I was supposed to do a project for one of my classes and I talked to one of the math professors at my school for ideas and he was excited about my project and even got one of his grad students involved.

The thing is, I didn't do well in the class and I didn't get around to finishing the project to it's fullest potential and so I never got back to him (the math prof) about it because I was too embarrassed.

I'm really paranoid now even when I'm just in the building he works in and it sucks because I'm a mathematics student so I'm there a lot. I don't want to run into him or his grad student because I don't want them asking me about the project. The semester's over now and I don't even know if he'd remember me.

I just feel like I've let him down and I really do want to work on the project I just didn't understand what equations and stuff to use after so it was just a mess by the end. Anyway, I'm just wondering what I should do about this? Should I email him? Should I just avoid him? I may want to work with him for research but I don't want him to remember this cliff hanger relationship.


  • 5
    I don't even know if he'd remember me. — You'd be surprised at how hard it is to forget a student that flaked out on you. Should I just avoid him? — At this stage, this would be the worst thing you could do.
    – Mad Jack
    Dec 26, 2015 at 0:12
  • 2
    On the other hand, you certainly wouldn't be the first, or last, student to not do something to its full potential. AFAIK, professors are fairly used to this... However, learn from this.. you should have kept him informed of your difficulties instead of just vanished.. Dec 26, 2015 at 0:28

3 Answers 3


Go talk to the professor, and tell them exactly what happened. Worst thing than can happen is that you get thrown out. Not exactly pleasant, sure; but at least you get it off your chest. And you might get another shot at the project.

  • Exactly. Don't expect a second chance -- but it will allow you to get it off your chest, and to look the professor in the eye in the future or at least not worry about running into him. He might even be gracious about it. As a previous comment notes, this is not exactly an unusual occurrence.
    – Corvus
    Dec 26, 2015 at 1:17

My understanding is that you proposed a project to a professor, who was not teaching the class you did poorly in, and just didn't make as much progress as quickly as you had hoped. If that's the case: welcome to academia! This is a line of work where most of the things that seem simple take forever, and some of the things that seem difficult can be resolved pretty quickly. That is, a domain where it's quite difficult to come up with a timetable and stick to it.

If you want to work on the project still, set up a meeting and talk about the bumps you hit. He's likely to give you some ideas on how to overcome them, especially now that the project is no longer for a course grade. Commit to a follow-up meeting so that you have a deadline and hopefully some concrete goals to work toward.

I wouldn't apologize for not being in touch: there's no need to be defensive. This is your project, so you're in charge of prioritizing it. He wasn't sitting in his office waiting to hear from you.

  • Well, the professor might indeed have been expecting to hear back, and have a good enough memory to not have forgotten. There's no upside to being incommunicado... even communicating one's difficulties is better than communicating nothing at all. Dec 26, 2015 at 19:53

Don't worry. The professor didn't invest much, so he won't feel let down. You don't expect students to do real work, so at worst the professor will treat you like an average student, and you lost the "student I will try to get in my group"-status, but if you want to work in this area, you can get this status back rather quickly. It is likely that he does not care about your classes, and does not know when you are supposed to finish your project, so if you come back to him a few months late he might not even notice.

One way of dealing with your problem would be to set up a "chance meeting" - which shouldn't be too difficult, as you know (or can easily find out) when and where the professor lectures, attends talks or whatever. Then ask, whether you could come to him to talk about your project. Most mathematicians are happy about every student who wants to talk about mathematics, so if you manage to move the focus from "assignment for a specific class" to "math problem you are interested in", you should get an appointment almost instantly.

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