I would like to say thank you to a professor for a conversation we had when I was not in a good place. However, this is > 2 years ago now. I also have not been in touch, so I'm not sure he will remember.

Lastly, I will need a reference at some point in the future, and I am going to ask this professor.

I am worried that saying thank you now will look like I am just getting in touch because of the reference (which I will possibly have to ask for in already a month or two).

Could it be interpreted this way, and should I maybe just leave this now? I am worried it will look very fake and like I am only emailing now to secure that reference. At the same time I would like to say thank you, which I was not ready for before.

2 Answers 2


Since you mentioned that you don't immediately need the recommendation letter I would recommend the following:

-Get in touch with the professor in a casual way: perhaps you saw an article online that reminded you of him/her which you wanted to share, perhaps you just wanted to catch up a little bit. Don't mention the recommendation letter, but do mention your future plans (let's assume you need a recommendation letter for graduate school)

-Use this opportunity to reminisce of the time you talked with him/her and use this as a platform for your apology.

Then, if the professor's answer is positive in tone (and perhaps even inquisitive regarding your graduate school plans) you might use this opportunity to ask if it would be possible to get a recommendation letter. If you sense brevity or negativity, it might not be a good idea to ask for the letter.

Personal Experience:

I found myself in a similar situation not so long ago. I needed a recommendation letter for a manager for whom I had previously worked for. Luckily it was around January so I used the opportunity to send my New Year's wishes. Unfortunately, he was on vacation and replied a month after. At that point, I didn't need the letter anymore. But his answer gave me a reassuring feeling that in the future it wouldn't be awkward to come back to him and ask him for said letter.


How about if you put it the other way around? Ask for a reference first and add later something like "I'd also like to take this opportunity and thank you for ..." and explain your situation. Then it at least seems less suspicious, since you are asking for something first.

Alternatively, ask for the reference in one email, and if you get a reply, thank him/her in a second email.

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