I requested a recommendation letter to a professor and he agreed to write one for me. However, the application (a Google form) to which he needed to upload the letter required a Google account to sign in. He didn't have an account, so he emailed me what he should do, so I kindly told him that he needed to create one, detailing the steps he needed to take. This is when my professor emailed me back rather harshly, asking why he couldn't just submit using just his faculty email. I had to then email the program, and I was told to ask my professor to send the letter directly to the correspondent.

I understand that this is not that big of an issue, but I would like to know whether it was wrongful of me to have asked my professor to create the Google account. How can I be more careful in the future so as to prevent negative responses?

  • 36
    Maybe he is very privacy conscious and doesn't want or need google in his life. Jan 25, 2019 at 9:57
  • 45
    I find it very weird. Usually institutions ask for exactly the opposite, an institutional email to "prove" you really are the reference. Jan 25, 2019 at 12:57
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    Using a Google form for graduate admissions sounds extremely low budget. If you need a GMail account, have the professor write the letter and I'll copy it over into a Google form for you and submit it! Very cheap way to handle admissions.
    – Vladhagen
    Jan 25, 2019 at 16:58
  • 14
    Many organisations are very arrogant in requiring everyone they interact with to go through a process designed for their own convenience rather than for the convenience of the other party, and your professor is entirely justified in complaining about this arrogance. (Until recently, we kept a fax machine in the office for the one occasion a year that some customer required us to communicate by fax.) Almost certainly, he's not angry with you, only with the other party; but you're the one on whom he can vent his frustration. Jan 26, 2019 at 9:16
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    @n0rd : I hope you do realize, that "Google account" can equal "GMail account". I happily signed onto getting a free phone number with the "Google Voice" service. Later I found out that Google was referring to my sign-in as [email protected] but I never did sign up for GMail. I checked and, low and behold, I've been receiving E-Mail at that address. Even if Google offers some services separate, I certainly don't trust that a company will necessarily keep things separate forever, and certainly not Google which, already, historically didn't (for me).
    – TOOGAM
    Jan 27, 2019 at 15:25

5 Answers 5


My best guess, and just a guess, is that he was frustrated with the system that was required, rather than with you. It is probably a mistake for any admissions system to require an email address from a particular provider (unless it was for a job at Google, I suppose).

I don't think you made an error, but if you want to ease the waters, go see him and apologize for the hassle of it all. It would probably be a mistake to just forget about it, but also a mistake to obsess over it.

Such systems infuriate me, also. Such extra accounts are always a security/privacy issue.

  • 4
    I agree with "It is probably a mistake for any admissions system ..."; in fact, my first reaction when reading the question was that no admissions system would require a Google account and that this professor was probably misunderstanding something on the web site. Jan 25, 2019 at 1:51
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    Asked for a recommendation and being happy with the student, I am happy to write it. I am not happy, however, to start having a fight with the submission system. Think this way: the recommendation is written after hours, late at night, it's done - then, I have to spend another 20 minutes or more after midnight to merely get it onto whatever system somebody happens to use; worse, if I need to register - why should I be blanketed with dozens of registrations which are only ever used once? Jan 25, 2019 at 4:09
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    It it obviously not apparent to many that "creating a Google account" is not just two minutes of your time and some mouse clicks, but it is a binding contract with Google, consisting of a dozen pages of legalese that you agree to. As an employee of my institute, I would not even be allowed to conclude such a contract without approval from legal.
    – Dubu
    Jan 25, 2019 at 9:51
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    @JoshuaZ That's not all that curious though. As far as I can tell. small organizations are generally less likely to have the expertise or desire to follow standard (or best) practices, receive less feedback about their systems, and are more likely to have idiosyncratic policies dictated by individuals. Of course, the flipside is that they're less likely to be hamstrung by heavy bureaucracy and legal complications.
    – Anyon
    Jan 25, 2019 at 14:02
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    Note that the OP refers to "a Google account" while this answer currently speaks of "an email address from a particular provider", i.e., interprets this as a GMail requirement, when they're not the same thing. E.g., I have a Google account but not Google email. Recommend cleaning/editing that sentence. Jan 26, 2019 at 0:01

It is an unfortunate situation, and I think you misread it a bit. While your recommender didn't come right out and say it, when he emailed you to say that the submission site required a google account, it was a pretty clear message saying "the site requires a google account, and this is not acceptable to me".

You can assume that either he has an account and doesn't care to use it for this purpose, for some reason or other, or that he doesn't have an account and doesn't care to create one. Your correct next step would have been your last step -- to contact the organization and ask for an alternative.


It is wrong to see this as 'not too big an issue'. Your asking your professor to do some work (which he is expecting), but you are asking him to go about it in a very constrained way. Ideally, you would try to provide a 'low friction' route to get this letter of recommendation, and that would never require him to sign up for another service.

It is just about OK for a provider to require you to register with their system of choice, since you are free to work with them or to seek another course/employer. This is a bargain between you and them, and their choice about how flexible they want to be.

Where it goes wrong is for you to extend the agreement between you and your professor into complying with the 3rd party constraints.

The potential triviality of acquiring a social media account in order to fulfill an obligation does not factor into the reasonableness of making the demand. Many organisations have strict social media policies, and for audit reasons should be insisting that formal communications use formal channels.

The most significant flaw with the application process is you could have trivially forged your reference, so you should also be thinking now about how genuine the process you're engaged in really is.

  • 10
    Unless I'm mistaken, the requirement for a GMail account comes from the institution the asker applied to. The asker has no control over that: it's not their fault. Jan 25, 2019 at 15:46
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    @JonSG No, the university placed the burden on the professor; it is their fault. All the asker did was request a letter of recommendation, which is a completely normal request. It's not even clear that the asker knew that the interface for submitting LORs was going to require a Google account. We are not discussing hypothetical cases where passports or DNA samples have been requested. Jan 25, 2019 at 17:50
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    @JonSG It isn't the student's fault that letters were requested this way, and suggesting that they should withdraw the request is tantamount to saying they should withdraw their application to the program. OP explained to the professor what was needed, the professor balked (which is reasonable, as others have pointed out), OP brought it back to the program which said an email was fine, OP relayed that to the professor. OP didn't do anything wrong.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 25, 2019 at 22:21
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    @JonSG I think you are reading something in the OP that wasn't there. The professor said they did not have an account and asked what to do, at which point OP told them how to make an account. Then the professor made clear they did not want to make an account, at which point OP found a workaround. I don't know what world you live in where professors are such fragile beings that once they are inconvenienced they can never be asked for a recommendation.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 25, 2019 at 23:32
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    @JonSG More likely the professor didn't have one so they asked for clarification. When the student said how to create one they realized that wasn't a very secure way to go about sending letters (easily forged) so for the student's best interest they responded (with shock not anger) asking if there was any way to use their faculty email (which would prove they were the one to submit the letter). The student may have failed to read between the lines and realize they could figure out how to make an account, but they likely understood it was simple miscommunication and not lip from the student.
    – user64742
    Jan 26, 2019 at 1:52

I don't think it was some awful error. Like you have wounded the man.

I DO think in general that you should think about how people can help you and to make it convenient for them. And that what to you as the one who is benefiting (or as a possibly more tech savvy person) is normal may not be for them. Probably you should have asked the program ahead of asking the person how to handle people who did not want to create a login (and given the option ahead of time).

The only reason I am belaboring this is it is a bit of a general learning. Applies for customers in the business world, bosses approving expenses, etc. etc. The more you can make it easy in "hassle factor", the better. Make it easy for people to give you what you want! Maybe it shouldn't be this way and only the real big issues should be considered. But that's not how things work.

  • 2
    I get that. I got it before. But it turned out they WILL take the letter without making a new email account. Something that could have been researched ahead of time. I definitely would have checked if it was a customer signing a $$$ contract--was there some way around the logistics.
    – guest
    Jan 25, 2019 at 15:57
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    It's not clear that the asker even knew ahead of time that their recommenders would need GMail accounts. Jan 25, 2019 at 16:00
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    I think there is a certain courtesy required when asking for letters of recommendation but it is also part of our professional responsibility to provide references for our students. It is not reasonable for a student to have to anticipate every chafing event in advance.
    – DQdlM
    Jan 25, 2019 at 16:26
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    It's not reasonable to anticipate every issue. It is reasonable to make an effort to do so. The specifics of the situation will of course determine which happened. However, it is general good advice to make some reasonable attempt to make things smooth.
    – guest
    Jan 25, 2019 at 16:30
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    I agree that it is our responsibility to provide appropriate references. I do not believe that responsibility extends to account creation or any membership or affiliation with an organization.
    – JonSG
    Jan 25, 2019 at 17:34

Not this is the ordinary form of a LoR.

The ordinary form is a text, which is formulated and subscribed by him.

The important thing for the profs is, that the LoR is an official statement for him. It strength is given by that the prof - at least, in theory - pays with his own reputation, if the statements there wouldn't be true.

This is why profs don't really like to give LoRs. If someone employs you because of his LoR, and then you don't fulfill the expectations, it will decrease also the credibility of the prof. This is why LoRs are so hard to earn.

  • 1
    Your last paragraph seems inaccurate, based on my own experience, and your first two sentences are kind of confusing English. Jan 28, 2019 at 16:29

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