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I am a physics student applying to graduate school this fall for the 2024 fall cycle. This summer, I asked my recommenders in advance if they would write a recommendation for me. In particular, one professor said yes. This past week, I made profiles for all of the schools I am applying to. The next morning, I received emails from all of the schools that my professor had submitted a recommendation.

This is very strange to me, as the letter is not due for over 2 months, and I have never seen a professor do this. Should I be worried, or is there a reasonable explanation for this? I feel it is not tactful to ask the professor what happened.

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    As someone who had professors wait until the night of the deadline to submit, I think you should count this as a win.
    – Davis
    Oct 8, 2023 at 16:18
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    The prof submitted a recommendation because you asked them to. Life is just too short to spend time worrying about non-problems. Oct 8, 2023 at 16:52
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    What exactly is the problem you're worried about here? Oct 9, 2023 at 8:02
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    This is a win as others pointed out. You should thank your professor for their responsiveness and send them a nice postcard next time you travel somewhere (home or fun or conference).
    – EA304GT
    Oct 9, 2023 at 18:13
  • As all the comments/answers suggest, in general you have nothing to worry about and you should be grateful that you won't be having to chase them up to get the letter submitted before the deadline. The only downside might be if you had some project work/classes with that professor coming up in the next semester that you wanted to be referred to in the recommendation letter. Oct 11, 2023 at 10:44

3 Answers 3

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The busy professor wants to get it off their plate ASAP, so they don't waste brain-cycles needing to remember it, see it on a to-do list, or potentially miss the deadline.

There's nothing to worry about. You should have one less anxiety that the recommendation is actually in and not going to slip past the due date.

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    It is hard to imagine asking the professor to delay until the last minute…
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 8, 2023 at 14:34
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    I also can't imagine being stressed about a professor doing something promptly, too, without being chased up. OP should buy a lottery ticket :P
    – lupe
    Oct 8, 2023 at 14:50
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    This makes sense -- I think I was just confused because this is so out of the ordinary, and I was wondering if this means they did not put effort into the letter, but now I see it is more likely just how they process things. Thanks! Oct 8, 2023 at 18:50
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    @Relativisticcucumber: I think their unusual mindfulness/punctuality is a signal that it's probably one of the better-written recommendations you'll get. Oct 8, 2023 at 19:13
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    @CaffeineAddiction Please don't write recommendation letters with ChatGPT unless you're trying to torpedo your recommendees.
    – Bryan Krause
    Oct 11, 2023 at 23:01
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There are three types of professors. Those without todo lists and those with todo lists that they actually process systematically. The latter are very rare.

The former split into two groups. Those who do tasks immediately and those who do them in the last minute. The former are very rare.

You are very lucky that it is one of the former former. You got the task done, and immediately.

Unless there is a good reason to hold back, you should rejoice, not worry. If there is such a reason (to hold back; which in your case I do not really imagine), you should have told the prof at the time of your request.

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    The former is very rare because doing tasks immediately is ultimately inefficient. On the Internet, routers have buffers because packets tend to come in bursts. There are known self-synchronization effects. Buffering smooths out the outflow so that a link constantly utilized rather than switching between congested and idle. The exact same analogy applies to tasks. Things come in bursts (start of semester, upcoming conference, proposal due). Having a queue ensures you're not sitting idle or worked to death.
    – user71659
    Oct 8, 2023 at 17:54
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    @user71659 humans aren't machines though. They have leaky memory, they may work more quickly when there is some pressure, they may enjoy when there's some idle time (or use it for research work that isn't time-critical and would never get done if there was always something in the teaching-duties queue). Oct 8, 2023 at 19:29
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    @user71659 Actually, doing tasks (of any kind) immediately is MORE efficient than spending time putting them on a list, then spending time re-reading the list and coming back to them. It just isn't always possible, for various reasons.
    – MikeB
    Oct 9, 2023 at 8:52
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    @user71659: Always doing all tasks immediately is generally inefficient. But doing tasks immediately if they arrive at a suitable moment is quite different, and often good. If I see a reference-letter request come in while I’m preparing teaching, I certainly won’t suspend my teaching prep to handle it. But if the request comes in while I’m trying to get a bunch of miscellaneous smaller tasks off my to-do list anyway, then I may well handle it immediately.
    – PLL
    Oct 9, 2023 at 12:27
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    @PLL Agreed. Or if I'm stuck with a manuscript, I'll take writing a letter as an effective way to procrastinate.
    – EA304GT
    Oct 9, 2023 at 18:15
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I sometimes do that while my memory and impressions of the student are still fresh. Students probably don't want to hear this, but at large universities there are a lot of them and they are quite forgettable. If I am going to write an effective letter for a student then it is best if I do it quite soon after they ask me. (And I will simply refuse politely to write a letter for a student that I cannot support enthusiastically).

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