The application for TA fellowship, one normally takes recommedations from previous professors one has TAed under. What he replied when I messaged him asking for a letter of recommendation:

If you remember I had major difficulties with the group of TAs of last year: the group behaved as if its internships were the most important jobs and only if it had time and in marginal hours, it would do its job. I rarely got an answer from my emails, I had to send the same email several times. The group rarely answered students' emails and their assignments' questions. I asked for the group's support to proctor the exam, and at the beginning, nobody was willing to help. You were more collaborative than the rest. However, I still had to invest a significant amount of time to compensate for the complete lack of support of the TA group. So, in these conditions is very difficult for me to write the very positive letter that you need to win the scholarship. I am sorry that I cannot be more helpful at this time.

All of the things he says are not valid for me.

I didn't have internships, students sent me thank you after attending office hours and I went out of the way several times to accommodate his requests. Although, I can remember I replied him a few times the next day due to other work. He also did several things like threatening TAs for complaints which very out of the line at my University and unheard of.

Can I dispute his claims? I don't want a letter of recommendation anymore, I feel under-appreciated for the work I put in. I feel like I should reply to him, but I feel a bit angry for

  • dealing with him with through the course for this
  • trying to go the extra mile for a future recommendation.

Background info: The professor is not from my University and was hired to teach to a summer course.

Possible reply: Attach a thank you email I received from one of students taking the course, and mention two times I went over the line to co-operate with him.

  • 29
    Is there any chance his assessment would make it onto your record in your department, either officially or unofficially? Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 4:59
  • @ElizabethHenning he most likely won't teach again in my University. His assessment can in no way reflect in my record in any circumstances. Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 5:11
  • 4
    Dispute his claims? To whom and why? His negative complaints are all against the group, his positive statement is in reference to you. What do you wish to achieve.
    – jmoreno
    Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 23:49
  • 3
    At least he didn't agree and then write you a negative letter.
    – DBB
    Commented Jan 1, 2018 at 14:23
  • "All of the things he says are not valid for me." So his statement that "You were more collaborative than the rest" is false?
    – JRN
    Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 14:28

4 Answers 4


I am sorry for your situation, no one likes to feel under-appreciated. That being said, it is important to know which battles are worth picking. Your professor was very clear in his answer, and I can't see how can you (or anyone, for what's it worth) gain something pursuing this matter further. It would only create an unnecessary and tense atmosphere. You also said yourself that you do not want his LOR anymore. Let it go, and best of luck in the future.

  • 9
    Picking a fight would be stupid, but it might also be stupid to let false information go uncontested. Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 5:00
  • 1
    The professor only taught an one-off course in the summer. And, one other TA complained against him in the department, that he threatens students to get his work done. Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 5:15
  • 41
    I can't agree that he was polite in his answer. Using an LOR request to gripe at length about the other TAs is childish and unprofessional. Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 5:28
  • 4
    In my head there was a subtle difference between "polite" and "respectful". In hindsight, maybe I should have used "respectful" instead. But English is not my first language, and I don't want to go down that rabbit hole, but ok. :-)
    – Ivo Terek
    Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 12:23
  • 1
    @ElizabethHenning I think he meant which battles are worth picking and not to pick fights. ;) Commented Jan 1, 2018 at 19:47

Can I dispute his claims?

Not really, because he doesn't actually say outright that you did something wrong. His bottom line is that he doesn't have a positive impression of you.

However, if your relations with this Professor are important to you, you might consider having a chat with him about what had happened that semester so as to clear the air, possibly even apologize / make excuses for the group - even though you're not the one who was responsible.

  • 7
    Why apologize for something that you think you are not responsible? Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 11:15
  • 17
    @optimalcontrol: Ah, this is non-trivial (and part of the reason I wrote this answer). It can be more beneficial to assuage the Professor's disapproval of the group's behavior than to insist on your individual non-culpability. In fact, even for the very purpose of convincing the Professor you are not to blame, or are excusable, or trustworthy, the taking of responsibility and an apology might be better than insisting you weren't in the wrong.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 11:43
  • 2
    From a pragmatic point of view, I would also prefer to apologize in order to not create other possible tension but it would be also difficult from a personal side to apologize, just not to be in trouble. Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 12:42
  • There are times to apologize for a group. Most importantly, if you are responsible for the group, also if you feel you were part of it when it did its misbehaviour, even if you didn't. I find it however strangely disturbing to apologize for something one has no part in, as in an apparent disparate collection of individuals. Not only for the person who apologizes, but also for the person being apologized to. It appears strangely insincere. An apology, in my opinion, is always about taking responsibility. There is no indication that OP had any whatsoever for what went on. Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 11:25

Have you had any significant interaction with the professor other than in your role as TA?

If not, then he is probably right in declining to write your LoR. While LoRs tend to include lots of praise and nice words, they need some concrete experiences and successes to justify these words; otherwise the writer risks being taken for a windbag. So, for "the very positive letter that you need" (I am taking your professor literally -- yes, usually LoRs have to be really outstanding to be of any use due to the loudness war of recommendations), you need to have collaborated with him on a successful project. If the only thing you have collaborated on with him was a failure, at least in his view, then it will be very hard for him to use it as a basis of a positive assessment of you, at least without slamming the other TAs in the same report (which would open its own can of worms -- I perfectly understand his unwillingness).

On the good side, this has been a summer TAship; you can probably find other reference writers who know you just as well or better.


I think you should show your maturity and reply to the professor with a rather neutral e-mail. If you don't want a letter of recommendation anymore why would you want to dispute his claims because he generalized the group behaviour and projected it in some way on you? It's understandable that you are angry because you put in time to do the job the best way you could and yet don't get the 'reward' of a Letter of Recommendation. He probably feels the same way about the TA group because he had to spend more time of his own than he would have liked to.

In my opinion the best way to handle this situation is to reply to the professor and thank him for the opportunity to be a TA for his course. Tell him that you understand his frustration about the TA group and if it's important to you, tell him that you have done the job the best way you could. I would not recommend to send him the e-mail of a student who thanked you. You will not convince him to change his opinion, the damage is already done.

Take it as a learning experience. If you expect someone to do you a favor like writing a Letter of Recommendation, complete the work successfully and make sure that the person who you want to do you a favor takes notice of your work. I don't know how the TA group was organized but maybe you could have tried to support the professor a little bit more by calling out other TA members whose commitment lacked.

  • Yeah you are right, I should have asked him right after the course ended. I think now that it has 6 months since the course, he doesn't remember my contributions well enough to recommend me. Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 14:46

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