I am a Ph.D student at the university. Every student has a favourite professor same as mine. I really care about and our student-teacher relationship growing stronger day by day. My professor really cares about my professional/academic growth.

But a few days sooner I heard that the professor has been gone for an extended period of time.I am very confused and don't have any idea how to contact my professor.

Mistakenly I used google and I realized that my professor loses his loved once. I feel really ashamed to break my professor privacy. I know that express condolence is the best way to support your close one who is under deep pain.

I am more worried about to disrespect our teacher-student relationship. I am really confused. Can anyone guide me any positive way to handle this situation?

  • 3
    Is this what you googeled something one could reasonably come across without "stalking"? (E.g. was it in TV news or rather in a forum about the professor's secret hobby?)
    – Thomas
    Oct 21 '19 at 6:09
  • I voted to close as duplicate despite the fact that "express a condolence" is different than "ask a question", since the answer to both is basically "treat the professor like a person, rather than an authority figure"
    – jakebeal
    Oct 22 '19 at 20:31
  • Why you think you have to treat a professor differently here in this situation than any other person??? Also, I think it not good at all to think in professional environments in "relationships", respect of course, which you broke by googling and realized yourself. Learn from this. PhD student are to my knowledge grown up adults with an academic title, same is a professor. Nov 21 '19 at 13:14
  • 1
    @user48953094: One reason which could or could not play a role in treating a prof differently is that they have a lot of power over the student. (There are countries, e.g in East Asia, where persons in power have to be treated really differently than "any other person".)
    – user115896
    Nov 21 '19 at 15:41
  • @Heutl but you make fallacy by establishiing a norm/difference/rule for something that has no difference by law (working contracts etc., in Germany every employer has the same power and not more than a professor). Posting such "prof" questions on academia.se is highly unproductive I fear and doesn't serve anybody, rather increases this not by law existing dependency. Apart from this condolence is not really a power issue, I voted to close Nov 21 '19 at 15:51

If you found this information online then it’s hardly an invasion of privacy (unless of course you hacked his email or something). I wouldn’t worry about that.

If there is a public announcement (an obituary) of a religious service (eg a wake or a shiv’a), you can probably attend as these things are usually open to the public for exactly people like you- distant relatives or acquaintances who wish to comfort the grieving family. For example, if they’re Jewish, it’s customary to bring some simple baked goods (say, cookies) since the family is hosting a seven-day event. I’m not familiar with grieving customs in other religions but that should be easy enough to find out. In these situations your professor would most likely greatly appreciate your presence and the gesture.

If there’s no public announcement then wait for the professor to come back to the university and try to catch them in person to offer your condolences. Again, the gesture would be greatly appreciated I believe.

My condolences...


Something similar happened to me several years ago (although I was no longer the professor's student at that point). I sent a brief email saying I wasn't sure if he remembered me, but I saw the news and was sorry to hear their loved one has died.

The professor didn't respond for three weeks (which is very natural), but eventually sent an equally brief "thank you for your email" response. I attended the wake, where we spoke briefly. The professor told me to treasure life, because it can be taken away at any time.

You might want to take a look at what's likely the world's most famous condolence letter.


If there's no public announcement, then I don't think that you have violated the professor’s privacy.

I have just assumed it, but I am not sure. Since he hasn't told you anything that means he wouldn't like to talk with you about this. You need to respect his decision. Maybe my answer hurts you but you need to realize this truth. Moreover, your moral duty is to show your sustenance because he lost his trust on you once. Show your sympathy in a sorrowful way.


What is the best way to express my condolence to a professor?

You can say, my condolences for your loss. That said, you needn't say anything; it depends on your relationship with the professor.

I know that express[ing] condolence is the best way to [offer] support

You need to consider whether your support will be helpful; support isn't necessary from everyone (indeed it may become burdensome).

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