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A potential supervisor asked to speak with me over Zoom, and sent me a Zoom link. However, the day came and went, but they didn’t show up, and haven't replied to my emails (for about 5 days now, as of November 16).

What should the next step be?


Previously, they had asked for a meeting, but after I agreed to the specific day they suggested, they completely disappeared for a month. They then emailed me to apologize, saying they broke their arm and were unable to answer messages. So now I’m just guessing that they probably have an issue with their arm again and can’t reply.

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    @user2316602 Under normal circumstances not replying for a couple of days would be OK. Missing an agreed-upon meeting is not a normal circumstance. In this case, there should be an apology within a day, especially if the student wrote e-mails after the missed meeting. Otherwise I would see this as a red flag. Nov 16 '21 at 15:07
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    Previously, they had asked for a meeting and after I agreed for the specific day they suggested they completely disappeared for a month. They then emailed me apologizing saying they broke their arm and was unable to answer messages. So now I’m just guessing that they probably have an issue with their arm again and can’t reply. Is this plausible?
    – Msar
    Nov 16 '21 at 15:56
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    @Msar Very plausible. Please don't badger someone dealing with a broken limb.
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 16 '21 at 16:19
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    How hard would it be to ask a colleague to e-mail you on their behalf? Absolute silence in this situation is unprofessional.
    – chepner
    Nov 18 '21 at 18:00
  • @chepner If it's a severe break, the pain relief prescribed for it could easily cause erratic and out-of-character behaviour. Nov 20 '21 at 21:21
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Anything is possible. They may have been hit by a bus. At this point, you have no way of knowing and I would avoid jumping to conclusions, especially if this is a job you think you might want. If this Zoom meeting was arranged in the usual fashion after some initial email discussion with a recruiter, someone in HR (human resources), or perhaps a department admin, I would reach out to them and report that the meeting was missed, your email has gone unanswered, and you're concerned that something has happened.

If you later learn the supervisor is just being very rude, I would take that as good to know and look for a job elsewhere. Good luck.

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You asked "What is my next step?"

I would suggest contacting other people at the same place.

If there is an office, contact them. Otherwise look for somebody with a title like "secretary" or similar. As a last resort, contact another academic.

First try an email. KEEP THAT EMAIL SHORT. They don't want or need your life history. I suggest:

Hi!

I had a zoom meeting with prof X at DATE. They didn't show and I have been unable to contact them later. Are they all right?

Your name here.

I am not sure about how fast you should expect an answer or what your next step should be.

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    "I have been trying to reach Prof. X after a conversation regarding a PhD position, but I could not contact them." No need to say they missed a meeting. Nov 18 '21 at 10:35
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    @Pedro why not state that? Nov 18 '21 at 14:51
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    @VScode_fanboy I don't see why it is relevant to state that detail, unless this was a formal meeting. Nov 18 '21 at 15:32
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    @PedroTamaroff What's a "formal meeting"? Nov 18 '21 at 17:07
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    @PedroTamaroff IMO it's relevant. It's a good justification to be worried. Simply asking if the person is all right with no context would be weird. I would put the question asking if they are all right at the beginning though, then the context for asking afterwards.
    – Kat
    Nov 18 '21 at 20:23
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I live in a region where uncertainties are common and would consider some possibilities that others might not be quick to recognize. I would suggest that you tick these off the list before jumping to conclusions as to your potential supervisor.

Possible Reasons for Lack of Communication

  • Their internet, computer, or power has failed. Even in Portland, Oregon, USA, thousands of people had a weeks'-long power outage this year due to an unusual ice storm and its aftereffects.

  • Your potential supervisor experienced an unexpected medical emergency. For example, I had a sudden case of severe keratitis this year which prevented me from doing much of anything with my computer for a couple weeks (everything was too blurry to read).

As it seems highly unlikely that, in ordinary circumstances, someone would go to the effort of making a zoom appointment, communicating the time of the meeting, and sending you a link for it and then just not show up, it is prudent not to simply assume the worst. Try to learn the facts of the situation before making judgment calls relative to someone's character or motives.

You do not know what happened. You have no reasonable way to know why it happened. Until you have more knowledge about both of these, avoid making unwarranted conclusions.

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    This doesn't answer the question. OP is not speculating about what the cause is, they are asking what they should do about it. What actions do you recommend OP take?
    – Kat
    Nov 18 '21 at 20:20
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Get in contact with that research group / department's secretariat, or other members of the academic staff as physically close to that potential advisor. Ask them if there's anything wrong with Prof. Whats-their-name. Either they say yes and you have your explanation, or they say no, and you tell them you were supposed to have a Zoom conversation but you haven't been able to get in touch with him. Don't sound accusative - use a more confused/worried tone, so that it won't appear as though you're going around complaining about them.

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    confused/worried is the perfect tone here! If they mentioned the broken arm before, check in with the groups secretariat, or with anyone else you've been in touch with earlier in the process. Be friendly, polite, and mostly concerned for the academic, and it'll go a long way. We had a beloved professor die suddenly last year, and we'd way rather people reached out, so we could let them know what happened. (He was also leading a program to get people from non traditional backgrounds into Phds, so we were all calling in favours to try and get spots for the students past the interview stage)
    – lupe
    Nov 18 '21 at 15:00

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