Sorry for yet another 'professor does not respond my email' question. I searched through other similar questions, however their context was slightly different from mine.

I am a M.Sc. graduated from Asia looking for a PhD position abroad (i.e. Canada).

About the 9th of December, I sent an email to a professor in one of the Canadian universities, asking to join his research group as PhD student. He initially found my CV and transcripts interesting and requested for some recommendations letters being sent to him. It lasted until the 21th of December when all of my references finally sent their recommendation to the professor and then I notified him about it, however I didn't receive any response from him.

Because of the new year holidays, I found the delay normal and I waited until 7th of January (a week ago) and still no response! Then, I sent another email to him, politely asked about the status of my application and recommendations which have been sent to him and he has not answered this email too.

The professor was really positive in our initial contact, so I don't know if I should consider this type of ignorance as a rejection and move on or I need to make other decisions. Actually, I am also interested in research of one of his colleagues and If I knew his final decision about my application I could start talking to the other faculties before the deadline pass.

P.S: In this university, the admission decision is completely based on finding an advisor willing to support your research through your graduate study.

Update: I sent another reminder email to him after a couple of weeks, politely requested for a feedback if he received my email. I used email tracker software and I found he opened my email and still no answer.

  • 4
    Please also consider the possibility that PI's proposal gets rejected and there is no more funding to support any Phd, although in which case it'd be more considerate of him/her to notify you of this bad news.
    – Troy Woo
    Jan 14, 2017 at 18:27
  • 5
    There isn't a single faculty member, myself included, that I've spoken to recently that isn't overwhelmed in January.
    – Fomite
    Jan 15, 2017 at 0:20
  • Around here a lot of people don't work in the first week of the year. And then they come back and have to get back into everything. Let him make the decision and the necessary planning in peace. I was actually on holiday until yesterday, others might do that too. My boss last year was on a conference during the second week of the year. There are many options.
    – skymningen
    Jan 17, 2017 at 12:24

4 Answers 4


At some universities, there is a quiet period between the application submission deadline and the first round of interviews, during which faculty and applicant communication is discouraged.

As faculty, I've found such quiet periods annoying but understand the rationale which is to level the playing field by suppressing off-channel communications with a secondary purpose of limiting too much badgering on the part of applicants.

Or the professor could be skiing or preparing for the new semester. Either way, I'd hesitate to badger too much.

update: If I found a prospective student used an email tracking program on me, I'd drop them from consideration immediately. See: Is it rude to use tracking softwares for the emails that you send to potential advisors?

  • 2
    Is that quiet period really meant to work out in such a way that the advisor acts as if they had suddenly disappeared from the face of the Earth, without any minimal information to the applicant that the application is being processed and the next contact will be established by the university, but possibly only after a few weeks/months? Jan 14, 2017 at 20:41

Graduate admissions are on the bottom rung of priorities right around now; it's the interview season, so most faculty members are holding interviews and attending meetings. They are also reading files for postdoc applications and going to hiring committee meetings. I'd wait a couple of weeks from now, and just move on and contact your second choice at the university. If your first choice advisor gets back to you much later, you could either resume contact (and tell him/her that you've also been taking to his colleague) or politely decline by saying that you assumed rejection and move onto your second option, if you've changed your mind and already committed to some other option.

Although it might be slightly awkward to be in touch with several labs at one institution, nothing is preventing you from contacting other institutions, so make sure that you have a backup as well.


In my opinion, send him a follow up email the second time and wait for a couple of weeks for reply. He may be busy or forgetful, anyhow if he don't reply it after a couple of weeks, consider yourself rejected.

  • 3
    Or he is still traveling (skiing?). Depends when the winter holidays end. Jan 14, 2017 at 16:54
  • 5
    @CaptainEmacs You can never really tell what may be occupying their time. I knew someone who worked closely with an academic who also had a sheep farm, and who would be completely incommunicado for several weeks during lambing season.
    – R.M.
    Jan 14, 2017 at 20:07
  • @Captain Emacs: And when the winter break ends, the instructor is likely to be pretty busy with beginning-of-term chores.
    – jamesqf
    Jan 14, 2017 at 21:08

Not sure of how canadians do their winter breaks, but here in the USA, most teachers are unlikely to check their emails after a certain period in a class break. Usually, they will reply to emails within a few days after final grades have been posted for any questions or discussions needed but after that, take the 2 weeks just like any other student. Some teachers will reply and usually they will state this closing in on the end of class stating that they will be available for emails throughout the whole break. Unfortunately for you, you weren't in any classes being taught, and he didn't communicate that he will not be replying any time soon.

You did email him later on after the break period but you also have to remember that is also when teachers are preparing for the new semester, getting emails from new students, going through all their emails that were left from the previous class and so on. I wouldn't lose hope. See if there is someone else you can contact that may also know about the status of the application or even someone else from that group you can try to contact. At the very least, persistence shows you actually want to be a part of the team and putting in the effort to show you are serious. This could help you win the spot over someone who may be more qualified, but did little to show they are really interested in the position.

Contacting others who might end up being a part of that decision could play in your favor (as long as you don't come of annoying!). As other people said, things take time and it is annoying some times, especially when they reply quickly getting all the information they need and then leave you in the dark.

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