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I asked one of my professors, who I had a great relationship with, to write me a LoR for a fellowship.
They're not my advisor. I had informed them of this 2 months prior to the LoR deadline. They said they would be happy to do it and asked me to keep sending reminders every week or so. I did that.

In the last 3 days of the deadline, I sent a reminder every day. On the last day, I sent them reminders about 3 times within the day. I also emailed, called their phone and tried to meet them in-person but received no reply and couldn't find them.

They did not submit the recommendation, nor did they inform me prior that they wouldn't write one (in which case I'd have arranged for someone else to write).

I'm aggrieved right now. My application will not be considered now. I didn't know this professor would turn out like this. What even are my options?

[I had asked them in-person if they would be willing to write a LoR, so I don't have a trail - but the rec letter portal shows "LoR in-progress"]

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    Those are way too many reminders. In order for a reminder to work it needs to be unusual. If you sent One every week or even multiple times a day, then they will be ignored. Apr 3 at 19:34
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    Have you considered the possibility of disease or other misfortunate that took them out of normal life? Or even life itself?
    – Buffy
    Apr 3 at 19:55
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    @Buffy I once had a collaborator literally ghost me: when I contacted a mutual friend he me about the untimely death.
    – Cheery
    Apr 3 at 20:11
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    Unless they have a real good excuse (e.g. medical), this sounds like the behavior of a huge procrastinator / unreliable person. But it seems very unlikely that they intentionally sabotaged your application out of some cold calculation to benefit their students. Apr 3 at 20:21
  • @Buffy They're alive and well, I know that. They're meeting with their PhD students regularly. Its just me they're ghosting.
    – user186272
    Apr 4 at 15:06

3 Answers 3

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What you can do now is work with the fellowship people to see what your options are. Explain, calmly, that a letter wasn't sent and you don't know why. Don't make accusations, but ask what might be done to keep you in the game.

There are things you could have done earlier, but it is now too late for that.

But don't assume that you are ineligible unless they tell you that explicitly.


For possible earlier actions that people should take if they think they are being ignored by a faculty member, consider contacting their department and, first, asking if all is well with them. If they are ok, then explain that you can't get an answer and ask if someone like the chair/head can intervene. If all of that fails, and it might in some cases, you know that you need to look elsewhere for a letter or whatever you need.

Repeated pinging them without answer is unlikely to result in anything different. It could even be that your mail is going to a junk box unnoticed. Some mail systems make a lot of stuff disappear.

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  • what could I have done earlier?
    – user186272
    Apr 4 at 15:06
  • Edited to explain.
    – Buffy
    Apr 4 at 15:22
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Look, many professors have problems with procrastination too. They agree to something that is far in the future, even though they might regret it later. It's a form of future discounting. A standup guy/gal would have (1) bitten the bullet and written the letter anyway, or (2) replied to your messages saying that he changed his mind and is not writing the letter.

The fact that the professor asked you to send him a weekly email was a big red flag -- I've never heard of that before, and the fact that someone can't keep track of tasks himself shows you the person that they are. It would have irritated me to no end if someone were sending me that many reminders. Nevermind asking someone to nag at me. Forget it.

You got screwed by a procrastinator. Lick your wounds and move on. And in the future, learn to avoid chronic procrastinators.

And to add about the "being too busy" excuse: In order to be responsible with my money and respectful of others (eg not ordering a service I can't afford to pay), I have to know how much money I have. Same with time. Promising to do something I don't have time for is bad for me and disrespectful to the other person. And to further the analogy, just like one has to keep a reserve of money to account for the day the car breaks down, one needs to leave time in the day for requests of one's time. And when I promise to pay for something, I still pay for it even if I later find something better to do with my money. Same with time, I keep my promises even if something better shows up. Yes, one has to be flexible, but it should take a lot to break a promise of a letter of reference, something like being at the hospital.

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    "I've never heard of that before; ... shows you the person ... they are" - you know, not everyone has the luxury of a secretary. I do ask my students to send me a reminder before a deadline. Sure, not a Harry Potter-like deluge of mails, but yes, a reminder. I don't usually forget, but still. Maybe you are supremely organized, and can juggle dozens references without a secretary in addition to a full-fledged academic schedule, but for mortals like me, forgetting is possible, even if it does not happen often. I recently submitted some 30-40 references and, yes, I missed one request. Apr 3 at 20:28
  • Yeah, some people are very busy. My PhD supervisor asks me to send them several reminder of the thesis chapter I want them to get feedback on so they don't forget. Whether this is a good way to manage their schedule and their students is another issue, but people that keep themselves always busy exist
    – JackRed
    Apr 3 at 20:49
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    @CaptainEmacs "I do ask my students to send me a reminder before a deadline." Right. This is normal. But this professor asked the OP to "keep sending reminders every week or so" (presumably every week during the "2 months prior to the LoR deadline"). This is not normal. Apr 3 at 21:22
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    @JackRed "you should dump the work on other people" - not random other people, but the person who made the request in the first place. The student is not the only student of that professor as per OP, and a reference is not done in 20 minutes. A useful reference takes about 1-2 hours to write for a nondoctoral student if you know them well, more if further up the career ladder. This is a good part of an afternoon, or 1-2 hours of sleep less. But, I take the point that Adam stated, that the request for repetitive mailing sounds suspicious, with emphasis on repetitive. Apr 4 at 0:03
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    In this case I would have in the last few days before the deadline used another channel to try to contact the professor - perhaps your emails were hitting his spam folder, try using chat or phone or see if the department secretary or other admion knew if there was a problem e.g. the professor was ill.
    – mmmmmm
    Apr 4 at 8:24
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Anecdotally, I had this same issue occur to me. Some of the programs did not even look at my incomplete application, but one of them did and accepted me despite lacking the additional required letter. As one of the other answers suggests, you could contact the program coordinators and see if they would be able to waive the requirement on your application.

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