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Academic Phishing

posted Jun 26, 2012, 8:03 AM by Lewis Baumstark
Among many hats I wear, one is that of Associate Professor of Computer Science at a regional teaching university.  Occasionally, I receive an email messages similar to the one excerpted below:

Dear Dr. Baumstark,
I am [Joe Bob] from [a foreign country]. I am now an associate professor of [university I've never heard of]. I am interested in applying for a postdoctoral on digital watermarking, information hiding, and information security, etc in your laboratory. I have attached my CV to this email for your review.

The email continues in the form of a typical job-application cover letter for a faculty position in a university: summaries of degrees received, research performed, papers published, etc.  In fact, Dr. Joe Bob (not his real name) writes an excellent cover letter.  I'm sure he's well-qualified for that which he seeks.

The problems with it, however, are multiple:
  1. I did not advertise a postdoc position, most likely because I don't have one.  We shall assume, for brevity, a causal relationship between these two data points.
  2. I do not have a research laboratory.  Further, I have no web page chronicling the achievements of my laboratory, nor publications generated by my laboratory -- nothing to indicate to the world outside the existence of a research laboratory.  All this is largely a consequence of the fact I do not have a research laboratory.
  3. I do not engage in research in "digital watermarking, information hiding, and information security, etc".  And though I have a publication list so enormously long it would be easy to lost track of what I have and have not published [reality: I know undergrads with longer pub lists than me] I don't recall publishing anything in those areas, so it's unlikely Dr. Joe Bob -- someone who has supposedly proved, by virtue of receiving a PhD, that he is able to perform a basic literature searche -- found my name in a search of research pubs in those fields.
Most likely verdict? Email carpet-bomb.  Dr. Joe Bob sent his CV and cover letter to as many faculty email addresses as he could find, in the hopes one would catch.  Hence the title of this post: "Academic Phishing".  I probably get one of these every semester or so, always from foreign students wanting a postdoc position or a graduate research position.  I understand, really I do, that many are probably desperate to find work in the US -- anything to get a visa and, perhaps later, citizenship.  But come on.  Do your homework and target actual advertised positions.  Find people who actually do research in your field and have actual dollars to spend on your salary/assistantship.  Don't clutter up my inbox and force me to write a short-and-polite-but-with-snarky-subtext response to your form letter email.