19

I asked my ex-professor for a LOR almost a week ago and I have got no response yet. It is making me pretty nervous and I am not sure what I should do now. I was thinking about visiting him at the department and asking him in person, but I am afraid that his silence means "no" and it will be quite an awkward situation when I ask him. I know that maybe he is on holiday, or the mail could fall into the spam folder, but I do not think so, because it never happened with any mail I sent him before.

Is it good idea to see him in person and ask him like that? Can no response mean "no"?

EDIT: He knows me - when he was my teacher we talked several times outside the class and I wrote him an email one month ago and he answered it, so I guess there shouldn't be a problem.

  • 4
    I had that same dilemma with two professors, and after a few weeks it turned out both of them had been abroad. I personally think that professors are usually accustomed to people asking them for recommendations, so they are generally less awkward in this than you, and won't have a problem telling you they don't know you enough for a recommendation if that's the case. I would try very politely to inquire again. – yoki Aug 22 '16 at 7:38
  • 1
  • 22
    It's August. Even professors may have a life and holidays. That being said, professors can be expected to explicitly say "no" in a polite way if they know you and are not going to provide a letter. Caveat: if they do not know you, and you haven't communicated with them before, they may consider your request as spam. – Captain Emacs Aug 22 '16 at 7:48
  • @CaptainEmacs Yes, but professors also should have auto-responders on if they are not in the office and checking mail. Especially in such an important position it is very discourteous not to. – J... Aug 22 '16 at 17:29
  • 2
    @J... I do not have an auto responder; I do not think every spammer and his neighbour need to know when I am traveling. Frankly, the existence of email is quite bad for one's life balance as it is. It is people expecting others to be reachable at all times that is discourteous. And, yes, I try to respond to emails, as long as the mailers don't express entitlement. – Captain Emacs Aug 22 '16 at 22:11
30

No, it doesn't mean "no". The most likely scenario is that your email is one of many waiting to be dealt with.

I would suggest politely and non-presumptively following up on the email. Reply to yourself to maintain the thread and include the date you need the letter by.

  • Yeah, this is the problem, I need the LOR till 1st September. I tried to call the department office administrator and she told me she doesn't know when or if he will be at the department, she said he doesn't communicate with her through emails. I just know he should examine some students this week, so my only chance is to go there and try to "catch" him, because it is really difficult to explain all these things in email, especially why I am asking him so late :( – Alyssa88 Aug 22 '16 at 10:15
  • 10
    @Alyssa88 In my experience, this is cutting it a little close for a letter of recommendation. This doesn't help you now, but in the future, I'd suggest getting in contact with them at least a month in advance, and likely a bit more. Or, better yet, asking as soon as you know you'll be applying what sort of advance notice they'd like to have. – Aza Aug 22 '16 at 15:57
17

Start making arrangements for an alternative letter of recommendation. It might mean no, it might mean a bunch of more likely things, but these are functionally identical for you.

You need the letter of recommendation for a fixed date, so you should plan to get a letter by that date. This means you should assume you will be unable to get the letter from your chosen professor and should make sure you have an alternative in place. They might come through for you in time in which case all is good but you need to make sure that if they don't you have the letter you need.

9

As a professor, I can tell you that this is not an uncommon situation. I wouldn't read too much into a no-response. Personally, I get somewhere between 30 and 60 emails a day. I'll try to check it regularly, but sometimes I'm not able to reply immediately (e.g., needs a longer reply and I'm on my phone). I mean to reply, but then actually doing so gets lost in the continuing stream of emails.

I advise students who are contacting professors and other busy people to use my 2-email method.

  1. Email the professor with the request. Make it clear and self contained.
  2. After about a week with no reply, send a followup email politely checking back with them.

Almost always, you'll get a response in the next day, if not sooner. What happens is that we've been meaning to get back to you, but other things have come up. The second email prompts us to reply again, and we feel guilty for not having done so sooner, so try to reply right then so as to not fail to do so again.

A second solution that others have recommended above is to go and meet with the professor at their office. A two minute in-person conversation would often have taken an hour to type up in email, so if there is something they needed from you, or wanted to discuss with you, it can be handled quickly and with low mental workload.

Finally, once they have agreed to write the letter for you, give them the information they request (I like drafts of application materials and resume) and clear deadlines and submission instructions. Follow up with them 3-5 days before the deadline. Most will appreciate the reminder if we've not yet written the letter.

5

Receiving a null response doesn't necessarily mean no. There could be other reasons for the delay than to just say no.

I strongly agree with @CaptainEmacs (see comments); you ought to understand that professors would have other priorities too. It could also be possible that he might have missed out in the mail, or it being sent to the spam section.

It would be alright to send a follow mail as Frank suggested here. It would be even better, if you are able to meet up with him in person to request the LoR.

3

I would absolutely go in and talk to your professor, if that's in the cards. If not, go with a follow up email.

First off, writing letters of recommendation is part of the job of being a faculty member. You should in no way feel bad for asking for one, unless perhaps the professor is a complete stranger to you. What you're doing is completely appropriate for a student who has taken a class, met with during office hours, and communicated with over email to do.

Therefore, even if the professor is actually trying to avoid you as a way to say no, it is they who are being inappropriate, not you. Professors of all people know full well how important LORs are, and that they need to be timely. Declining to write one when approached should be handled promptly and professionally. Yes, it may be awkward to force the issue, but it should be they who feel bad about it, not you.

However, as others have said, the vastly more likely scenario is that they're busy or travelling and just haven't seen/gotten to it.

So in either case, the correct course of action is to politely follow up with them. In person would be best if it's viable, since they might recognize you and connect you to previous work/relations better that way, than by name over email.

  • 1
    Thanks everybody for your help and advices!! I sent another email and he answered me in a hour :) – Alyssa88 Aug 22 '16 at 21:19
  • @Alyssa88 Hi! So what did he say, forgotten or something else? Undergoing the same issue:( – Bach Oct 3 '18 at 16:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.