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A professor who knows me very well is currently on maternity leave (her baby arrived in late April).

This professor has known me for 4 years (since first semester of undergraduate career) and also advised my undergraduate thesis (2 semesters). In addition I also did an independent study course with her, and she has provided me funding from her own grant money in the past in order to pay for me attending academic conferences.

I am planning to apply to several master's programs, possibly PhD, in addition to other things that require such letters (Teach for America, Summer School, etc.). All of these things require letters of recommendation.

Is it appropriate to ask her for letters of recommendation on her maternity leave, and if so, how should the request be phrased in email?

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Yes

I think It would be different if say, you took one or two of her classes. But it sounds like she advised you a great deal, and thus she should have some investment in your educational success. Especially if you have talked about graduate school before. What is important is you give her notice as soon as possible so she can find some time to do it: Having a newborn is no easy job.

I would phrase it as follows:

Dear X (unless you call her professor, then Professor X, but my advisors I call by their first name)

How is your newborn?

I realize you are very busy with your maternity leave, but I was hoping you might have some time to write me a strong letter of recommendation for graduate school. As you might know I am interested in ZQR, and your mentorship over my senior thesis has been essential to my education.

Thank you for your time,

user

I'd also like to add that while I was applying to PhD programs, the professor who eventually became my advisor was on maternity leave while I was asking her questions about the lab. In confidence, she enjoyed my emails because having newborns, while a joy most of the time, often lacks the intellectual rigor that most people are accustomed to in their day to day conversations.

My guess is she will be very happy to do this, and somewhat expects you to ask.

  • 5
    "Professor X" sure has a nice ring to it... :) – apnorton Sep 8 '14 at 1:00
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    I agree with the gist of this response, but, as a professor and a mother, I'd be annoyed with an extraneous question ("How is your newborn?"), since it takes time to answer and may be emotionally loaded. I'd prefer a general good wish: "I hope you and your family are doing well." – Ellen Spertus Jan 6 '15 at 20:17
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    I also wouldn't ask for a "strong" letter of recommendation. I understand what you're trying to say, but the phrasing could be better: "hoping you would be willing to write me a positive letter of recommendation". – Ellen Spertus Jan 6 '15 at 20:18
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    The only thing I would add was to give them a very long window to be able to write in. – Fomite Nov 12 '17 at 17:43
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    @Fomite That might not be possible, but tell her what the deadline is in any case. – Bob Brown Nov 26 '17 at 15:33
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It is fine since it doesn't take too much time. However, you should ask the professor very politely. Remember just invite one time, if the professor says no you shouldn't invite anymore and say thanks to conclude the request. Anyway, in such case, it would be better if you are very familiar with the professor.

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    Such a short answer does not add anything to the already existing one. You might want to consider elaborating more. – Massimo Ortolano Nov 11 '17 at 10:54

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