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I have never had a problem with getting LoRs for any of my scholarships or grad school applications. When I was in high school my IB coordinator even went so far as to write a letter for me without me asking and telling me to apply for a scholarship that I did not know about. Similarly everytime I have asked a professor they have responded quickly and also written the letter within a timely matter. I always send reminders and usually give them plenty of time (if circumstances allow).

I wonder if the people who are having problems simply don't have a very close relationship with their letter writer? Or are picking 'bad' letter writers? There is one prof I can think of in particular who I think is a great mentor but is known to be absent-minded, which would often lead me to consider others before asking him.

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I wonder if the people who are having problems simply don't have a very close relationship with their letter writer? Or are picking 'bad' letter writers? There is one prof I can think of in particular who I think is a great mentor but is known to be absent-minded, which would often lead me to consider others before asking him.

Not necessarily. The professor I mentioned above is one I've gotten to know well over the last four years -- he's also written a fantastic letter for me before (for a fellowship he suggested I apply to), and he's always been quick to reply to emails. So it's strange that he didn't reply to my initial email in September or my follow up, knowing how enthusiastic he's been about my grad school plans.

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I wonder if the people who are having problems simply don't have a very close relationship with their letter writer? Or are picking 'bad' letter writers? There is one prof I can think of in particular who I think is a great mentor but is known to be absent-minded, which would often lead me to consider others before asking him.

I don't know if not having a close relationship should make any difference. In fact, if that's the case then it should be even easier to decline to write a letter, saying something like "I don't feel like I can do you justice...someone who knows you better might be a better choice". Anything's better than a non-response.

But to speak more generally to your point, having close relationships with professors is more of a personality trait. Many of us are excellent students with a keen interest in our respective fields, but just aren't the extroverted type to become ingratiated among a community of faculty.

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Personally, I don't get the trend of sending e-mails to professors as a means of asking them to write a letter for you.

I actually think it's much better to set up a time to meet with them and ask them in person- it gets you a fast response, and they have a chance to ask you any questions they have about the program, etc. A lot of the faculty at my undergrad institution actually made it a policy that they would only respond to requests submitted in person (save extenuating circumstances), and I see from the CHE forums that it really isn't an uncommon policy.

I asked for all of my recommendations in person when I was applying for grad school, and made time on a visit home to swing by my old school and ask for letters during my first year of grad school when I was applying for fellowships. We just did the same for my wife so she (first year graduate student) could ask for letters.

I realize it's not always possible, but I don't think everyone I see sending e-mails is doing it because it's not possible to get to their institution/professor.

I've mentioned this in other threads, but e-mails, especially those from students/that don't *need* an immediate reply, can get buried really quickly. As a grad student, I get probably 15-20 e-mails on the average day that I have to respond to. My PI gets somewhere around 75+ per day that he has to respond to. Half the time he can't even find drafts of our manuscripts that he's expecting us to send, much less requests for letters of recommendation. The sad truth is that in the ranking of importance, letters of recommendation from past students are sadly quite far down the pile- requests from senior people in the university, grant reviewers, journal editors, and current graduate and undergraduate students take higher priority.

If you e-mail and don't get a response within a week, follow up. If you don't get a response within a week of the follow up, try calling or going in person. A week gives plenty of response time, but if they didn't respond to the first two e-mails, chances are they aren't going to respond to the third, fourth or fifth. Getting worried when less than a week has passed is expecting a response too quickly, imo.

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I realize it's not always possible, but I don't think everyone I see sending e-mails is doing it because it's not possible to get to their institution/professor.

I work full time now during typical "business hours." To visit my old professors (without setting up an appointment first) would require taking time off work (not something I would get sick time for) showing up at their office, and HOPING they happen to be there, as none of them seem to post their office hours for the public to view and therefore, I would have no idea when they are there. On the other hand, it takes me less than 5 minutes to send an e-mail. All the information that my recommenders need I can either send via e-mail or postal mail, so it's really not necessary to meet them in person, is it? I've asked a few professors for requests via e-mail, and they seemed fine with it, since they were agreeable to writing the letter.

Personally, I would not want a professor who has secret requirements for LOR's (they "must" ask in person!) to write my letter. I think this is indicative of somebody who is overly-particular and possibly prickly, and I certainly wouldn't trust them to write a glowing LOR. It's simply presumptious. How could the professor possibly know that person's reasons for asking via e-mail? Plus, to ignore e-mails from people you know is simply rude and inconsiderate. As I said, it takes less than 5 minutes to send an e-mail. We all lead busy lives, and e-mail is one of those wonderful tools of the 21st century that makes things easier. E-mail as a communication form is not going away anytime soon so everybody might as well get used to it.

I realize that in some cases it makes more sense to ask for letters in person. If you are still in college you definitely should do so. But if you haven't been in school in years and you work full time and lead a busy life (as most people do) it just makes more sense to e-mail or even make a phone call. In my humble opinion I think some professors are a little full of themselves if they have these secret requirements for LOR's and just assume that everybody else knows about them.

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I'm not sure why you felt the need to quote the part of my post where I explicitly said that I realize it wasn't possible for everyone to do, and then wrote three more paragraphs on why it wasn't possible for you to do. You have posted your situation before, and you were one of the specific cases I had in mind when I wrote that caveat. I don't, however, think that you are the norm. Hence, with that caveat, my post was targeted at the majority of people who seem to have this problem, not the specific set of outliers I pointedly excluded.

I'm also not sure where you jumped to "secret" requirements... The cases I mentioned were specific and explicit policies, and the professors would respond to e-mail requests asking the requester to meet them in person.

While e-mail is convenient, it's also really easy to have things slip by unnoticed or unremembered. Ideally, that would never happen, but sadly it often does.

And not that I'm saying everyone should do it, but for the record I took time off of work and drove a couple of hundred miles to ask for my recommendations in person, and I'm personally glad I did. Asking in person puts a face and a personal touch to the request, and the immediate response was quite helpful for my personal state of mind.

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Another thing that factors into the acceptability of an e-mail request, IMO: prior e-mail correspondence with that professor while you were a student of theirs. If you were, hypothetically, someone who showed up to class and did exceptionally well without communicating on a semi-frequent basis (either in person at the end of class or through office hours, or via e-mail whenever you had a question or concern), then it might be a little weird to get an e-mail from that student out of nowhere.

However, if you had established a line of communication, it's basically just continuing a conversation you've had with the professor months before.

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Hi all,

So after 2 e-mails and no response I e-mailed the department admin assistant. Since the college I went to is a small liberal arts school, by graduation you know all the staff and faculty in the department pretty well. She immediately replied me and said she would check in with the particular professor. Two hours later she wrote back saying that of course he would be happy to help in any way and that he thought he had replied me.

Moral of the story: Be persistent and use your resources.

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Other moral of the story: Freak out about it as little as possible. If they are at all professional, they will e-mail you back with one answer or another unless they have forgotten, didn't get the e-mail, or put it off/forgotten for so long that as soon as they see or hear from you again, they'll remember and feel a little bad. Glad to hear from all those who got in touch with their profs in the end.

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Another update: one of the professors I hadn't heard from after 2 emails said over the phone he never saw my emails, and the other professor who never responded to my 2 emails said he thought he did respond. I have now lost all confidence in the reliability of email.

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FWIW, over on the CHE fora, and elsewhere, there are many threads that provide insights into the every day life of those making a living in the Ivory Tower. IMO, these conversations provide interesting counterpoints to some of the value judgements on the professionalism of academics being offered in this thread.

IME, graduate school is more about picking up what others have put down, and less about having professors hand things off to you.

Also, this point bears repeating.

Personally, I don't get the trend of sending e-mails to professors as a means of asking them to write a letter for you.

I actually think it's much better to set up a time to meet with them and ask them in person- it gets you a fast response, and they have a chance to ask you any questions they have about the program[.]

As does this one.

I've mentioned this in other threads, but e-mails, especially those from students/that don't *need* an immediate reply, can get buried really quickly. . . . The sad truth is that in the ranking of importance, letters of recommendation from past students are sadly quite far down the pile- requests from senior people in the university, grant reviewers, journal editors, and current graduate and undergraduate students take higher priority.

In regards to those who "work full time and lead a busy life," please do keep in mind that you may be competing against applicants who are willing to make the sacrifices that will advance their candidacy. You may be unable to rearrange your schedule but is missing work the only alternative to sending an email?

How badly do you want to go to graduate school?

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  • 6 years later...

Well that's nonsense. Just because you "believe" most people can meet with their former professors does not mean your belief is fact. Majority of people I know don't live anywhere near where they attended school, and you are acting like nearly everyone lives right next door to their former university. 

Should my boyfriend pack up for a four hour road trip because some professor is too much of a snob to answer a request sent via email? Should I be expected to fly 5,000 miles to meet with my former professors? Professors can't know whether you are within a reasonable distance to come and see them or not. For professors to ignore students who live far away or give priority to those who happen to live nearby is terribly unprofessional. I have never taken more than 48 hours to respond to any email from any of my students. It's part of your job if you are a teacher or professor there's no excuse for not answering an email. It takes less than a minute to say yes or no.

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First, you’re responding to a post from 7 years ago. Second, it’s not part of a job description as a professor to respond to former students. 

And it takes a minute or two, sure, but I receive, as a junior faculty member, well over 100 emails a day many days that I need to respond to. My senior colleagues get several hundred. 

I would also argue that not receiving a response is a tacit “no”. 

To be clear, I respond to all of my students emailed requests and questions, but the expectation that it’s part of a job or required... is over the top. 

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