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I am a CS graduate student in Germany. One course I took required students to submit a program that solves a certain problem to pass. This problem requires a clever approach to solve efficiently, and a certain threshold of performance needed to be met.

The teacher is enthusiastic about his area of research and beyond this, strongly encouraged us to seek even better solutions. These were to then participate in a little championship, with fame (not grade bonuses) for the first places.

I ended up putting a lot of time and effort into the assignment and found a few ideas that allowed me to solve the problem several orders of magnitude faster than usual solutions.

However, after the mandatory part of the class finished, there was no further communication from the teacher at all. He did not respond to the two or three (friendly) emails I sent in the year since. He is still teaching the same course with similar conditions on a championship.

I am confused why he never responded. I believe I was always polite and not pushy, as I understand he is working a lot and lacks time. Still, I find the current state of affairs disappointing. I was hoping for something like a short letter declaring successful participation in (whatever kind of) championship. (Since this is in Germany, we always use written testimonials instead of personal references.)

Is this too much to ask for? Or should I try and get an appointment with him to briefly talk about my concerns?

  • I guess you spent much more time on this than expected or necessary. Also you did it at home, so he can't be sure it was you who actually programmed. Prof made it clear that all you'd get was a pat on the back, so why are you complaining? – Karl Dec 22 '17 at 16:55
  • @Karl Good points and I want to clarify why I think they do not apply here. We were repeatedly encouraged to go beyond the bare minimum to pass, and the lecturer showed detailed plans how it should progress, so I believe what I did was not too unexpected. I have also written a explanation of the ideas I had, how they were applied, which worked or did not, and so on - there should be no doubt that what I submitted is mine. It would also be quite a daring move to push a supervisor's nose into plagiarism. – mafu Dec 22 '17 at 17:50
  • What, exactly, did you expect as a response from your instructor? Is there something else going on that we are not aware of? E.g, is you implementation publication-worthy? – Mad Jack Dec 22 '17 at 18:01
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    I suspect this is not at all about you, your performance, your communication, or your integrity, but about the professor - by which I mean his promise of "fame" was his lazy way of saying there would be no extrinsic, and I guess that includes written, reward for creativity and hard work. I think you've done the best you can with this guy, he's not going to respond, because there is nothing in it for him. Your solution may have been useful to him personally (giving him new ways to look at problem-solving in his research area), but he's not going to give you credit or a personal testimonial. – user82849 Dec 22 '17 at 18:04
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    When someone is unresponsive to email, it is reasonable to visit him/her during office hours, or stop by (or phone) to request an appointment. Try to set aside any feelings of frustration or disappointment you might have, and give him a fair chance to have a meaningful connection with you. I completely understand your wanting to close things off with some personal interaction. Also, it's good to maintain connections with former instructors. They can be useful down the road in many ways. – aparente001 Dec 22 '17 at 21:58
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Given what you have written here, I am not surprised that you have not received what you want from your teacher, because I am quite unclear on what it is that you want.

From what you have written, it sounds like the contest in class was encouraging students to dig deeper just for the joy of trying to win and show off in front of your classmates. Great! You have obtained that prize and the accompanying (extremely local and limited) fame.

So, what, exactly is the additional thing that you want and feel is being denied to you? In comments, you say you want "a testimonial." Do you mean a letter of recommendation in support of an application to something? If so, that's what you should be asking for. Or do you mean you want to have your name listed on some high score list online, or to have the teacher post a 10-minute YouTube video extolling your virtues? If you want an opinion of your solution, what do you actually want beyond "it worked pretty well"? Are you wanting to co-author a paper or something?

Maybe you have communicated more clearly to the teacher, but from what you have written on this site, it seems that you will remain unsatisfied unless you are able to clearly put into words what exactly it is that you want and why. Once you have enunciated that, whether you will get it depends on how reasonable your request is.

  • Thank you for this answer. Initially I asked for his opinion (which he promised to give before he started the whole thing). Later I've instead only requested a simple document stating that I participated and which score I got. Neither was answered. – mafu Jan 28 '18 at 7:11
  • Ok, so why do you want it? – jakebeal Jan 28 '18 at 18:45
  • For practical oriented stipends and the CV – mafu Jan 29 '18 at 12:30
  • You don't need any sort of certification in order to list this on your CV. You can just list it. If by "practical oriented stipends" you mean that you are applying for money, then it's probably not going to be useful there either. What might be useful is to ask for a recommendation letter, if the application asks for recommendation letters --- and obviously, you doing well in this exercise might be something the instructor would use as part of their basis for recommendation. – jakebeal Jan 29 '18 at 12:52

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