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I am applying to a master's program, and I had two professors that knew me well that agreed to recommend me. Both have expertise in the field I'm applying to. I took all their relevant elective courses and got As. I also worked with one of them as a teaching assistant, and with the other as a research volunteer on a relevant project. And they supervised my graduation project (also on a relevant topic to my MSc). Unfortunately, I lost contact with them, one is very ill, and the other left the university and went abroad, and he is pretty much unreachable now.

Now I can only get recommendations from professors who are not specialists in the field, and who have nothing to say of me except that I "did well in class". They are kind enough to let me write what I want in the letter so long as it's factually true. How do I make the best of this? I want to include something about my teaching and research experience/grad project in the letters, but these professors haven't worked with me directly on that, can I mention it anyway?

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    Don't make assumptions about the earlier writers and what they can do. The university can probably help you with both of them.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 17:15
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    "Unfortunately, I lost contact with them, one is very ill, and the other left the university and went abroad, and he is pretty much unreachable now." Does "pretty much unreachable" mean that you don't know their current email address or that you asked multiple people at the university if they can help you get in touch with them and they all said no? Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 18:10
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    Thank you, guys, for your comments. I tried to contact the second professor multiple times on his emails, and phone but he didn't respond. I can keep trying, however, I should probably assume the worst and be prepared for it, because I had a friend who also needed his recommendation and contacted him shortly before he left and he promised to recommend her, however he stopped responding and didn't upload the recommendation till the last minute and she had to scramble to find a substitute.
    – green_bean
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 18:24
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    All that to say, I need to assume the worst and make the best of what I do have.
    – green_bean
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 18:28
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    It's probably not very productive to keep trying to call him when he doesn't respond, but it may make sense to ask one of his colleagues if they know how to get in touch with him. The answer might likely be no, but given that the difference between a strong letter and a generic letter could make or break your application, I would say it's worth giving a try. Of course you are right that the story with the other letter does not bode well for you. Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 18:37

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I would make sure that the people who have agreed to write for you can speak to your TA experience and thesis project. Let them know that you would usually ask A (sick professor) to write about your TA experience in the department, but since A is sick, you have included your TA evals and the course syllabus and are wondering if they can add a paragraph about your TA work. Similar logic applies to your thesis. They will think of it as “helping a sick colleague who can’t write the letter.”

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    Yes, thank you so much. I thought of that, but I wasn't sure how I'd put it in and make it sound relevant. I was also wondering if it would look suspicious that a professor is praising my work on something they weren't directly involved in and that is somewhat outside their specialty.
    – green_bean
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 21:39
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    @green_bean: it wouldn't look suspicious if they also explained that the person who would usually comment on it is unable to. Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 22:48
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    This one for sure - committees reviewing this kind of thing understand extenuating circumstances - academia is also small enough that they may know your ill professor
    – lupe
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 11:30
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    @green_bean have you tried talking to them in person? Or at least by phone?
    – fectin
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 18:45
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    @green_bean One thing that you could see is if the letter writers would contact the sick/missing professors on your behalf, by phone or e-mail, and incorporate their feedback. The absent professors would be more likely to respond, as it would take less work for them. The letter could say the writer spoke to the unavailable professors and relay their opinion.
    – user71659
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 5:17

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