When I first started out as a professor (all of 18.5 months ago), I was tormented by indecision over how to sign my emails. At Field, we're pretty hierarchical, so it is standard for students to call me Dr. Mihi; however, I wasn't really comfortable actually signing that. It seemed pretentious. So I started doing what my undergrad advisor did--and which I found so maddening--and using my initials.
But then I wasn't really pleased with that, because after a while I felt a lot more comfortable being called "Dr." than I did at first (and a lot less comfortable with "Ms.," "Heu," or--worst--"Mrs." Gah!). So I started occasionally using "Dr. Mihi"; however, that seemed excessive. Finally what I settled on was "H. Mihi."
However, some students became very comfortable with the "HM" in the first semester, including my thesis advisee, with whom I have a good relationship. She actually addresses me as "HM" in her emails. I have no problem with this--but it has caused me to continue signing some emails "HM." In fact, I tend to sign emails to my upper-level classes, and to students who have been in those classes, with just the initials.
Just now I was replying to an email from an absolutely top-notch awesome brilliant student who hasn't taken the upper-levels yet but is still finishing her surveys. I almost signed it "HM"--recognizing as I nearly did so that it was owing to her awesomeness and English-majorness.
But I stopped myself. "H. Mihi" I remain--for now.
However, it made me realize that I have unconsciously established a hierarchy whereby the "in" students get my initials, and the others don't--because, you see, when an upper-level student is out of line or demands some kind of formal response, s/he gets the "H. Mihi": a demotion.
So now I wonder, given how much students chatter (or how much I, as a student, chattered), is it clear from my signature who's "in" and who isn't? Do they notice when I switch signatures on them? What messages am I sending, after all?
And then I think, Wouldn't this mental energy be better spent on something productive, like grading? Or, really, anything other than this line of thinking?
God, I need this vacation. Three more days.