I have a group project due next month and I have had to deal with a difficult partner. This is for my dissertation and I have spent the academic year working on it mostly alone with some input from my partner here and there. I felt sorry for my partner so I continued working with them despite the lack of effort on their part.

I have recently been dealing with some health issues and so was unable to attend a presentation our supervisor had asked us to complete with some other PhD students for input on our dissertation. I asked my partner to complete it which I know was a mistake but I could not make it as I was in the hospital. I found out that my partner didn't attend the meeting and was outside the room and didn't see anyone go in. I can't verify this and my supervisor is incredibly angry with the two of us.

I emailed my supervisor to tell them what had happened on my end, why I couldn't make it and that I had asked my partner to mention it. I have emailed apologising and asking for another meeting to discuss the next steps but my supervisor has not replied to me. I know my supervisor likely has seen the message as they have been actively communicating with other groups but they have yet to reply to me.

I know that I made plenty of mistakes and I fully own up to them. However, my project is due soon and I need my supervisor to approve some things so that I can complete it. What do I do?

  • 1
    Meet them in person (sit outside their office till they show up) and talk to them. What to do after that is in their discretion.
    – whoisit
    Apr 19 at 17:02
  • 7
    If your e-mail is formatted like this question, I can see why it's being ignored. Professors are busy. Use proper formatting, keep it short and succinct, and avoid any drama or personal issues. This is no different from writing to your boss in a company.
    – user71659
    Apr 19 at 18:09
  • related / possible duplicate: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/45616/…
    – Sursula
    Apr 20 at 6:27

2 Answers 2


Professor here, so I'll try to give you an idea of what's going inside of your advisor's mind, to help you modulate your response.

I supervise dozens of group projects a year, and almost without exception, the reason group projects fail is that both (or more) group members were relying on others to do the work, nobody did any work for weeks, then they all panic and start pointing fingers. When a responsible student gets a bad partner, I usually hear about it quickly (say, after the partner missed their first deadline for drafts) and the problem gets solved: either the partner realizes he/she can't just coast, or I split the group. This is not saying that you can't get sick, that your partner is not dumping the work on you, and it was not really a miscommunication issue. That might be all true. But it's that on my list of email to answer, ahead of you I have students who did their work, have interesting research results, and are not expecting me to solve a back-and-forth about who said what, who did what, and who was supposed to be there. I know you deserve an answer, and I'll eventually get to you, but there are others ahead of you.

Now, if you and your partner were a no-show to a scheduled presentation, what you are telling me is that you don't value my time. That does not mean that you don't want my time (you obviously do), but that you don't respect my time. So if your problem was 10th on my list of things to do, it just became 100th.

How you solve your problem: first, take responsibility for the problems in the group project. Tell your partner he/she either shapes up or you are going to request that the group be dissolved/changed/reassigned, whatever. Or do the project yourself and let him/her take undeserved credit. You need to move past this bad situation and learn from it. A big part of academic work is recognizing bad collaborators early in the process and cutting them off. Second, you will have to slowly gain your professor's trust. Wait for his/her reply, as he/she will eventually get to you. Show up on time, and prepared. Don't tell him/her your excuses or reasons, but what you are doing to solve the problems. Keep your promises. Send emails with positive updates. Slowly the professor will start looking forward to your updates and start replying. And unless you were in a car accident and in a coma at the hospital, never ever be a no-show to a meeting.

As others have suggested, you could camp outside of the professor's office and try to force an in-person meeting. If you go that route, just be light on explaining your reasons/excuses and heavy on showing your work and results.

  • Hi, I was in the A&E the night before and I couldn't email in because I was exhausted and could barely keep my eyes open. I did email my supervisor stating this and I have sent a couple emails and texts but I'm being ignored. We also have a regularly scheduled meeting that I was present for but my supervisor and partner were not. My supervisor knows about the issues with my partner and that I have completed everything according to the deadlines on my own. I can't do anything more since in order to progress, I need approval from my supervisor. I asked for his signature but he has ignored me.
    – user170256
    Apr 21 at 9:51
  • I have sent in my work and everything I need. I just need my supervisor to sign off on it and then I can do everything on my own. The work is all my own so if my partner complains, I will have plenty of evidence to show that I have completed everything on my own and that I tried to resolve all the issues that came up.
    – user170256
    Apr 21 at 9:59
  • I have taken responsibility for my lack of communication. However I was in the hospital and I was distracted by everything that was happening around me. I have apologised and done what I can but I am still being ignored. I don't want to tell him what happened exactly but I did mention being in the hospital. It's not that I didn't want to go, I was genuinely unable to make it. I'm not sure what else I can do. I have done what I can so far and all I need is for him to sign a couple forms. I don't need anything else and I am willing to do everything on my own.
    – user170256
    Apr 21 at 10:17
  • 1
    The issue is not if you were justified in missing the appointment. Everybody has the right to be sick and cancel appointments. The issue is that you did not email to cancel the appointment beforehand, and both you and your partner were no-shows. You are obviously sorry and you want to fix things. The deed is done, and the only way to fix it is to earn the professor's trust, and this will take a long time. If someone is a no-show to a meeting, whatever the cause/excuse, they go to the bottom of my to-do list. You are there now and need to crawl your way back. It will take time.
    – Cheery
    Apr 21 at 15:03
  • 1
    You could camp outside of the professor's office and try to force an in-person meeting. If you go that route, just be light on explaining your reasons/excuses and heavy on showing your work and results.
    – Cheery
    Apr 21 at 15:29

Your question is a bit difficult to parse, so excuse me if I do not get the details right.

I would advise you to take the emotions of your professor into account. Professors can be very busy, especially now when semesters are about to end. Your professor scheduled an important meeting and neither of you showed up. I in lieu of the professor would be quite angry / annoyed and I know that it is best not to answer important emails while angry or in a bad mood. I also know that meetings in person would be preferable, but since I do not like to confront people, I personally would need to give myself a push in order to arrange this meeting.

If this happened today, wait a couple of days and then try to see the professor in person. You should take some of the blame, since you did not inform the professor in person of your inability to attend beforehand and you should apologize for unprofessional behavior. You should also realize that you are asking the professors to reorganize the professors's schedule and that you have imposed on him. I am not sure of the exact context, but you might have committed some imprudent acts before.

Now, if your supervisor is not willing to talk to you after a cool-down period, then you have a much bigger problem, because your supervisor would then also behave unprofessionally. In the education business, one has to deal with immature students that make stupid mistakes. A department head or head of program should be able and willing to step in, since under these circumstances, supervision would be impossible.

  • Sorry, I am stressed out and didn't properly proof read. It didn't happen today and I wasn't able to contact them since I did not have access to my phone. I waited a little and I apologised profusely trying to explain what happened. I did take some of the blame as I should have tried harder to get in contact but I was trying to work on other immediate issues that I was facing. My supervisor does not have a set timetable so arranging meetings can be difficult but I tried to set one at the usual time. I usually am present and have done everything that I have been asked and more, just not this.
    – user170256
    Apr 19 at 18:39
  • 5
    @MEMGP I'd recommend giving yourself some time between when you write things and send/post them if you're feeling stressed at the time of writing. It's likely to be straining your communications with others.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 19 at 18:49
  • You're right. I am very sorry for making you all read the mess I typed up earlier. I read through the email I sent my supervisor earlier and whilst it wasn't as bad as what I wrote above, it still wasn't the best bit of writing I've ever completed. Thank you and sorry again
    – user170256
    Apr 19 at 18:55