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I'm a Master's student in Physics. The summer vacations are coming up, and we need to do a few projects under various faculty to know their work and field. I'm interested in experimental high-energy physics, and there is only one faculty available for it.

I contacted her six days ago regarding the project. She hadn't replied to the mail, so I did again and yet again—still, no reply. I went to the department, and it turned out that she hasn't come to the office for two months or so. They said that she was working from home. Now, I have to know whether there is a project available so that if not, I can contact others. Meanwhile, other faculty have taken students, so places fill every day. I don't have time.

The office member said that they couldn't contact her via phone but only by mail, And she also didn't reply to them for many days.

What should I do? Is it right for me to call?

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    Do you have the professor's phone number? If so: Did they personally give it to you, or found by some other method? Feb 1 at 20:05
  • 3
    Yeah, I got it from her Website. Feb 2 at 10:16
  • ... from her website: Then her phone will ring in an empty office. Feb 3 at 19:07
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    @Marianne013 Some professors have mobile numbers on their website, or redirect their office phone to some mobile.
    – user151413
    Feb 4 at 17:17

6 Answers 6

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Don’t call. Don’t wait.

It could be your emails are going to her spam folder, so you might consider asking someone in the department to email her asking for an update but since time is important consider instead changing projects (even if another project does not align with your preferred topic). For some reason this person is not responding to multiple emails, which is the most obvious way to contact her. Do you really want to work with someone who is so unresponsive?

Put another way: if this person shows minimal interest in answering your emails now, why do you believe she will answer your emails later when you are in need of advice for the project?

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    I'll admit that I've been guilty of this before. I'm not trying to say that's ok not to respond to emails, but I do think it's reasonable to expect that response times may be different for a student that a professor is currently working with versus a student who contacted that professor out of nowhere. Feb 1 at 20:34
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    @MichaelMior Agreed, although in this case there is a (presumably known to all) time pressure in fixing projects, so one would think that a professor would not let a student in limbo for too long. Feb 1 at 21:05
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If you've worked with them before and they gave you their number, then it's OK to call (sparingly - depending on your relationship with them). If they have not given you their number, then do not call them at home. What if they're sick? What if they're taking care of someone who is sick? Professors have lives, too.

If you've already emailed them three times (waiting an appropriate amount of time between each) and you don't have an email back - you have your answer. Sometimes no response is a response.

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    Sometimes no response indicates that professors are busy people and prioritize things and kind of procrastinate low urgency tasks. And the OP is low urgency to the professor even when it is important for OP. This does not mean rejection, but only that someone is too busy. Yeah, that's not ideal, but very common in academia.
    – allo
    Feb 3 at 22:03
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Definitely call the faculty member as soon as possible.

Since you don’t have much time to find a position, as you said, it is better to try to contact the professor immediately and get a decision. It could be that you will be unsuccessful in contacting her by phone call, too, since even your office staff has apparently not been able to contact her on her phone. If the same thing happens to you, then drop this project and pursue a different opportunity.

In case you are successful in contacting her by phone, be sure to ask her about her schedule and her preferred method of contacting, including the mean time of response you should expect. The pandemic has thrown many people’s lives into chaos. In "normal" times, I would agree with the advice in the answer by User ZeroTheHero, but it’s entirely possible that this faculty member will make adjustments to supervise you properly if she agrees to take you on as a project student. Better to find out for yourself, if possible, instead of assuming anything beforehand.

(Of course, in the absence of direct information, you could ask students who have worked with this faculty member about her style of supervision, but I expect you would have already done this sort of standard background check anyway.)

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    Yeah! I talked to one of her Ph.D. students. According to her, She might not be replying because she isn't interested in taking any students. I'm taking that! and looking for someone else. Feb 1 at 13:33
  • @YoungKindaichi great, that sounds definitive. Quickly find and move on to a different opportunity then. :) Feb 1 at 13:47
  • It's possible to do remote supervision but not answering emails from a student in your program seeking to do a project is a big red flag IMO Feb 1 at 16:41
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    I absolutely disagree with this recommendation. Never ever call someone who has indicated (even indirectly) that they are not open to being called. Feb 1 at 18:51
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    @GregMartin if they do list their phone number on their web site as contact details, I'm not sure it can be all bad trying to call that number in a case like this. What would the number be there for if one couldn't ever use it?
    – eis
    Feb 2 at 16:58
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Well, you could, but it is unlikely she would answer you unless she is specifically hiding from the department. Maybe she is off the grid now and will be for a while. Or maybe she has found a job in another country without anyone knowing. Or gotten sick. Or maybe she is put off by your barrage of emails (and your communication needs clearly do not match). There are plenty of reasons for someone to be unresponsive and not up for you to discern them.

Reach out to other faculty. Be prepared to navigate the situation where she does get back to you, but way too late. Ideally write her just one more email once you decide upon working under someone else.

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I really do not understand some of the other answers. If your professor gave you their phone number, you should call them if you need to. It's not that big of a deal. I feel you are overthinking this.

I and my PhD advisor called each other all the time. It is just another form of communication.

That's the fastest way to get the information. You should not feel that it is inappropriate, like showing at their front door...

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    I in turn do not understand your answer. Given "The office member said that they couldn't contact her via phone but only by mail" the odds are overwhelmingly that the person will not answer her phone. Your situation is different: your supervisor has already a commitment towards you and they chose to give you their phone #. Feb 1 at 16:42
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    I said if your professor gave you her phone number... Again, in that case, I do not see anything wrong with giving her a call. So what if she doesn't answer? I believe that he should try everything he can without insulting the professor. Maybe I come from a different culture than you, but seeing a missed call from one of your students will not hurt anybody, at least not where I'm from.
    – RedGiant
    Feb 1 at 19:33
  • @gnometorule That was additional information that was not available in the moment when I wrote an answer. But having this in mind, I'd say that things are even simpler now. That means that OP has office number (and office is empty) so he can call as much as he wants, but the nobody will answer.
    – RedGiant
    Feb 3 at 23:19
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You already have your answer:

The office member said that they couldn't contact her via phone but only by mail, And she also didn't reply to them for many days.

When she cannot answer her staff, why should she be able to answer you?

I would try to go another route. Can you talk to someone of her team about your matter? For many things it is very likely she would delegate it to someone in the team anyway. They may be able to provide help until you get an official answer. It may even be an advantage, when you may be able to start working on your project before it gets officially registered (and deadlines may be defined and so on).

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