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I have an issue with my Masters' dissertation. I was supposed to complete it for May, however when I submitted my proposal on February 24 but I had no reply about confirmation until I emailed my tutor multiple times and she only responded on March 20. So, because she took nearly a month to approve it, I have missed the chance to hand it in in May and graduate in July.

I have emailed my tutor with questions regarding the dissertation on April 19 and heard nothing back, I emailed her asking for an answer again on the 19th of May and still nothing. It is really hard because she is also the module organiser so I can’t email anyone else about this.

S,o not only did I miss may deadline and now need to hand it in in August, but I don’t know what’s going on exactly and also don’t get replies to my emails regarding the dissertation.

What would you suggest I do because clearly emails are out of the question and I am getting really frustrated. Because it’s a distance learning course, I can’t go to university to see her.

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    Sue them or threaten to sue them. – Walter Jun 5 '17 at 11:37
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    @Walter That's a terrible idea. – jakebeal Jun 5 '17 at 12:08
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    Who's next in hierarchy? Or ring her up. Some people are badly organised, but not explicitly unhelpful, and phoning may help them to reprioritise. – Captain Emacs Jun 5 '17 at 14:45
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    @Walter, that is a horrible idea, and liable to get you expelled. Odds are, her manager is swamped with emails and forgot (case in point, I've seen 1000+ unread emails in my manager's inbox). Phone calls would be best. – FundThmCalculus Jun 5 '17 at 19:20
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    @Walter Threatening a lawsuit is a really great way to get a response similar to "I'm not allowed to conduct discourse with you anymore; the school's legal department will be in touch." It's the workplace-interaction equivalent of holding a gun on someone in response to them bumping into you. If you actually care about getting stuff done, you won't threaten legal action. – apnorton Jun 5 '17 at 20:25
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You should definitely follow up on unanswered emails before a whole month passes. Perhaps try calling her office directly to see if you can reach her. And if not, then contact the departmental admins to find out how you can. If your questions are related to substantive material and not the logistics of your module, then I'd suggest asking someone else in department who does work in your area.

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    Absolutely: if something is time-critical for you, you cannot just wait passively for a month. – jakebeal Jun 5 '17 at 11:51
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    I'd like to highlight the idea of calling or finding alternative contact approaches - there are many people who are just bad at answering email. – Jeutnarg Jun 5 '17 at 19:27
  • Always set/suggest deadlines. If I get a task without a deadline, I usually end up not doing it. If my boss doesn't answer an email regarding time-critical issues, I show up at his office. Possible outcomes: "Oh yes, let me read it quickly ...", "I'll get back to you by ...", "I don't have time, deal with it yourself, I approve whatever you decide." Personal contact instead of emails allows for quick discussion and compromises. – Roland Jun 6 '17 at 8:15
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I would try to schedule a phone meeting via email. The key to this is sending a very simple email. My hunch is that you have been sending complex emails which she decides to "deal with later" and then forgets about. The key is to make it easy for the professor to respond immediately.

To do this, you want the email to be a very simple question. Suggest three phone meeting date/time blocks in a email and ask which works best, or if another time is better.

If no response after 2 days, call and leave a message "Just checking to see if we can schedule a phone meeting. I sent an email request a few days ago and wanted to make sure you saw it, thanks!"

On the next day, send a follow-up email repeating the info from the first email.

On the next day, try getting ahold of a departmental administrative assistant for her to make sure she isn't out sick/on vacation.

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First -- embrace the idea that this is not necessarily your supervisor's fault. This is a communication problem between the two of you (or at least nothing you've said so far leads me to believe it wasn't). When communicating something like this, you need to make deadlines very clear, as well as what the deadlines are for, and what happens if they're missed, and then make sure you receive a timely acknowledgement.

As to how to make this go better, if your emails haven't been perfectly clear, make them so. Also, send the email to your supervisor and cc it to the rest of your committee. They should see your near-finished draft as a courtesy, and knowing that other faculty are involved in the communication might prompt a faster response.

Lastly, finish the email with a request for a meeting to discuss the document and recommended changes. Leave enough time for the document to be read -- about two weeks feels good. If you haven't heard back about confirming the email in about two or three days (I think this is a fair time considering the history of this document, but is perhaps a bit short for a first try in general) follow up with a phone call or visit.

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    Can't really request a meeting, "Because it’s a distance learning course I can’t go to university to see her." – pipe Jun 5 '17 at 18:30
  • The OP might not be able to request an in person meeting, but there are numerous options for meeting online (GoToMeeting, Skype, Google Hangouts, Slack, to name a few). – asgallant Jun 5 '17 at 21:51
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    I don't agree with this. Going literally months without responding is an untenable position barring catastrophic health issues. – TemporalWolf Jun 5 '17 at 21:51
  • @TemporalWolf -- or the email got lost-- or the prof screwed up. Communication is a two-way thing. – Scott Seidman Jun 5 '17 at 22:03
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From the point of view of UK Universities (relevant as per the questioner's profile) there should be a number of people you can contact:

  • A more senior member of staff or course administrator, as suggested by other answers
  • Student Services -- This may be more for non-academic issues, but I expect they would know who to contact on site
  • Your academic student representative (possibly listed as Post-Graduate Taught) -- they may have finished for the semester
  • Your students' union would be able to give advice
  • An ombudsman -- my University had this service for post-graduate research, but again, they would know who to talk to

Check the material you received when you started the course. This should be listed in a student handbook, any if you signed a "contract" there may be a section on the University's obligations to you.

If you cannot resolve the issue, your university should have a webpage detailing the complaints and appeals procedure. Failing that, there is the UK office of the independent adjudicator (OIA).

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    This answer is ok, but heavily UK-centric. – astronat Jun 6 '17 at 10:29
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    @astronat The OP's profile says they're UK based. I'll clarity that in the answer – Steve Jun 6 '17 at 10:47
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It sounds like it's time to go to a dean, or some kind of administrator or supervisor of the non-responsive professor.

If you have trouble figuring out which administrator to contact, try calling the office of somebody quite high up. That office will have the crème of the crème of secretaries/administrative assistants, who know the university hierarchy like the back of their hand.

Once the appropriate administrator has been identified, you will likely have to make your case to him or her by email.

When you write that message, I suggest saying that if Prof. X does not have time to provide feedback for the proposal you submitted, then could the department please assign someone else to do so. The more neutral you can keep your tone, the more effective your self-advocacy will be.

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Some basic points :

  • If you can't get a response by email or phone, it's time to write.

  • No organization can (should) ignore a registered letter sent and marked urgent. Keep a copy of the letter and the registered mail number for tracking. The post office are very careful with registered mail, so the "we didn't get it or notice it" excuse is not going to fly with anyone.

  • Dissertation time. However busy your supervisor is, you ought to be near or at the top of their priority list as you're completing the process. It ought to be in the university's interests to complete that process and get you out and about and off their books so that they can get in a brand new candidate and add to their count of successful candidates. Ignoring you is very disturbing, bordering on suspicious.

  • Don't wait a month between attempts to communicate. Your need is justifiably urgent and it's probably time to contact the head of the department, who ought to be angry at the failure of their subordinate to deal with such an important issue effectively. Go rapidly up the chain of command - not months, a few days between attempts at most. @steve gave some relevant info for UK universities.

  • I know it's distance learning but it's five hours away, not on the moon. You may simply have to get up early and get to it by bus or train (or car if it's an option). If they don't respond to your registered letter promptly (that means email or letter - something you can have a record of !) in a week, then it's time to investigate. Record any contacts you have in the hopefully and probably remote possibility legal action is later required. Under no circumstances engage in angry verbal arguments. This simply gives them an excuse to ignore you. Ask straight direct questions, record the answers as you're entitled to.

Next in line would be programme leader, he is even worse when it comes to emails. No one would speak to me over the phone because you have to make appointment over email to arrange phone call and as you know no one is replying to my emails.

That's a very disturbing pattern of avoidance, I may tell you.

One person ignoring you, for whatever reasons of their own, is problematic, but an institutionalized system which seems to have no function other than to prevent you communicating with people is very poor.

This is why it's time to use registered mail - ignoring registered mail is something courts everywhere regard as very bad behavior, and that's why when one of the things lands on your desk in an organization it's time to sit up and pay attention. They're equivalent to a shot across the bows legally.

When writing keep it simple. Avoid angry comments (difficult but important) or confrontational language. Stress simply the urgency of the matter and why, the failure of their organization to respond promptly and your reasonable expectation that they respond "constructively" (always a good word for these documents) to deal with your urgent need and "their responsibilities" (again important phrase) quickly and satisfactorily.

Something to consider is that the reasons for the delay in contacting you are irrelevant to you. You don't need reasons (excuses) you need action. There could be a hundred reasons why your supervisor ignores you, but they should not and if it's a failure of the department or the supervisor, it's not your concern. Don't let them divert you into a discussion of why this happened. Concentrate on seeing it stops happening and that they act accordingly.

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My advice would be you need to accelerate your timeline: A month to get a reply to an e-mail is untenable. At least in the US, there is usually a written commitment to turnaround time for e-mail that's on the order of days (24-72 hours excluding weekends/holidays was common).

If they aren't responding, send an e-mail to the department or university expressing your concerns. Explain what is going on, including the significant delays and lack of communication.

My largest concern is I can't fathom this happening at my university, so I'm worried you may have gotten involved in an institution of ill repute.

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    I don't know why you assume an institution of ill repute: many professors are terrible about returning emails when not reminded. – jakebeal Jun 5 '17 at 22:36
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    @jakebeal I would hope that is less true of distance education professors, but I don't disagree. – TemporalWolf Jun 5 '17 at 22:53
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    @TemporalWolf: I would have thought it would be worse with distance education. Out of sight, out of mind... – Lightness Races in Orbit Jun 6 '17 at 13:00
  • Can you give an example of said written commitment to response to email within 24-72 hours? It's certainly nothing I've encountered in my career. – Michael Hoffman Jun 6 '17 at 17:40
  • @MichaelHoffman I'll check my school laptop to see if I have a specific example when I get home, but my university covers it in their teaching handbook for blended/online courses: "Timeliness Response and Feedback Promise - Create a response policy for assignments and communications. It helps students understand expectations and helps prevent them from sending unnecessary emails." – TemporalWolf Jun 6 '17 at 18:10
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Have you tried making an appointment with what ever e-mail system is in use? It will send your supervisor a reminder message.

Have you suggest using Skype to your supervisor? That way, you could have a one-on-one conversation without having to travel a long distance.

Do try to keep a diary of all your interactions with your supervisor:

  • Record when you send an email, and when you get a response
  • Record when you attempted a phone call; record why do you wanted it etc.

Once you have a diary, it's a record of what you have tried to do. It can be quoted at your supervisor, his manager, the deed etc.

You can try having a chat with students union, the deed, the welfare office etc. They might be able to resolve any issues with a chat between all the different parties. As soon as you go for making a formal complaint, the legal route etc, peoples' hands are tied because the official process has to be completed.

Do remember that your college has probably had this type of issue before. They will know how to defend themselves, and you don't. The legal route will be very expensive.

I wish you well with your studies.

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It sounds like you're already past the point of trying simple methods, but for in the future, I've found that in a professional environment when someone is slow-responding or even non-responsive by email, emailing multiple people in the same email and making it obvious that you've done so returns better results more quickly. It puts pressure on the individual who is responsible for following up on your issue.

In my experience I've found many times people don't mind being slow to respond when they're emailed individually, but they don't want their peers and especially their superiors to know they do that, so they'll try to give good customer service when they think others might take notice in the issue. There's a good chance they'll never have to deal with you again so they don't really care what you think of them. They very much care what their peers and superiors think of them, though, since they work with them every day, so they're much more prompt to respond when they have an audience.

This is a generalization and won't work in every case, but I have found it to be a good next step after the standard "email and wait" method doesn't seem to be working.

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