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I am applying for a PhD. There is a professor at my undergraduate institution I would like to ask for a LOR. I emailed him, but after a full week he has not replied.

From this I can infer that either he doesn't want to write the letter, or he is behind on email. I have to hope it is the latter, since he is the only professor I did research with, therefore my application would be much weaker without his letter. If he is behind on email, I have no way to tell how long it might be before he will see my email.

I would have gone in person, but I live very far away and cannot easily visit his office. Should I phone his office and:

  • leave a message?
  • phone during his office hours so I know he'll be there?

Applications are not due for approximately another two months; should I just wait a few more weeks before asking someone else for a (weaker) letter?

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In general you should not call a professor unless they are expecting your call, or have a very close relationship with you (if they did, you would know). The social convention is to send him a followup email reminding him of your request.

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    This really does depend on the culture of your undergraduate institution and what your relationships with your professors was like. – Alexander Woo Oct 10 '15 at 8:47
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You should first send a followup e-mail. If that does not get a response, you can try calling the department office and politely explain that you are a recent student who has been trying to ask Professor X for a letter of recommendation by e-mail and haven't heard back, and are wondering if something is going on that would make him unable to write for you. (For all you know, he might be on medical leave!)

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I fully agree with Ben Bitdiddle's answer, but therre is an other option: You might have worked with other staff (PhD candidates, post-docs, ...) in this lab. You might ask them, whether the professor is actually in the lab / office (there are things like conferences, vacations, ...). In some cases, you might find someone who will ask the professor on your behalf and this could speed up the process.

It's up to you to judge whether such an approach would fit into the institute's culture. For me, it would work (I would tell the assistant to send me a draft of the letter), but some other professors might not like it.

One additional remark: Did you send a draft for the LOR? For a professor, it takes a while to write such a letter, since you have to remember the student, remember the tasks (s)he did, write things suitable for the new position, etc. If you could send a little draft containing the main topics to be covered, together with the remark that this is just for convenience and should not influence the professors opinion, you might get a much faster reply. If it's well wirtten, you might get it back as is with some minor revisions and a signature in very little time.

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