I emailed my professor about two weeks ago, but there was no response to my first email. I sent a follow up, and got a reply saying they'd be happy to write one for me on the following weekend. I waited, the weekend passed, and nothing happened. I followed up again, and again no response to my email.

Now I am thinking to call as a reminder. My professor has written many recommendations on my behalf, and my guess is that it didn't get done due to laziness or forgetfulness. Now we have a long holiday coming for the next ten days and I want a recommendation as soon as possible. Is it appropriate to call on the weekend given the fact that it was said that it could be written one a previous weekend?

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    Your guess is that "he is lazy"? You hardly make it sound like you deserve "the guy"'s recommendation. How can a etiquette question be so disrespectful?! – OJFord Jul 25 '14 at 23:47
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    Did you try visiting his office? – JeffE Jul 26 '14 at 3:04
  • I never meant to be disrespectful. I actually have a lot of respect for him. I am sorry it sounded disrespectful. We are in a long holiday now. If I don't hear from him then I will visit. – user18244 Jul 26 '14 at 13:40
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    @OllieFord Your comment strikes me as an overreaction. Why is the guess that "he is lazy or that he forgot" disrespectful? Regardless of whether the OP deserves a letter or not, Is it really unthinkable that professors can be lazy? Frankly, repeated negligence to reply to emails is more rude than making an (unjustified) guess. – Drecate Oct 24 '15 at 4:37
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    @Drecate I view this question with great distaste. I cannot stand the sense of entitlement in OP's language; let us not forget that he [was] asking for a favour. – OJFord Oct 24 '15 at 22:19

No -- it's totally inappropriate.

Seriously. Think about it. Unless you're at a school where profs phone grad students at their home on weekends to inquire about a late paper, it's totally inappropriate.

Note: Many grant agencies / admissions committees know that we (the faculty) are thorough flakes and couldn't be trusted to tie our own shoelaces in the morning. They usually give a few days of extra time for faculty references to come in after the deadline. Others, however, are very strict on deadlines and thus faculty need to be properly shepherded into getting their materials in time.

  • +1 - although this brings to mind a recent Friday evening, around 10pm, when a new Ph.D. student, discussing the latest paper at our kitchen table, watched in horror as her professor matter-of-factly called a more senior Ph.D. student of hers to inquire about some data - which second Ph.D. student, at a BBQ, just as matter-of-factly provided the requested information off the top of her head. Did I mention it was a Friday evening, 10pm? Nice to see other people have other working hours, though. ;-) – Stephan Kolassa Jul 25 '14 at 18:16
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    Do as I say, not as I do. Power has its privileges. There's always one exception to the rule. Etc etc. O:-) – RoboKaren Jul 25 '14 at 18:18
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    Be careful about your assumptions regarding casual deadlines. The NSF will quite gladly categorically dismiss fellowship applications if recommenders are even a day late, despite tenured professors' objections of "we've gotten away with it before." It's not the kind of game to be playing with students' careers. – user4512 Jul 26 '14 at 2:16
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    One thing that I've noticed with my better-prepared students is that they tell me about the deadline 2 months ahead of time, then 'ping' me 1 month ahead, 3 weeks ahead, and 2 weeks ahead of the deadline. They then escalate warnings quite incessantly after that point. Maybe it's because I've trained them quite well that I'm not to be trusted, but they take it UPON THEMSELVES TO MAKE SURE THAT THE FACULTY MEMBER DOES THEIR JOB. Sorry for the shouting, but if a student only checks the application website the day before the deadline, that's way too late. – RoboKaren Jul 26 '14 at 2:43
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    The principle is this: it is rude and boorish to call work related people at home on evenings and weekends with work related business, unless there is a critical and unforeseen emergency. Some faculty by virtue of corruption by power or personality, are rude and boorish and ignore this principle viz a viz their grad students. – RoboKaren Jul 26 '14 at 13:38

If you are going to call on a weekend, call his office phone and leave a message there. Then he can check the voicemail if he chooses to.

When following up on these things, it is always good idea to ask if you can provide any additional information.

Btw, keep in mind, you can express your concern with the delay of your letter, remind them of the deadline, and offer to provide information. But you cannot require it done this weekend. This person is doing you a favor and nothing obliges them to write one for you this weekend, or ever again.

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    Not to mention that if they are the type that doesn't check their e-mail on the weekend, then they are also the type that doesn't do administrative work on the weekends either. It can wait until Monday. – RoboKaren Jul 25 '14 at 17:27

No. In the cultures and universities I'm familiar with, it is never appropriate to call your professor's personal or mobile phone. It would be very unusual even to call his/her office phone.

And if you ask in person instead of by email (in the first place) you're more likely to get what you want. You're asking a busy person to devote a significant amount of time and attention to do you a favor, with no compensation. In most cultures, asking in person shows that it's important.

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    Wait, what is the purpose of the office phone if you cannot phone it? My boss phoned me on my mobile quite couple of times during my holidays or other times when some project deadline was in danger and he needed some credentials or anything I think I had to do the same at least once. I wouldn't recommend to do that in this case, of course, but you cannot even call the office phone in an important issue? – Vladimir F Jul 25 '14 at 20:36
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    I disagree on the office phone bit -- even though my voice mail says to not leave a message but to e-mail me. Office phones are fine for office business including student business. – RoboKaren Jul 26 '14 at 2:45
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    Perhaps it's just that my students know that's the slowest way to get a hold of me (and I knew the same about my advisor, so I never called his phone even once in 5 years). If I'm in the office, they can knock on the door. If I'm not, I won't be able to answer my office phone. – David Ketcheson Jul 26 '14 at 6:46
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    @VladimirF Calling a landline phone does not give you the luxury of knowing whether the person you're interrupting can talk at that moment. How do you know they're not very busy, or in a meeting? – Moriarty Jul 26 '14 at 22:55
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    @Moriarty: If they are not able to talk, they will either not pick up the phone or answer quickly to say they have no time to talk. – Matthew Leingang Nov 13 '14 at 18:10

As to professionalism, in the real world would you phone your boss on a weekend to remind him that he did not do something that he was supposed to do (such as email HR on your transfer)? No, you'd wait until Monday.


On the converse. I once had a professor be relatively upset that I didn't call, after finding myself last second in a tough spot. There is an appropriate time and place to call, and some professors will be more okay with it than others, but I would only suggest you go through with it if they know you well.


Well based on your past experiences you know your professor better. One of mine does miss many of my emails and another responds even at night or on holidays. So it's probably more of a habitual thing (considering most professors are busy but not all respond late) than ignoring you specifically for some reasons.

A reason for delay might be that he forgot your credentials and needed some time to look at those again, to write a more accurate recommendation.

A suggestion I would like to make though, use a mode of communication that this professor likes more (mine likes skype and responds quickly on those messages).

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    If he knew the prof well enough to phone him regularly, he wouldn't be asking this question. – RoboKaren Jul 25 '14 at 17:09
  • This guy wrote many recommendation on my behalf seems to me as knowing the professor well and vice versa – JuliandotNut Jul 25 '14 at 17:12
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    Ping with an e-mail is different from phoning their homes. I've written over 50 letters for a student, but the only reason they'd have to phone me at my home number on a weekend is .... I really can't imagine one other than they are coming to my house for our annual dinner and they are lost or don't know what to bring. – RoboKaren Jul 25 '14 at 17:17
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    I think I mentioned use of mode of communication that this professor likes more. Not all of them are allergic to phone calls. And a skype call or similar can get the job done for OP, he doesn't need a phone call necessarily. Well we agree to disagree if you are not convinced this time. – JuliandotNut Jul 25 '14 at 17:22
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    The OP uses the word "call" in can I "call the professor?" Your short answer "yes" is in reference to this original wording. – RoboKaren Jul 25 '14 at 17:22

When in doubt: no. But it depends on the teacher. And often fortune favors the bold and the brave. If you can get away with it, and it helps you get the recommendation, why not?

"Professionalism" is still secondary to results. Besides, if you have his cell number it is already a kind of permission. I mean it, you should only have gotten it to use it. Go for it, apologize for calling on the weekend to keep connected, proceed to give nothing but a gentle reminder (of your deadline/how nervous you are about getting all the documents together), that's it. Won't hurt either of you.

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    -1 This is the worst advice I've read on this site. I give my TAs my cell number so that if there is an emergency (student has to be taken to the hospital, building is on fire, etc.) they can contact me. However, calling me for a non-emergency (and this is entirely a non-emergency) will only get me pissed and wondering about your professionalism -- at a moment when you're asking me to comment about your qualifications for a job/position/acceptance. – RoboKaren Jul 27 '14 at 5:35
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    p.s. Fortune favors the bold is what drill sergeants tell new recruits so that they will willingly go into a minefield to try to attack a well-protected machine gun nest. – RoboKaren Jul 27 '14 at 5:38
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    You also give your cell phone number to a pizza guy in case he gets lost bringing you pizza. But, would you appreciate out-of-blue weekend phone calls from him? – Orion Jul 27 '14 at 5:59
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    Good question, Lod. If I was part of a lab group, I might welcome phone calls more, especially of the, "all the chimps have inhaled a super secret virus and broken out of their cages," variety. If I was at a public school and had more students, I think I would be protective even more of my family time on weekends - and try to instill even more professionalism on the party of my larger cohort of advisees. – RoboKaren Jul 27 '14 at 17:25
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    Good luck in either the real world or academia, Lod. – RoboKaren Jul 27 '14 at 18:32

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