I wrote to a professor at a German research institute who was hiring PhD students. His area was a bit different from mine, but he wanted to have a chat. We met over Zoom and I told him about my projects. He found it impressive and said he wanted to explore supervising me and would get one of his colleagues to cosupervise given the minute differences in areas of research. He also asked me to prepare a technical presentation and requested the names and contact details of my references.

After preparing my presentation I emailed him. He was at a conference but still listened to my presentation and asked a lot of questions, took a lot of notes. The presentation was based on a paper he wrote. I could answer most of the questions apart from one. He also told me that he has written to my referees for the references and has even discussed ideas about co-supervison. He said he would also assess the presentation and discuss it further with his colleague and will be in touch.

My referees sent the reference letters. One of them was delaying it and wrote to him saying he’ll take time to which he asked to write at his own pace. But since our last interview he never wrote back to me. It’s been 11 days. The references have all been sent.

His automatic reply says he’s travelling and will be slow to respond but nevertheless he replied to my referee and not to me. I wrote to him that my first referee has furnished the letter while the 2nd individual may take time.

Can anyone tell me if this looks negative or positive? Is the professor avoiding me, in which case it would be safe to assume that he is not interested.

  • 4
    11 days is not a long time in my view. I wouldn't worry about this. Maybe after 3 weeks, but even that isn't outrageously long. Aug 20, 2023 at 20:30
  • Academics can be very slow with replying to emails. He may be travelling and/or busy with conferences and just needs to be in the right setting before getting back to you. Wait a little longer and if you have not heard back, then send a kind reminder that you want to follow up with the PhD offer.
    – JChase1990
    Aug 21, 2023 at 18:23

2 Answers 2


It will only be safe to assume he isn't interested when he says so. Quite the opposite, he seems to be still interested, though very busy.

If he doesn't want to follow up he will likely say so and then you will know. Good luck.

I don't know if his being busy is a warning sign, though, for future guidance. Keep that in mind as you proceed. But this is the season to be busy with professional things for researchers, so maybe not an issue.

  • 2
    Is asking for a reference a positive sign or just normal since he wrote to them even before my presentation when he discussed some of the co supervision plans with his colleague. Aug 20, 2023 at 17:46
  • 2
    Yes, very positive. Nothing is guaranteed, though.
    – Buffy
    Aug 20, 2023 at 17:47
  • Thanks so much. I just got to know today he even thanked my supervisor referee for sending in the reference letter. Aug 21, 2023 at 6:35
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    @Buffy being away on vacation is not being busy. Quite the opposite actually. And him not being reachable during that time is completely ok, because it should be a time to unwind and relax and not think about work. Why should it be a warning sign if someone takes their well deserved vacation? This doesn't say anything about their quality as a supervisor. On the contratry, when not on vacation, he even took the time while being at a conference to listen to OPs presentation.
    – Sursula
    Aug 21, 2023 at 8:25

People in Germany take their summer vacation seriously. Some nevertheless look into their email every once in a while and may chose to answer select mails that they deem important. He sought it important enough to answer the referee to assure them a delay won't matter and prevent stress for them.

If the professor is on vacation and needs to discuss your position further with a colleague he can only do this when back from vacation. Of course it is not ideal for you, but there is really nothing you can do but wait. Normally there is a date given in automated messages that tells you when the person is supposed to be back im office. Give him a few days after that to catch up with things and then contact him again.

  • I have now come to know that he has been constantly in touch with my referee answering his emails. He however never responded to me. I had only let him know that my references might come in a bit late and then enquired from him if he had received all of them. Aug 22, 2023 at 8:26
  • @AtmadeepGhoshal Then why would he bother to be in constant contact with the referee if he has not intention to hire you?
    – Sursula
    Aug 22, 2023 at 8:33
  • I was thinking maybe he was just being nice to my referee since he had initiated the interaction. I’m scared because he did not respond to any of my emails. Also, most of the conversations that took place between them were about clarifying delays in submission on my referees part and gratitude on his part. Aug 22, 2023 at 11:36
  • Is the first week of the semesters always busy in Germany? I understand that August was vacation month but now that it’s September I still have not heard anything. In the meantime I also heard back from two other people who wanted to interview me but now that I’ve written back to them expressing my willingness, they seem to be silent. Sep 5, 2023 at 14:04
  • 1
    @AtmadeepGhoshal The semester starts at the beginning of October. Both August and September are free of teaching, thus professors can be absent.
    – Sursula
    Sep 5, 2023 at 15:10

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