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There is a leading conference that will take place in Jan 2022. Graduate students are encouraged to present a poster about their thesis work, however, the slots are limited so a recommendation letter from the advisor is needed to ensure that the student has made a significant progress in their research and is highly competent.

I have asked my advisor three times and he told me that he is going to send it but he did not send them anything. I feel like he doesn't want to send for me the recommendation letter. In the last few months I went to three workshops in the field and made new connections and I felt like he doesn't like it at all.

The deadline is very soon. I just have a feeling that he does not intend to send it "based on some history" and he is going to tell me "I forgot", he has done it before with students. So, I am assuming here that he won't send it, I am looking for anything I can do. I am hoping maybe someone who has been in my situation before can give me an idea on what to do.

Should I give up on the conference? Or should I contact the conference committee? If so what should I tell them?

I don't want to ask my advisor again.

I am in the final phase of writing the thesis.

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    When is the deadline for the letter to be submitted? If it it not at least close to the deadline, I can understand your concern, but can you really blame your advisor for not having written it yet? Imagine you have a course with a final project and your instructor keeps asking you in the middle of the course whether you've finished it yet. Wouldn't you wish they would let you complete it by the due date and not bother you so much far in advance? Could it be the same with your advisor? Aug 22 at 23:10
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    The deadline is 27/8. I just have a feeling that he does not intend to send it "based on some history" and he is going to tell me "I forgot", he has done it before with students so, I am assuming here that he won't send it, I am looking for anything I can do. I asked here so maybe someone was in my situation before can give me an idea.
    – Nadine
    Aug 22 at 23:36
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    What does "based on some history" mean? Is that a quote? Is that what he said? Is that your interpretation? Is that someone else's quote? Have you had subpar submissions in the past? Has he said that you had subpar submissions in the past? Aug 22 at 23:41
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    Is the letter of recommendation a hard requirement, in the sense that you cannot submit your proposal without it? Or is the likelihood that it gets accepted just lower without the letter?
    – Jeroen
    Aug 23 at 9:15
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I had similar problems with my adviser - he would not do things even if he had to agreed to them in writing. I fell for this a couple of times and then just assumed (mostly correctly) that he wouldn't come through on his promises. In the end I asked one of the other lecturers I worked with if they could provide references as my "de-facto" adviser (as they were much more familiar with my work than my nominal 'adviser') and using sufficiently vague phrasing about their role this usually worked. So, try asking someone else, but if there is no-one you can ask, you should just forget about this conference and get on with writing up and moving on.

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    "just forget about this conference" is anything but an optimal solution for the OP.
    – Buffy
    Aug 23 at 12:10
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    This! Plan B is what is needed here. OP must find somebody else, i.e. a postdoc, collaborator...to send a recommendation letter. In the worst case OP will end up with two which is surely better than zero. Also, I would sign up for the conference in any case just because you never know. I had the same situation just few months ago when, one hour before the deadline, adviser sent an email stating (s/he) had no time to write a statement even though (s/he) was asked one month in advance.
    – gabt
    Aug 23 at 13:17
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I don't understand why you say he "won't" when he said he would. You can't also demand to set his schedule.

You would be foolish not to remind him of the deadline as it gets close, but if there is no reason for it to be sent "right this minute" then you would be wise to back off. You aren't helping yourself by being a pest. Your "feeling" that he doesn't want to isn't based on anything you say here.

But a reminder a week before it is actually due would be good. Just a reminder, not a complaint.

And don't contact the conference. That seems very unwise if it gets back to your advisor.

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    The OP has provided more information, in case you would like to take it into account for your answer.
    – GoodDeeds
    Aug 23 at 0:09
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    @Buffy: There are some terrible advisers out there. Mine would deny stuff he agreed to in writing -- to quote: "You should have known I wouldn't be able to do this." I fell for it a couple of times, but then just stopped believing him. At the end of their PhD the OP is probably correct in her assessment of her adviser. Aug 23 at 11:14
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    Some people are forgettable, others dont like conflict. At least these are possible reasons I have met. My former advisor always said yes to everything. He was supposed to set up an account for me, take a regular look at my notes and work and so on. This guy would constantly forget and I had to remind him. Hell one time he called me because he forgot that he gave me a day off the day before. I also had a boss who just didnt want me to get a promotion but would always say yes. He was known for avoiding confrontation.
    – bibleblade
    Aug 24 at 12:48
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The tip I've heard every now and then when asking for recommendation letters is, whoever you're asking them to, give them a model. And by "model" it could be something copied from the internet (and do tell the writer it is a model from the web). Alternatively, write yourself the letter so that your advisor only needs to sign it. And tell him "if you want, you can just sign this". Writing this stuff is boring and demotivating enough that half academics I've met would procrastinate doing so as much as they could, so remove what is possibly the reason he's dodging the problem. When dealing with very busy people, there is a big chance that they will never solve your problems for you, but rather only approve or decide on the spot based on the options you give them.

That being said, some conferences could as well be a waste of time, so maybe you should be focusing on your thesis? If my first suggestion proves unfruitful, you might ask the advisor for honest feedback on why he doesn't want you to go to the conference. Maybe "somebody told me you believe X reason and thinks I shouldn't go, why didn't you just tell me?" would be a fair gambit.

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  • @user151413 : If tasked to write a recommendation letter or a CV, most people will start by google searching a few examples, or a few hints on what to do. Unless you have done lots of these letters/CVs over the years, and even then, I'd suspect most advisors would start by copy-pasting an old letter, modified the obvious fields, then re-reading to add some specificities, and only then making a conscious effort to polish/customize the letter. So no, I'm not kidding, but I understand if you disapprove of someone who does this.
    – Mefitico
    Aug 24 at 20:06
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    (1) Since my comment apparently got deleted: For the record, I think it is a very bad idea to hand your supervisor a draft you copied from the internet (even less so if not telling him it is from the internet: they could make a fool of themselves). (2) I might be the exception, but I write my recommendation letters from scratch, and most colleagues I know do so as well, I believe. (Of course, if you write more than one letter for the same person you reuse the letter.) To be honest, I am somewhat sceptical there is a good sample of recommendation letters on the internet - if you don't know...
    – user151413
    Aug 24 at 22:11
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    I moved to chat the discussion around this answer, but I left the two comments outlining the main points. Please continue the discussion in the chat and, in case, please read this FAQ before posting another comment.
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Aug 25 at 16:56
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There's a few days to go. It would be appropriate to remind your supervisor that the deadline is in a few days. You could also say that you realise he is very busy and ask whether it would be helpful if you wrote a draft for him.

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    Offering to write a draft can be a thin line.
    – user151413
    Aug 23 at 13:53
  • ... maybe a better way is to offer whether you can help with the letter in some way, by providing some type of input.
    – user151413
    Aug 24 at 22:16
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Do you trust your advisor? If yes, they will send the letter. Many people send their letter on the last day, or at least close to it. Not only students work more efficiently under pressure.

From the advisor point of view, I believe it makes sense to tell people when one will send the letter (e.g. on the last day), and tell people when one wants a reminder (in case one does).

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    In Hebrew there's a saying: "Respect him and suspect him". Trust is not a binary thing.
    – einpoklum
    Aug 24 at 5:43
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    @einpoklum Sure. My point is simply: Without any reason to suspect otherwise, the mere fact that the advisor hasn't sent the letter yet a few days before the deadline need not mean anything. I don't think I ever sent a letter more than 1-2 days in advance.
    – user151413
    Aug 24 at 16:59
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    @einpoklum If a student would show/express suspicion towards me or I got wind that they do, I would continue advising them, but they would feel a clear and unambiguous distance placed between me and them from that moment onwards. Suspicion goes both ways. That being said, I have written recommendation letters at 2am in the morning for a student that asked for them in the last minute. Recommendation letters are amongst the most critical services you would render to your students. If you promise, you have to deliver, if you do not intend to write them, state so unambiguously. Aug 25 at 17:21
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    @einpoklum Yes, but if you send to the advisor the message implicitly or explicitly that you distrust them, then even a tolerant, open and reasonably reliable advisor will take that badly. That's what I was trying to say. For an unreliable or underhanded advisor, who do not even carry out the most important duty to their students, it is difficult to predict how they will take it. Aug 25 at 22:11
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    @einpoklum Nagging your supervisor can be seen as sign of distrust or else as if you think them incompetent of keeping a promise (yes, they may be, but then get a backup). It's the most important duty - but it's the supervisor's choice when they discharge it. It is not for the student to decide it. I think the use of the word "trust" is too strong if you do not expect them to intentionally sabotage your application. If you think they will forget, I would say at most 2 reminders, one a week earlier, one on the day or two before the deadline. If OP thinks the supervisor is sabotaging them, then Aug 26 at 11:28
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First thing to do is to make sure you made this recommendation letter as easy as possible for for your advisor.

  • Make sure that he has the deadline in writing (if someone tells me something is due by date, I'm sure to forget. If I have a written trace of the deadline, I might make it).
  • Make sure that he has the address to send the letter to (or a link to upload the letter somewhere or whatever the procedure is for your conference)
  • Give him your CV and a list of elements that he could mention in the letter (e.g. you worked on X project where you demonstrated Y skills). He might not have all the things you did off the top of his head, but a list may help him think of things to write.

Letters of recommendation are gruesome to write, and are not top priority tasks for those who write them. Reduce the overhead on this task for your advisor.

Next, prepare a contingency plan. Sometimes it is possible to have more than one letter of recommendation sent in. If this is the case, contact another professor and ask them to write you a recommendation. This way, if your advisor pulls through, there is no harm done. But if they forget, then you still have a recommendation on your record.

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