46

I've been accepted in a research internship. However, after I sent an email to my supervisor asking about some details, he told me that he has no idea about who I am, and that maybe I've been exchanging with someone else. But the confirmation letter was signed by him.

I'm so confused, I'm afraid if I send more emails it would look like I'm forcing things. I'm really confused because I refused many offers to work in this lab. Any suggestions please?

18
  • 5
    Is it possible that there are two individuals with the same name? – Christian Mar 15 at 12:27
  • 14
    When you say "I've already discussed with the professor" what exactly does that mean? Did you email, meet on Zoom, speak on the phone? – user2705196 Mar 15 at 18:11
  • 5
    Are you sure that the professor who signed the letter is to be your supervisor, and did not simply sign it in some administrative capacity? Particularly since you say some other professor interviewed you for the position. If it is a structured internship program, the professor who signed could be the program coordinator, for instance. – GoodDeeds Mar 15 at 21:00
  • 13
    Did you pay anything for this "internship"? It could be a possible scam. – afaulconbridge Mar 16 at 9:40
  • 9
    I know of a professor who one day came and said he had a new PhD student he didn't know about, because he forgot to have accepted him. But bottom line, he had a new student, he signed and accepted him, so that already done. Likely the professor will work with you, but if you got acceptance and he forgot, its his problem, not yours :) – Ander Biguri Mar 16 at 14:32
69

I would send him the signed documents in e-mail, asking him if it was signed by him. His answer would shed light on things (he forgot he signed, he didn't read before signing, etc.)
But don't think that you're pushing things. An internship is important, and you already got a signed document and you need to know things to plan forward...

14
  • 31
    Rather than sending the signed document, consider emailing, "I have this paper letter confirming my internship and notifying me that I'll be working with you. I'd like to make the necessary plans." That way, you don't shove it down the supervisor's throat, so to speak, but you can still send it if the supervisor asks for it or continues to maintain that there's been a mistake. – Bob Brown Mar 15 at 14:24
  • 26
    NO, don't send signed documents (other than copies). You need to retain them. – Buffy Mar 15 at 18:21
  • 53
    @Buffy Sorry I wasn't clear. I. and probably others, had in mind scanned copies f the paper documents. Yes, hang onto that original! – Bob Brown Mar 15 at 21:00
  • 9
    First make sure you are talking to the right person. I've personally been in a situation before where 2 people with the same name are working for the same organisation. I would only send a signed document if you are sure that you are talking to the right person. – user1841243 Mar 16 at 8:15
  • 9
    @DonQuiKong Because one does not gratuitously annoy the person who, if all goes well, will be one's immediate superior. – Bob Brown Mar 16 at 20:43
34

Don't read too much in to this. There are a variety of possible explanations, including a miscommunication between the PI and the person with whom you had the interview. It is also possible that the PI is very busy and a bit distracted and someone who delegates a lot of such things to others, such as the person you interviewed with.

I would suggest just reminding both of the state of affairs as you see them and ask again (both people) for the details you need. Hopefully everyone will get "on the same page" soon.

2
  • this seems like just a guess that has no basis on the question asked and really should be a comment. – blankip Mar 16 at 19:53
  • 12
    @blankip: what kind of answer would you expect to "my future supervisor does not recognize me"? Something like "there is a rule 23-49 in the official Yale handbook that states a supervisor will forget students in 42% of cases"? All the answers will obviously go from "he is busy, to ""he delegated and someone fucked up", to "he may have a brain damage". Anything will be speculation for such a question. – WoJ Mar 17 at 9:12
11

Send him an email with a copy of the acceptance letter. Don't phrase the email as "you were wrong", but rather express that you are confused, that maybe there is a misunderstanding.

If the prof is a reasonable person things will improve from there. Otherwise, you could contanct the admissions office that sent you the letter, explaning the situation. That said, if you get to this second stage, it is not clear if it is to your advantage to work with this person.

6
  • Why should one express being confused when one is not confused? – yarchik Mar 17 at 15:26
  • 12
    Out of politeness and pragmatism. There is little to gain from telling idiots that they are idiots. If you tell someone "you are wrong", in particular when the person is supposed to be some kind of authoritative figure, it goes bad more often than not. It shouldn't, but it does. – Martin Argerami Mar 17 at 15:54
  • 2
    @yarchik: I wouldn't say "I have this signed paper from you", because it comes across as accusing, and at this stage you're not 100% certain that you have the right person (as others have mentioned, it's not that uncommon for there to be two people with the same name, or at least similar enough names that their email addresses are easily confused). If it's the wrong person and you're polite, they're much more likely to send a helpful response ("Ah, you need Dr Xyz, whose email address is x.xyz@example.edu, I'm Dr Xyzz xyzz@example.edu. People always get us mixed up"). – psmears Mar 18 at 12:03
  • 2
    +1 for stressing a non-confrontational, non-accusing tone. – einpoklum Mar 18 at 12:10
  • 1
    @yarchik: 1. OP literally says they're confused.... 2. You could phrase it as "Perhaps I have gotten confused, but" or "I hope I am not confusing you with someone else, but the acceptance letter seems to indicate that XYZ". etc. – einpoklum Mar 18 at 12:12
2

You do not indicate whether you have exchanged emails or calls in person with this supervisor. (At the very least, my email program will remember who I've interacted with even if I don't, and I confess that this has at times been my first checkpoint.) However, I suspect that your dealings thus far have been with a different person and that you and the supervisor have simply been assigned to one another. However, s/he did sign the letter. It is quite possible that they may not remember this as their PA gives them a pile of letters to sign everyday (but then it would be unprofessional for them to plead complete ignorance, if they have a PA with whom they can check what happened!). There could also be a bog standard mix-up.

In any case, be forewarned that this mess is a sign of things to come. You will be supervised by an overworked junior staff member or postdoc, your supervisor will rarely if ever see you and most likely still not have the slightest clue who you are when the internship is done, unless you deliver them a high-impact manuscript they can put their name to.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.