19

Let there be some professor who whole-heartedly supported your application to some position in academia; let the decision be a rejection. Then what is a wise way and the right timing to inform the professor of this matter?

I think: if I inform the professor right after I am aware of the decision, then I may hurt his/her feeling, because he/she was for me; if I inform him/her later, then the same concern takes place and I cannot justify why I procrastinated letting him/her know it. Moreover, I am not quite sure what is a wise way to draft such an email.

I know that there is no "the" right timing; I just want to know a win-win timing, so to speak.

Thank you for taking time to share your wisdom.

  • 1
    You seem to think your professor's feeling won't be hurt so bad if you tell him/her later. Is it true? If true, why? – scaaahu Nov 5 '15 at 13:16
  • @scaaahu I also think it would hurt his/her feeling, too :) It is undecidable to me, so I raise the question here. – Megadeth Nov 5 '15 at 13:17
  • 3
    I think it is fair to assume that this rejection will hurt you much more than your letter writers, so your major concern should not be on how to spare their feelings. – xLeitix Nov 5 '15 at 15:48
  • @xLeitix Yes, it is true before "so". But there is no rule here stipulating that people can only ask their "major" concern, right? :) – Megadeth Nov 5 '15 at 15:52
  • @GudsonChou Sure. Put differently, I am with AnonymousMathematician that the feelings of your letter writers really don't need to be any concern in this matter :) – xLeitix Nov 5 '15 at 15:55
51

I think: if I inform the professor right after I am aware of the decision, then I may hurt his/her feeling, because he/she was for me; if I inform him/her later, then the same concern takes place and I cannot justify why I procrastinated letting him/her know it.

You shouldn't worry about this at all:

  1. Faculty members generally aren't particularly emotionally invested in these decisions. For the students involved, they feel (and in fact are) incredibly weighty, but faculty members are involved in dozens of cases per year, so they get some good news and some bad news and it all averages out emotionally.

  2. Even if this professor is unusually emotionally invested in the outcome, delaying reporting the result won't make it better. They might end up feeling unhappy with the unfairness of life or the poor decision-making skills of whoever turned down your application, but they won't be upset with or disappointed in you, so there's no reason to worry or delay.

I'd recommend just letting your letter writers know when you find out, without stressing out about when or how you tell them. You could just forward the rejection e-mail with a brief note (such as the "Many thanks for your support; unfortunately I did not succeed." suggested by iayork).

  • 1
    Thank you so much. Showing a typical possible reaction does help me out! I could not resist thinking over how the professor will think... :) With your advice, I can have a general model in mind to properly draft an email; thank you. – Megadeth Nov 5 '15 at 13:59
27

I believe you're over-thinking it. Send an email at some point within a month of the decision, saying "Many thanks for your support; unfortunately I did not succeed."

If you have a particularly close relationship with the professor, you might ask for advice or suggestions on how your application could improve next time, but that's not necessary; just thanks and an update is polite and professional.

  • Thank you a lot; to me, "over-thinking" is the key reminding; but of course all of your answer is important. :) – Megadeth Nov 5 '15 at 13:18
7

I would be surprised if the professor felt anything other than bad for you about your rejection, after all, for every n people seeking a position, n-1 will be rejected. As n is often >> 2, it is far more common for people to be rejected than to be accepted. People who write letters of recommendation realize that the rejection is not aimed at them, nor at you. The fact is, only one person can take one position. Rejection is more common than not.

Also, while I think it is great that you are such an empathetic person, you have to realize you can't hope to shield everybody you care for from the truth. After all, science is about the truth. It is only from failures and mistakes that we learn.

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