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I asked a professor to write a reference letter for me and he agreed to it; however, the deadline is coming up and he has yet to submit the letter.

As I am not experienced with the process, I wanted to ask if, based on your experience, it is typical for professors to delay submitting references to the last minute.

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    I don't know why this question has been voted closed: it seems entirely reasonable to me. – jakebeal Jan 29 '16 at 4:51
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    This question is perfectly legit IMO. – profmartinez Jan 29 '16 at 13:30
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I find that the approach of most people I know people to letters of recommendation falls into two general categories:

  1. Do them very quickly, so that you don't have to think about them any more.
  2. Forget about them until nearly the deadline, and then submit them at the last moment or slightly after (once reminded).

Lots of people, including lots of professors, fall into category #2. The question is, how do you make sure the letter is on time without being a pest? To this end, I recommend giving three reminders:

  1. A week before the deadline
  2. 1-2 work days before the deadline
  3. On the day of the deadline

This balances respect of the person's responsibility (not too many) with minimizing the chance that a last-minute reminder will be too late. It's the same sort of frequency that I use for reminding people about seminars and other things where you want to balance between awareness and annoyance. One might tweak the formula a little, but the general principle of increasing frequency near a deadline is the key.

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I cannot speak for the US, but in the UK the submission of the reference is not too time critical and becomes relevant only after shortlisting.

However, be careful not to nag the prof too often. You seem to know that the prof hasn't submitted it - if you speak to them in person, you can ask them about it. I would expect a reminder a few days before the deadline, and, if not confirmed, on the day of the deadline should be enough.

It's not clear what "constant reminding" means in your case, but it would really depend on the prof - usually they know it is important to write references and will not forget. If they forget, they are unreliable, but I am not sure constant nagging will help there.

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You don't articulate how you know it is written, but is it possible that it is in a partial state of completion and awaiting edits? I would not pester but do send a reminder a day or two before the deadline.

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A deadline means two things: 1) you may not submit after it; 2) you need not submit (too) ahead of it. The importance of the latter cannot be overstated when you're juggling with many such deadlines.

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  • Why is it that letters of rec can't be submitted too early? – Lucy Jan 28 '16 at 23:46
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    I said you need not submit early. – profmartinez Jan 29 '16 at 6:26

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