The case of the disappearing academic
October 29, 2018 1:51 PM   Subscribe

I'm on the academic job market this year, and one of my recommenders has vanished mid-semester, having uploaded a current letter to Chronicle Vitae but not Interfolio despite multiple reminders from me. Help?!

There are a couple jobs I'd like to apply for that explicitly state that they won't accept application materials outside of Interfolio (and I've emailed the departmental admins to confirm this). Meanwhile, this recommender -- who's lovely, who I know is swamped right now just like I am -- has shared a copy of his rec with me already. We don't live in the same part of the world, so I can't knock on his office door or anything. Given that I won't be breaching any assumption of confidentiality on his end (I know exactly what the rec says already), is there a sneaky way I can upload it to Interfolio myself without it looking fishy? Or are there any other options I have here? Ugh.

For what it's worth, I could definitely scare up a new recommender, but not quickly enough for two specific positions I'm worrying over. Also, this particular letter is excellent, and I'd really not give it up. Another even more imperfect option: I have an older version of this recommender's excellent letter, written for a specific position and dated last January in Interfolio, which I guess I could use although that seems like a terrible idea. So close yet so far away. What to do?
posted by knucklebones to Education (7 answers total)
Does he have staff (an admin/PM ideally, but an RA might be able to help too)? I work with faculty and I have great sympathy for folks in your shoes, and have helped a number of people out in the past. Usually this entails either uploading the docs myself (if I have their credentials) or bugging them into doing it themselves.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 2:48 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Do not upload your own version. Email them again. Call. Ask the office admin.

Swamped or not, this is incredibly important and they know it.
posted by k8t at 3:06 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yes--call the office admin. They can bug him in person and/or upload it themselves if they have his credentials.

Keep in mind, too, that there is often more leeway for letters than for any other part of the application. If I recall correctly, assuming an Interfolio-hosted position, you should be able to "add the letter to your application" as soon as you've requested it, and there will at least be a placeholder there, which will be replaced by the actual letter as soon as it's uploaded.

And, from one job market candidate to another: good luck!
posted by dizziest at 3:42 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I second dizziest: go ahead and apply, and if you need to say who your references are, go ahead and list your absentee reference. Then find a way to get that letter submitted *by the reference*. If they are literally unresponsive to you for a period of a couple of weeks, it would be reasonable to contact their department chair to ask about them, too.
posted by dbx at 4:47 PM on October 29, 2018

Overworked professor here whose email sometimes leaves the front page and vanishes into the ether of my brain. Your professor will remember this a week after it's too late if you do nothing. (And they'll feel awful.)

1. Email again, forward them the exact same email, but this time write "urgent" in the subject line, then just above the forwarded message write "Sorry if this is a repeat, I wasn't sure if you received this email. "
2. Call the office staff and say "Is Professor Blah in town? I have an important deadline for a recommendation. Can you get them a message?"

Others in my profession might not agree with the "urgent" subject line but I would be grateful for it.
In the future, ask them, remind them a couple of weeks before the deadline, and then again the day before, with friendly reminders.
posted by nantucket at 5:08 PM on October 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

Also an overworked prof here. Definitely send another email labeled "Urgent." Use the function in your mail program to mark it as urgent as well, then it shows up as an "urgent" email with a little exclamation point next to it in my interface. Sometimes I lose stuff in my inbox. I feel really terrible about it, but it happens and I'm never upset when someone emails me again. I actually tell my students to email me again if they haven't heard back in a few days, because this is just a thing that happens with my inbox. I have over 800 emails right now. I just can't keep up!

I've also served on faculty search committees and a late letter would not kill your application with us, but I realize that this is specific to the institution you're applying to, so you can't necessarily count on it. But in my experience, we would not chuck a candidate because one letter is late or missing.
posted by sockermom at 3:43 AM on October 30, 2018

I wouldn't worry too much about what to say in the body of the email. But I will note that some people react badly to language like "urgent" and "friendly reminder" so bear that in mind. If it were me on the receiving end (overworked prof no. 52734) the most effective header would say "Interfolio rec DUE TODAY." Then I would write it on a to do list and get it done in the next couple of days.

I agree that going through a departmental administrator who has a way with faculty, or with this particular faculty member, is a good idea. But that is assuming the faculty member is in the same place as the administrator, when it sounds possible that he is off somewhere on sabbatical or in the UAE or Singapore teaching at your university's global outpost. In that case, an email from the home department administrator is probably less effective than a collegial email nudge from your dissertation advisor (assuming they and the referee are on good terms.)

Good luck! One missing letter never tanked anyone's job prospects in my dept.
posted by Morpeth at 5:41 AM on October 30, 2018

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