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I met up with a potential supervisor two weeks ago and they were very keen on my topic (on literature). They took a hard copy of my draft proposal to read and told me I will be contacted in a week. However it has been two weeks and I have not heard anything. I have sent a follow up email saying if my proposal is not appropriate, I would be happy to start from scratch again. There is no reply to that as well.

I am not sure what to do. If the proposal isn't ok is it not professional to email and let me know? Given the initial enthusiasm of the supervisor and the silence since they took my draft, should I believe my proposal must be horribly wrong and must be binned?

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    Phone call? Maybe she is busy? Maybe she wants to discuss it with a department chair? Just give it a call. Or make another appointment. – user93911 Jul 13 '18 at 16:23
  • Have mercy on us. We are old we forget things. Moreover.... oh, I forget, sorry. Sherry anyone? thanks. what? Next week? Hmmm. (Sound familiar?) – Buffy Jul 13 '18 at 19:38
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    On the other hand, it is natural for you to feel at risk here and I shouldn't minimize the uncomfortable feelings you have. But rather than fret at this point, spend what effort you can to improve and extend your proposal so that even if our optimism is misplaced you wind up in a good place. I think "horribly wrong" is not part of the equation here. – Buffy Jul 13 '18 at 19:53
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    Yes, natural for you to feel at risk. Once I handed over a proposal to a potential supervisor, with whom it came to nothing as far as concerned me. But I found out much later that he had got another colleague or student to carry out the experiments that I proposed, and published them, with never a word to me or even a copy of the paper. I only found it in a later literature search! – terry-s Jul 13 '18 at 21:52
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    So terrible @terry-s !! What did you do to take action after that? Thanks – Lisa Jul 13 '18 at 22:13
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Given the initial enthusiasm of the supervisor and the silence since she took my draft should I accept my proposal must be horribly wrong and must be binned.

No, that's not a reasonable inference. Students often seem to think that professors use silence as a form of implicit rejection, but I've never actually seen this, and it would be unprofessional in this context.

It's vastly more probable that she has just been too busy to reply, especially if she had planned to write something relatively complex, or hasn't been able to finish reading your proposal. (And honestly, your initial response about throwing it all out may have complicated it more, since now she probably wants to write something that will not only express her opinion but also reassure you.) She may also be ill, out of the office, on vacation, traveling to a conference, etc. July is a major travel period for many professors.

I would suggest that you try to set up a meeting in person, if possible. It should be much faster for her to reply to that message, since she only needs to check her calendar, rather than trying to articulate in words her response to your proposal. And having a meeting scheduled will create a deadline for her to have her response ready. It's best if you suggest a few times when you are available, to minimize the number of back-and-forth emails needed to agree on a time.

  • +1. I also think that if the prof was not happy with your proposal that you would likely hear about it fairly quickly. Profs get busy. Profs (especially) forget things. Try to set up a meeting if possible. Not time for panic. In fact, the prof may just be mulling over your work. – Buffy Jul 13 '18 at 17:38
  • Thank you, I am worried because the professor seemed quite sure about getting back to me in a week. And all my previous emails before the draft submission were all answered within hours. I will still try to email next week and set a face to face meeting. Thanks! – Lisa Jul 13 '18 at 18:38
  • +1, I am in complete agreement. I would like to emphasize that this is an extremely common response for students (and low-level employees, post graduation) to have. However, it's almost always wrong and (in my experience) the result of social anxiety. – Stella Biderman Jul 13 '18 at 19:03
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    @Lisa: I'm a professor, and I can tell you what often happens to me: I promise optimistically to do something by a certain date. Stuff comes up and I can't get it done. The person emails me asking for an update. Rather than respond right away and say it isn't done, I plan to get the task done quickly so I can respond that it is done. Stuff comes up and I can't get it done. Repeat. It's not good, but it happens, and it's no reflection on the person I'm (not) communicating with. – Nate Eldredge Jul 13 '18 at 19:03
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    Like so many things in life, time estimates from people are best multiple by three to get to something more realistic. Unfortunately 3 weeks is then long enough to forget about doing something, so it's fair to send a prompt close to the original deadline, again after another week, and then something more direct afterwards (phone, drop by office, etc.) – beldaz Jul 13 '18 at 21:27

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