My professor has refused to provide a recommendation that I requested from him and directed me to approach the head of the department.

How do I close this communication with him?

Would a thank you email be necessary?

  • 38
    Why would you have to say anything?
    – kingledion
    Feb 3, 2018 at 19:17
  • 2
    Say "thank you" for his timely response. Feb 5, 2018 at 14:03

5 Answers 5


You don't need to reply to him at this point, what you should do is to follow his advice and contact the head of department.

You could, if you really want to, reply to him saying thank you for the advice - but this may or may not be received as you expect - far simpler to leave it and move on.


I would send an e-mail with the reply

Thank you very much for your time. I will follow your suggestion.

  • 45
    Professors get ridiculous amounts of emails, and neither expect nor want a thank you merely for replying to their email. It's just even more email for them. Feb 3, 2018 at 19:13
  • 4
    @MichaelHoffman so they expect students to be impolite? Aren't some of them way too rude already? Feb 4, 2018 at 23:20
  • 5
    @AndreaLazzarotto I would consider it impolite to add to this professor’s workload.
    – Tim
    Feb 5, 2018 at 0:12
  • 8
    Although I agree with @Michael Hoffman's sentiments, in this particular case I think the suggested email reply is excellent. Surely a situation such as this (declining to write a recommendation) is sufficiently rare and involves such a sufficiently onus task as to be fairly memorable? I've written recommendations for marginal students, but in nearly every case it was for a university/program appropriate for him/her. And in the two or three cases where I was not able to write anything very helpful, I discussed this with the student in person --- their plans and who else they could use. Feb 5, 2018 at 8:27
  • 4
    @MichaelHoffman Is the ~5-10 seconds required to read and dismiss an email saying "Thanks" really detrimental. Confirmation that the advice was received and appreciated does have merit to some; and for those it doesn't, it seems like an extremely minor inconvenience. It's not like a 4 paragraph email that has nothing for you in it. It's a single line. If I'm at the computer I could read the whole email in the outlook popup.
    – JMac
    Feb 5, 2018 at 14:32

You're over-thinking this.

Professors are people. Communicate with them however you would communicate with other people in a more senior position than you. There are no special rules.

  • 34
    I'd like to see some hard scientific evidence to support this conjecture.
    – Strawberry
    Feb 3, 2018 at 17:20
  • 10
    There are plenty of special rules implicit in communicating with "people in a more senior position than [yourself]." You have clearly forgotten (or perhaps you are really unaware?) of how naive and ignorant of such things undergraduates can be.
    – Will R
    Feb 3, 2018 at 19:30
  • 2
    @WillR You're reading one sentence in isolation and ignoring its context: specifically the sentence before it. Feb 3, 2018 at 21:42
  • 6
    Honestly, "OK, thanks -- I'll do that" is a perfectly fine response to just about anybody who's told you they won't do something for you and told you to ask somebody else. Feb 3, 2018 at 22:57
  • 7
    @DavidRicherby: Right, but the question is being asked by an undergraduate. As an undergraduate myself, I can assure you that some, perhaps most undergraduates have no idea what the rules are concerning communicating with anyone by email. We've simply never had to do it before. When I say "you've forgotten how naive/ignorant undergraduates can be", I mean that your answer comes across as follows: you're sufficiently experienced with such situations that you don't even notice when you apply the rules, rules which certainly exist and which you were not born with knowledge of.
    – Will R
    Feb 4, 2018 at 0:43

I would send a request to the Head of department, and cc the professor.

Dear Prof Head,
At the recommendation of Prof Nothead, I am writing to ask if you would be willing to...


Thank you for considering my request.


cc: Prof Nothead

This closes the loop: "I acted on the recommendation". It implicitly thanks Prof Nothead; And if Prof Head doesn't like it, he can reply-all.


Another alternative could be to actually contact the HoD, and after you got the letter from him, tell your original prof something like "Thank you, that was helpful, I could get the letter from him".

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