At my undergraduate school I was hired by my advisor to work in his lab. Now I want to apply to graduate school at the same institution and have begun asking for letters of recommendation, but the only responses I've received have been no, I'm unable to write letters at this time or I'm at a meeting (conference) and will reply when I get back (not automated and I'm pretty sure the prof is already back because we work in the same building).

The other people still haven't responded and it makes me think they're either really busy and can't do it and so are delaying informing me they can't do it or they didn't see it or saw it and forgot about it. The deadline is approaching quickly.

Is it obnoxious if I email them again to ask if they received it or when I can expect a response?

  • 5
    If you work on the same campus, you should visit them and ask in person.
    – Ric
    Oct 22, 2015 at 19:09
  • You might also brace yourself for the possibility that non-response is an unfortunate passive-aggressive way of avoiding writing letters. In particular, you might think about back-up letter-writers ahead of time... Oct 22, 2015 at 22:37

1 Answer 1


They are probably just very busy. Try to ask in person if at all possible, since emails just get lost in inboxes.

Also, the referee may not feel they have the time to write a reference, since there can be a substantial upfront cost in time just to figure out what needs to be said. You can help them, and you, by providing a draft of a reference that contains the main things you think should be said. This sounds a bit cheeky, but can be very effective at cutting the perceived effort in writing your reference, and thus improving the chances they'll agree to provide one.

  • I definitely made sure to list (in sentence form) what was unique about our interaction and remind them of my specific contributions to the course. I also provided fodder/context (namely my research interests, academic accomplishment (yes, singular), and the work I do in the lab I'm in) about who I am as a student and potential researcher. The word count was around or above 600.
    – Lola
    Oct 22, 2015 at 22:59
  • Could I send one more brief reminder email before confronting them in person?
    – Lola
    Oct 22, 2015 at 22:59
  • "Confront" seems a strong word. Your email is probably at the back of their mind nagging them to get round to responding. I'd try to catch them briefly to remind them in person rather than filling their inbox with more emails.
    – beldaz
    Oct 22, 2015 at 23:34
  • 1
    It is not 'confronting' (or should not be) to ask for a letter of recommendation. And, if at all possible, it really should be done in person. I might be a little insulted if someone who is normally in the building just emailed me - that shows no real effort or desire, and I might reciprocate.
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 22, 2015 at 23:35
  • 600 words is too much; include an informal transcript. Oct 23, 2015 at 5:08

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