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I talked to a professor about writing a recommendation (sometime before winter break) and he verbally agreed to it, and I sent him the official email request during winter break. He has not responded (I suspect it is because I sent the email during winter break) and out of politeness I didn't put his email down for reference requests without his consent. Is it considered pestering if I send him a follow up email now, restating my request? It has been about 3 weeks, and deadlines are in February and I wish to give at least a month's time to write the rec.

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It's not pestering. Professors are busy people and he probably just forgot. One polite reminder email will not go amiss.

  • Should I write the email as if it's my first time asking him, or should I reference my prior email? – Marcus Aurelius Jan 3 '18 at 22:51
  • @Marcus something along the lines of "Hi X, Before Christmas we discussed the possibility of you writing me a reference letter. Are you still ok to do this? If so, the first deadline is 13th February. Thanks, Marcus" should be fine (modify according to the formality of your relationship). – astronat Jan 3 '18 at 22:56
  • I can only speak for myself, but I appreciate and encourage students to "pester" me, as I can easily miss or forget about a request. – Steve Kass Jan 4 '18 at 19:39
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It's not pestering. Neither it is a good sign. Professors are always busy, still they are supposed to be professionals who prioritize their work and try as hard as they can to get the to bottom of their to-do list.

Sending a new polite e-mail with a reminder is certainly a good idea as he/she might just have put you down on her/his priority list. However, you need to be prepared to accept that you may 1) be down on their priority list for reasons of not being particularly enthusiastic to write that letter or 2) be facing a too busy (sloppy?) professor who may send a letter too late.

Just send the new e-mail and gauge the reaction.

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Most profs leave things like this to the last second... many even are bad and miss deadlines. No recommender I am aware of would start drafting a month in advance and carefully craft before submitting. Work level is so high that they will just crank this out when the deadline motivates them.

  • if deadline is hard (NSF, etc.) be sure your reminder states this
  • provide info to help them write (your CV, research proposal, etc.)
  • if there are any good stories of your work with this person not included in your CV that would be good for him/her to include, briefly summarize them.
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did anyone consider that winter break is supposed to be just that, a break? Professors don't give you assignments during that time, so please consider their needs to work on research or take a break over the holidays, as they so richly deserve. It was self-centered of you to send the request during the break.

  • Two deans ago my boss said faculty web pages should indicate our availability during breaks and holidays. I wrote, "None. They's why they're called 'breaks' and 'holidays.'" – Bob Brown Jan 24 '18 at 2:28
  • I don't think it was necessarily self-centered. It was probably ill-advised as now that email is "below the fold" in the professor's inbox. – Bob Brown Jan 24 '18 at 2:29
  • Yeah I made a mistake but it was also because our break is very long, and had I waited till after break I would have either missed out on a lot of program deadlines or given my profs a single week to write the recs. They did reply though so I’ll make sure to thank them profusely in person. – Marcus Aurelius Jan 24 '18 at 4:40
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    @BobBrown At least here, there are holidays for the students which are not holidays for scientific staff, but many of the scientific staff take their days off during that time. So it is very common to have a professor put up specific office hours during the so-called "time without lectures"/ students breaks. – skymningen Jan 24 '18 at 10:40

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