I am an undergraduate student. Four weeks earlier my professor asked me to work with him on a literature survey project. He asked me to update him every week about the status of the project. The project I am talking about basically marks the gender gap in an interdisciplinary field and I have to go through research papers and separate males and females, contact people rather than doing any research work. I worked on it for the first week showed him the excel sheet I made, but he didn't express any thoughts on that rather told me few other sources where I can get more data and answered the question I asked. I knew I was not very motivated to work since all I have to do was copy-paste data from sites to excel.

Then, my family members got sick(with most symptoms of COVID), I have to involve myself in that and it really brought my motivation down to zero. I couldn't bring myself up to manage time, I suffered from anxiety and depression in the second week, this disrupted my thinking I guess as I didn't inform my professor about the project. And in the third week as well I made no contacts with him and no progress in project.

But now when I think I am a little better, I see this as being irresponsible from point of professor and that unknowingly I have done a harm to my reputation since he is one of the best professors in my department and he has always been supportive to students.

I still haven't prepared enough data, what should I do now, how should I talk this out to my professor? Would an apology be enough? Should I ask him if I am still allowed to work on that project?

  • Good luck to you. Remember your advisor is human too. May 8, 2021 at 3:17
  • @A rural reader Thank you sir, but I don't quite understand.
    – user139372
    May 8, 2021 at 3:20
  • Related: academia.stackexchange.com/q/158913/68109
    – GoodDeeds
    May 8, 2021 at 6:34
  • Are you being paid as an undergraduate research assistant or is this something you volunteered to do?
    – kjacks21
    May 8, 2021 at 22:41
  • @kjacks21 I won't get paid, my professor asked me for the project to which I agreed.
    – user139372
    May 9, 2021 at 2:30

2 Answers 2


what should I do now?

You should contact your professor and let them know what happened.

How should I talk this out to my professor? Would an apology be enough? Should I ask him if I am still allowed to work on that project?

You should just tell them what happened, why you were absent, and that you would like to continue working on the project. While copying data to Excel is nice, it's certainly not more important than your family! Your priorities were in the right place, and what happened is not your fault. You should perhaps apologize for not letting them know earlier what was going on, but certainly not for anything else.

It's annoying when students ghost you, but in your case, the situation absolutely warranted it. If your professor is a reasonable person then they would understand and be nice about it. They may not let you continue working on the project because they already found someone else that would help, but it's definitely worth asking them to continue if you're interested (though it sounds like you're not that interested in this project).

  • I agree that their priorities were in the right place for everything except the lack of communication. You don't have to go into great detail - just a quick email explaining that you're having some personal challenges that will be impacting your performance. If someone just disappeared from their job for a couple of weeks, you wouldn't expect them to be able to step back into it as if nothing had happened and you wouldn't be surprised if their employer was unhappy about the situation.
    – G. Allen
    May 8, 2021 at 5:59
  • @Spark I guess I don't have any other option, I will do that. But say he said that I can't continue the project, would it be so bad for my research journey?
    – user139372
    May 8, 2021 at 14:06
  • It's definitely not a positive outcome - I wouldn't expect to get a glowing reference from this professor, for example. However, life often happens when we least expect it, more so in the past year than in other times. Get up, dust yourself off, and continue looking for research opportunities - that's all you can do really!
    – Spark
    May 8, 2021 at 19:29
  • @Spark about the last line, Say if I am not very interested in the project, shall I only send an apology email? it will create an even more negative impression.
    – user139372
    May 9, 2021 at 3:43
  • It's all about positioning. You can say something like"at this point in time, I do not feel that I have the capacity to continue working on our project. I understand that this is a major inconvenience, and apologize for not contacting you earlier."
    – Spark
    May 9, 2021 at 4:27

Update your professor about why progress has not been made and what your next steps are. If you need more time to focus on your mental health, then let your professor know.

One other important thing we should make clear: you are doing this work on your own time, as opposed to being paid. Research mentors or professors with unpaid research assistants should be grateful for any time you can devote to the project assuming you do not take their time for granted. It appears thus far that your professor has not invested a lot of time into the project with you, so you are fine. We should also note that you have no contractual obligation to do the work.

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