a resounding yes; always use a private email address. Here’s why.

I actually started thinking about this way back one thousand years ago in 2020 and started an interesting discussion on Twitter:

I came back to this again when submitting the Gilda manuscript at the end of 2021, then got a distracted by an ankle injury and sort of lost track of all the blog posts I had been writing. Now I’m finishing it up in early February 2022. The rest of this post is an elaboration on my ideas and follow-up discussion on Twitter.

You can’t take it with you

If you’re a researcher who sometimes writes and submits publications, the chances are pretty high that you currently work at some kind of institution and will not always work at that institution. Here’s what might happen to your institutional email address when you leave:

  1. Your old institution doesn’t care about you after you leave, and deletes your account the moment you walk out the door.
  2. Your old institution doesn’t care about you after you leave, and says that they will continue your access for a limited amount of time after you leave to save face. Then it deletes your account.
  3. Your old institution doesn’t care about you after you leave, and says that they will continue to provide technical support to you and all previous employees indefinitely with their infinite money and benevolence. I’m being sarcastic; this is really, really unlikely.

Whether 1, 2, or 3, if you used your institutional email address on a paper you published, it is now a dead link into the abyss. Anyone who might want to get in touch with you to chat about your research (or god forbid, ask you for code or data that you didn’t deposit in an appropriate place before publishing).

If you had used your personal email address, which won’t go away, then you wouldn’t have this problem.

Alternatively, some publishers allow you to annotate your ORCID identifier on to the manuscript, then you could potentially maintain your current working email address through ORCID, but again, not a lot of publishers support this (yet).

Who does this most affect?

As you become more senior, the chances of you moving institutions decreases. So this is an issue that disproportionately affects young researchers twice: first because you are harder to reach and second because your ability to network is more crucial as a young researcher than to an veteran one.

Do your best to disregard institutional policy

Institutions obviously want as much attribution as possible when you publish while working there, and using a prominent email address is one way to get that goal. Therefore, many institutions have a policy that you have to use your institutional email when publishing. A few courses of actions you could take:

  1. Ask the editor to include multiple email addresses
  2. Disregard institutional policy, it doesn’t support you as a researcher or a person.

I’m worried about getting a bunch of spam

I can’t speak for all situations, but I’ve been using my personal gmail address all over the internet and still haven’t got a ton of spam. It’s sitting at the bottom of this blog post if you want to prove me wrong. If you’re worried about this, make a new private email account you just use for publishing.

Difficulties for editors

One follow-up conversation I had on Twitter was with John R. Yates III, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Proteome Research. He gave interesting insight that editors highly prefer institutional email addresses because they are perceived to be more trustworthy. There are several reasons why this is not true (e.g., you could use an outdated address, spoof it, etc.) but ultimately this serves to distract from adopting more sustainable ways of identifying authors and reviewers like with ORCID.