Are my chances of grad school ruined?
December 31, 2010 2:44 PM   Subscribe

Should I be looking for another person to recommend me for grad school? Initial very warm response, lukewarm response to follow up. (time sensitive snowflakes falling in my head)

I asked my former supervisor for recommendation to two masters programs. Initial response was very warm, along the lines of, "Yes, of course! What a great idea, you'll be perfect for this." This was about a month ago, and no substantive response, so I sent a feeler out early today along the lines of, "Hey, hope you had a great holiday! I don't want to nag you, but my recommendations are due in less than a week. I know this is a busy time of year, but please help!" Got a very blase, "Oh, hey, hadn't checked my work email in a week. Yeah, if I have until Monday, I'll do it on Monday." Well, it's due on Monday. Am I wrong to be a little put out? This person has had a month to do this. I was a good worker (I think!?) and they never gave me any other reason to think so--they didn't want me to leave.

Am I out of line for feeling put out about what seems a rather casual response to what is pretty urgent for me? I've been of help to this person in the past, even after working for them. I realize I should have followed up last week, but everyone was off for vacation. Lesson learned. I have a lot riding on this decision to go back to school, which I though I had made pretty plain. Is this all in my head? Please give me a reality check, Mefites!

Anonymous because I work with pretty awesome people who might be likewise awesome Mefites and this could make for awkward water cooler talk.
posted by anonymous to Education (12 answers total)
I'd be put out, but I wouldn't say anything. Just get another recommendation, stat. If he gives you the recommendation too late to do you any good, thank him with a quick tight smile, followed by a letter that says "Dear [Passive Aggressor], Thank you for writing the recommendation. Sincerely, anonymous"
posted by tel3path at 2:48 PM on December 31, 2010

A lot of the time, grad programs are okay with giving a time extension for recommendations to come in, if all other parts of the application are already in. If I were you I would call the programs you are applying too and ask about this, or look on the website. They know that recommenders can be huge flakes, and this is the one part of the application that is not completely within your control.
posted by Ashley801 at 2:52 PM on December 31, 2010

I know this is horribly stressful for you, but this doesn't mean anything about their enthusiasm or (probably) likelihood of writing you an excellent letter of recommendation on time. If the response was initially enthusiastic, then they're enthusiastic and will do it.

I didn't realise until I came to be a professor how incredibly overwhelming the job is, how much effort you have to put into carving out any of your own space, and how much you end up dealing with things on their actual deadlines: you simply have so much to do that you never have time to get ahead. From their perspective, there is nothing wrong -- the deadline hasn't passed yet. And it is possible to write a very good letter of recommendation in substantially less than a day.

So as much as possible don't sweat it. Again, I know it's stressful from your end, and you wouldn't be out of line to send a (short, brief, non-naggy) email on Monday saying "Just a quick reminder that my letter is due today! Thanks!"... but I'm sure you're fine, and the letter will be as awesome and enthusiastic as your performance warrants.
posted by forza at 2:54 PM on December 31, 2010 [6 favorites]

Another professor seconding forza. You should not feel put out and there is no lesson to be learned here. It doesn't take very long to write a glowing letter, especially when you consider the number of letters this person has undoubtedly written in their career. I know this is a stressful time for you, and I wish you the best of luck.
posted by sesquipedalian at 3:06 PM on December 31, 2010

Got a very blase, "Oh, hey, hadn't checked my work email in a week. Yeah, if I have until Monday, I'll do it on Monday." Well, it's due on Monday.

Seeing as it's a work supervisor and not a professor, is it possible that they don't get a lot of requests like this and don't understand the process that well? Did they maybe think "I need it by Monday" = "It has to be in my hand by end of day Monday"? Do they maybe not understand that you need to have mailed it off and the admissions department needs to have it in hand by Monday?

Because if there is any doubt about this, clarifying the nature of the request would probably be better than stewing over it.
posted by Sara C. at 3:10 PM on December 31, 2010

Respond with something like:

Thanks so much! Just to clarify, it is due at exactly 3:00 pm/12:00 pm/X:XX pm on Monday/Sunday/Whatever and the place to email it is ________. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this on such short notice. Here is the link to the program application website: _____________.



They aren't NOT into the idea, they are just busy and working on their own things. Make sure to communicate exactly what you need from them, otherwise they will do it on a different schedule.
posted by 200burritos at 3:32 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another professor agreeing with forza. There's no reason for you to do anything. The professor's response means nothing. I did all of my recommendations on the day they were due and it had nothing to do with anything.

(I got reminders during the holidays from students nervous about deadlines. It was a little annoying, I admit-- I know the deadlines, I'll write when I'm ready-- although at the same time I understand the students' worry.)
posted by vincele at 4:21 PM on December 31, 2010

As it is a supervisor and not a professor I'd ask someone else as a back-up, as they may not get it.

Also (and not an answer to your question, I know), if you know your alternative person well you might want to discuss how a phrase appropriate for a work reference might not be so great for an academic recommendation. My professor ex pointed this out when I was asked to write a recommendation for an employee a few years ago-- apparently "diligent and hard-working" is a bit of a kiss of death.
posted by idest at 4:36 PM on December 31, 2010

Another professor chiming in: send him a nice email on the day it is due thanking him for sending the recommendation. Send it early in the day and make it sound like you believe he already did send the recommendation. Attach a copy of your original email that should have all the particulars of where to send the recommendation. This way if he did send the recommendation, you thanked him, and if he forgot you reminded him.

And for all you profs who get annoyed about the nagging emails, don't! It is a really stressful time for students.

If it is a problem, let your prospective school know there may be a delay.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 5:35 PM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

In my experience, professors and supervisors always seem to shed a few layers of cordiality in pragmatics/reminders-type e-mails. I've also received some wonderful recommendations from professors who write rec's by blocking off a brief period of time for intense writing as close to the deadline as possible. In other words, I don't think you need to read too deeply into tone or lack of apparent foresight. (That being said, wandering_not_lost's strategy sounds pretty reasonable.) Good luck!
posted by elephantsvanish at 8:26 PM on December 31, 2010

I had to write 20 or so new letters this fall, on top of sending out over 300 versions of these letters and a couple of dozen others I already had in the can, each of which requires some degree of customization, and dozens if which still have to be addressed and stamped in an envelope (grrrrrrrrr).

I can write a good leter in 30 mins max for most undergrads applying to grad school. Grad students applying for fellowships and jobs can take an hour or so.

I do them all pretty much right on deadline.

I appreciate email reminders, but not anxious ones. Also it helps a lot to have all the info in one email, and if appropriate a copy of your personal statement or cover letter.

I don't have an assistant to help with this. I even lick my own envelopes.

Forza has it right above.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:36 AM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, just as a reassurance, my guess is that deadlines around this point are to ensure that the letters come in so that packets will be complete at the start of spring semester. I had a few to write that were due Dec 15th - Jan 1st, and I know that no one is coming in from his or her break to go over application packets. Everyone pretty much knows that it's common to have the last-minute recommendations written.
posted by bizzyb at 10:57 AM on January 1, 2011

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