I have applied to a PhD place in Canada and I have a prospective supervisor already. He has been showing interests in supervising me and my project.

There is a major funding deadline next Monday and I intend to apply of that scholarship. Two weeks ago, the prospective supervisor had a chat with me about my PhD application - it's informal, but it's a also a procedural thing.

I know I didn't perform very well in the chat (but many other PhD candidates told me, "that's why you need the PhD training, in order to perform well"). There are also some other issues with my application (not something that I have control over), which had to be sorted out.

Anyways, so after that chat, my prospective supervisor has no longer responded to any of my emails. I don't know what to do - whether I should proceed to submitting that funding application, as he has not given me any advice as to how I could revise my proposal (which I sent to him before the chat). I don't even know whether he still supports this funding application.

Then I wrote to him and say that he could be honest and tell me what's happening, and if my application to the programme was eventually unsuccessful (for no matter what reasons) and so I could decide what to do up next. But he is still silent.

I think what bothers me is that, as a full professor, if he doesn't want to supervisor a student anymore, or if the admission process really has some hiccups, why couldn't he just be honest and be open? I have been working for this submissions day and night. But if I know that the professor no longer supports the application, I would not waste my time on this anymore and move on with other important things. I have thought that maybe he had some personal issues - but perhaps he could have also written a sentence to let me know so?

I recognise similar things happen all the time. Numerous threads on stack exchange tell stories about how potential supervisor not replying to emails that invite PhD supervision. Professors promised reading proposal for students but turned out not responding any of the students' emails - which also happened to myself, too. These just happen all the time.

I have worked in several other sectors before and really academics is the worst in such culture - not replying emails if they don't want to do something (e.g. having no interests in a PhD project). Of course I have come across very nice professors before, who, even though having no interests in my topic, still bothered to reply and reject. And of course I completely understand academics are very busy so cannot reply everything, but so are other workers in other sectors, who also work after normal work hours. I start to think this ignoring culture is some sort of arrogance. And as I said, it's really not so serious in other industries.

It's not my intention to offend any academics - so please enlighten me (or the rest who have the same question) the real reasonS why professors don't bother to explain to students they have no interests in them?


1 Answer 1


I cannot speak for all professors in the world. Professors are humans, and humans differ from one another.

My observation is that often professors are interested in working with new students, but they also have other things to do. The problem is often that compared to a potential student virtually every other person in academia has more leverage over the professor's time. Professors aren't all powerful; they are a small part of a big bureaucracy. It is not just that their current students, other professors, administrators, postdocs, secretaries, etc. can "force" the professor to spent more time on their problems than on the potential student, it is also that they know how the bureaucracy works, how to ask, what to expect, when and how to put the right kind of pressure. This is subtle knowledge that potential students (understandably) don't have. So the potential students end up at the bottom of the priorities pile. Not because the professor considers them unimportant, but because others have the power and knowledge to "skip the line". It is not that these "others" are evil. They probably don't even know they are skipping a line. They just work within a bureaucracy by the rules of that bureaucracy. And often it is legitimate that they skip the line. Many professors feel more responsible for their current students than to potential new students. So if they have to choose between spending time to get funding for a current student so that (s)he can finish or spending time so a new student can start, they will chose for the current student.

Also consider that all of this is new and exciting/frightening for you, but the professor has seen this a hundred or more times before. So many things that look urgent and important to you, don't look that urgent to the professor.

I am not saying that all that is a good thing. All I am trying to do is give you some perspective on what is going on from the point of view of the professor. From your question you seem to imply that there is some form of bad faith from "the professors". I would argue that you don't need bad intentions for bad things to happen.

  • Thx for your thorough reply. Honestly, I appreciate a lot as I learn more about the everyday life of an academics. Yet, it still hasn't solved my core question. Academics have priorities and face challenges (agree!), but so do workers in other sectors. Assuming ppl form other sectors lead as tough a work life as academics (as I said I worked in many different sectors before), why is such email ignoring culture more prevalent in the academia? Is writing a line to reject a PhD supervisory invitation really that difficult (not including those who really miss out the email or sick, etc.)?
    – Momobee
    Jan 28 at 10:29
  • And - intentional ignoring does happen (what about those students who write twice or three times to invite?). Why do academics have to assume the invitee need to learn the 'culture'/'manner', that, if they don't get a response it will most likely be a 'Sorry I am not interested in your topic.'? Look at how ppl respond to similar questions on these non-reply on stack exchange, they exactly tell question askers to assume the professors are not interested, if not, call them up.
    – Momobee
    Jan 28 at 10:30
  • From my perspective, that's exactly the arrogance. The supervisory inviter does not even worth for a line (maybe 10-20 seconds). I understand, yes, they read and read and read and write for long hours and many other priorities are on their lists, but again, why is this culture worse in the academia? So, I am arguing there is some bad HABIT and mentality (not necessarily, but may involve, intention) that constitutes the bad culture.
    – Momobee
    Jan 28 at 10:30
  • If you think you already know the answer, then why waste your and our time by asking a question when you are only interested in an answer that confirms your prior believes? Jan 28 at 12:26
  • No, I don't know the answer. My question is, why is academia different from many other sectors out there, in terms of email communication with less (or not) important people?
    – Momobee
    Jan 30 at 4:19

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