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So here's my situation. I'm currently finishing up my masters (and that's a tale for another day) and have applied to a few universities for PhD.

Late Feb I was emailed by a postdoc who wanted to interview me on behalf of his prof who was inundated with grant applications and whatnot. We spoke on a week later, that went well, and I was told that if I was successful, I would hear from the prof himself. The following week (on a Friday) the prof himself responded to me that he wanted to have a follow-up conversation with me about it.

I replied that Sunday letting him know I was free any time. I heard nothing, so I sat on my hands for a week and sent another reply letting him know that once again I was available that week if he wanted to talk. He informed me he would let me know but was on his way to a conference. This time I gave two weeks, and yesterday (April 7) called twice, about an hour apart, leaving a voicemail the second time, and sent a follow up email about an hour later as well. So, it's now been almost four or five weeks.

His voicemail mentioned an assistant that I have not contacted and I have likewise not emailed the postdoc since our previous conversation.

Is there anything left that I should do about this? How should I take this?

When I was interviewed by profs the first time I applied for grad school I don't recall having these issues. I want to be assertive/not look disinterested but also don't want to overstep any bounds. How responsive should I expect a potential prof to be?

To my knowledge this question has not been investigated elsewhere on this site.

  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the fact that the person you are trying to contact is an academic is largely irrelevant to the question: the question and answers would be the same if the person was in any other occupation. – David Richerby Apr 9 '15 at 9:37
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    I would argue, politely, that academia is by its very nature quite different from most, if not all other occupations, which is largely why a distinction is made between academia and industry. This is congruent with much of what I've read. If I may draw a parallel, for instance, would you contend that the application process for academia is the same for any other occupation? – bladesong Apr 11 '15 at 12:44
  • Some things are different; some things are the same. "Hath not an academic eyes? Hath not an academic hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as somebody in industry is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?" Contacting an academic to organize an interview is no different from contacting anyone else to organize an interview. – David Richerby Apr 11 '15 at 12:52
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I had similar issues with contacting my future PhD supervisor when applying and found the most efficient route was contacting the assistant. The professor is clearly busy but definitely doesn't want to be inundated with your emails. The assistant may plan his schedule and can book you in. Contacting the post doc isn't as efficient and can look like you are sidestepping the professor.

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    Thank you kindly for your response. I was wondering that which is why I made mention of the assistant - I didn't want to look like I was trying every window because the door was locked, so to speak, but what you said makes perfect sense, after all, he has an assistant for a reason. – bladesong Apr 11 '15 at 12:45
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Why do professors take ages to update their 90's style websites? Time.... From my experience professors are very busy people and thus they tend not to reply to emails as fast as one may hope for (unless it's some kind of urgent matter which must be addressed immediately).

If a professor has expressed interest in you, they won't just ignore all your correspondence. Just give him/her some time (at least a few days) and then send another email.

Be careful not to spam the professor with emails, this will only annoy him/her.

  • Thanks for your response Dan! This is one of the rationales I was applying, but at this point it's been about 3 or 4 weeks, and I typically wait a week (in the last case two) before sending another email. I can understand if they're busy, but my concern is that if they're so busy they can't even send a courtesy reply, how am I not certain that my email will get buried by the rest of the week's interactions and fall down the list of priorities? If it's not meant to be, it isn't, I would just like to know either way. – bladesong Apr 11 '15 at 12:47
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I would need to very carefully consider whether or not I want a relationship (a professional one at that) with someone who does not seem to have the courtesy to respond to correspondence within a reasonable time.

At where I work; I try to respond within one day (one hour if it's someone in my department. If I cannot get the technical answer or make an explicit appointment or whatever, I will acknowledge the email saying thank you, I will need to get back with you by with a answer as I need to do some scheduling/research/whatever.

If I get emails from strangers on my personal account (and I am reasonably sure they are not spam but are questions about my hobbies or my artwork, I will answer within one or two days with an acknowledgement (maybe say that I can give a better answer later or lets talk about it on the phone because it is very technical.

I have had occasions when someone just does not respond. In one case, it as a distributer of optical fiber I wanted to use for my lighted clothing. I ended up going to his supplier who did answer their emails and got the optical fiber at wholesale prices. The person who never got back to me lost out on a sale.

In your case; do you really want a professional relationship with someone who does not have that basic courtesy?

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    Hello Mark and thank you for your answer! To be honest, I relate with your reply the most. I worked in industry before returning to academia, and I specifically worked in an industry where due diligence was a rule and not a suggestion: if you failed to respond you get fired because it was extremely litigious. I still conduct myself by these rules and like you, I believe if you can't give a full reply, you should at least acknowledge the person and let them know. In the end, you're right: do I want to work with someone who isn't reliable or accountable? It helps to hear some reinforcement. – bladesong Apr 11 '15 at 12:50
  • I agree with Mark; if the prof can't even respond within a month if he is trying to land his favorite candidate, the chances that you will ever talk to him during your PhD are close to zero. – Bart Nov 29 '17 at 13:34

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