I asked my MA supervisor for a reference in early November to apply to an English PhD program at the same institution with her continuing as my supervisor. She agreed. In the subsequent months, we exchange two or three emails just talking about the (re)admissions process and reviewing research proposals. I sent her my final draft of the research proposal in the first week of December and my supervisor said they would look at my research proposal and write my reference over the holiday vacation.

After New Year's Day, 2/4 letters of my letters needed still weren't submitted yet and they were due within a week. I sent my supervisor and the other referee ONE reminder email and they were nearly the exact same in wording. Basically, I wished them a happy new year and politely reminded that the reference letter was due by the end of the week. I said I know they are probably already aware but I just wanted to make sure and act prudently. I also just told her which writing sample I was going to be submitting and left it at that.

My other referee delivered my reference very quickly and wrote back a very nice email wishing me all the best etc. But my supervisor didn't seem pleased. All she said was 'sigh, is the polite version'. I don't know what to make of this response; is it passive aggressive? They did end up submitting the reference the night before it was due, but I am extremely uneasy knowing that I might have done something to piss off my supervisor, who is writing my reference AND serving on the admissions board, AND becoming my supervisor again should I get admitted.

Was I out of line in what I did? Was it possible I could have jumped the gun in sending a reminder a little over three weeks after she said she would get to it over the holiday vacation? But if I was going to send a reminder, I couldn't have waited until after the holiday vacation since the deadline would have already passed. I am not the most socially adept nor am I the best at reading people.

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    Unfortunately (VTC), it depends a lot on your personalities and your communication style. Many people in this situation voicing a displease are not actually mad at you. Maybe it is just musings about how miserable the life is, or maybe if pressed, your supervisor would easily admit that the request was completely reasonable, but they were tired, irritated or something else came up and it is not really your fault. It is practically impossible to tell from the outside. Since you did not follow up immediately, let it go.
    – Lodinn
    Jan 6, 2023 at 2:39
  • It might depend on the precise timing: Most people regard January 1st as a part of the holiday vacation, hence, sending an email, say, in the morning of January 1st would not be quite appropriate (although, if I were to receive such an email I would choose to reply politely the next day). But January 2nd would be totally normal. Jan 6, 2023 at 15:42
  • @MoisheKohan I sent it on what would have been Jan 2 for them (we are in different time zones). But in any case, I wish more professors were like you.
    – AplombPlum
    Jan 6, 2023 at 20:18

1 Answer 1


Was it possible I could have jumped the gun in sending a reminder a little over three weeks after she said she would get to it over the holiday vacation?

Generally speaking, I would say a reminder the week of the due date (in a short week too) three weeks after the last reminder is not rude.

Probably best to smooth things over with some lame apologies and move on. She probably shouldn't have replied that way.

  • Thanks for the response. She actually said she would do it over the holiday vacation (which ends next week for us) rather than after (if she did it after, it would have been already passed the deadline). I still suspect you are somewhat right in your thinking though. I don't even know if I should reply at all or how to respond to this.
    – AplombPlum
    Jan 6, 2023 at 4:03
  • @AplombPlum Oh, I'm sorry I somehow inserted an "after" in there even though I quoted it. Jan 6, 2023 at 14:34

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