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LoR writer not responding

royalrangeroyalrange Registered User Posts: 25 New Member
edited December 2016 in Graduate School
I submitted my application for a few schools with Dec 15 deadlines a while ago. One of my letter writers still hasn't submitted anything yet. I called these schools and they said they generally give letter writers until early January to submit letters but I fear that they will start looking at applications right away.

The letter writer in question has become unresponsive. What's worst is that I found out that this letter writer is on leave and won't be back until mid-late January. They might not even submit to the schools with Jan 15 deadlines that I am applying to shortly. The only way I can contact them is through email, but I have written to them and haven't heard anything back. My letter writer probably completely forgot about me.

I don't want to not attend graduate school just because a letter writer never submitted anything. I have spent too much effort on this. I have struggled every day, balancing work, which takes up almost the whole day, with graduate applications, and I have sacrificed, for the most part, a year to two of my life for this pursuit. I have never stopped thinking about this for the past one to two years. Every day, every hour, every minute, and every second is becoming increasingly painful.

I don't know what the hell to do if I get rejected by all places I apply to. I don't know any other professor that well at my old institution, and the department will be closed for the Christmas break anyway. My last resort is to ask for an LOR from a work colleague and request a referee change from those schools, but LORs from employers in non-research settings aren't all that valued.

Replies to: LoR writer not responding

  • WildLupineWildLupine Registered User Posts: 94 Junior Member
    I am so sorry you are dealing with this issue. It's extremely frustrating and unfair. Unfortunately, you might have picked a letter writer who just doesn't care about deadlines--which is wrong on the letter writer's part, but it may explain the situation. Usually faculty in this situation feel bad that they missed the deadline, and then the emails from the student freak them out, so they respond by pretending they didn't get the emails.

    Even though you don't know other faculty as well, I would email someone else to ask if they can help you out. Identify a faculty member who can at least talk about how well you did in class, even if they don't know you very well as a person. Tell the faculty member that you had arranged with a different professor to complete your recommendations, but the professor has missed a deadline and isn't responding to your emails. Don't say any thing negative about the professor (just think those thoughts in your head!)--present it as, "I thought I was set, but something must have happened to Professor X making it impossible for Professor X to work on my letters now, so I am asking you to help me out. I apologize for the short notice, etc. but I'm really in a bind..." Someone will respond to your email and help you--most professors see helping students as one of their most important obligations, and if someone else drops the ball, they will go out of their way to help.

    Once you have the new faculty member lined up, figure out how to have this person added to your recommender list so they receive whatever email links they need to complete your recommendations. It's not ideal but it is better than waiting for a letter that might not ever show up.

    Good luck!
  • NovaLynnxNovaLynnx Registered User Posts: 1,406 Senior Member
    They may start looking at applications - but they may also look at ones still missing a letter, if all other materials and fees are submitted. I've spoken with a few programs because I'm in a similar situation. From what I've been told, the issue is when they want to extend an offer but they're missing something that the graduate school requires. Then you need to make sure it gets submitted. Each school is different, though, and I don't know how different our fields might be. I would do as WildLupine suggested and try to find another writer as soon as possible. Even if the department is closed, some professors still check their email throughout the holiday. It will set your mind at ease, and if the first one comes through, then no harm done. I would use your coworker as an absolute last resort.

    I'll add that another year - if you have to wait - will pass very quickly. I've been waiting to apply for six years, so I completely relate to your frustration, but I've also gained some great experience and insights in that time. Stay calm, do what you need to do, and good luck!
  • royalrangeroyalrange Registered User Posts: 25 New Member
    edited December 2016
    Thanks guys. My referee still hasn't responded yet. They haven't even begun filling out the referee form because on the status of my application for one school it states they haven't even started the online referee process.

    Is a reference from a coworker really that bad as compared to an academic reference? I don't know any other professor who knows me well enough to write something other than "this person got an A in my class" which shows in my transcript anyway. A coworker may be able to write about my work ethics, character, etc. Is trying to get another professor's recommendation really the way to go?
  • juilletjuillet Super Moderator Posts: 12,713 Super Moderator
    Chances are pretty good that they aren't going to look at any applications until early January. In mid-December, professors are worried about grading finals and term papers and submitting final grades for their classes. Then they have several weeks of break, during which they are celebrating holidays with their families and often traveling. I'd be really surprised if any programs with a December 15 deadline did any meaningful review before early January, after they return from the winter break.

    Besides, even if they do start looking at applications (unlikely), they can still form an opinion of you without the one additional letter and just add to that assessment once they get it.

    Many professors are very flaky about deadlines - it's sort of baked into the culture of academia (which is infuriating to me). I agree with the advice that sadly you will have to try to find another letter writer. But it needs to be a professor - someone who has taught you or has supervised you in research.
    Is a reference from a coworker really that bad as compared to an academic reference? I don't know any other professor who knows me well enough to write something other than "this person got an A in my class" which shows in my transcript anyway. A coworker may be able to write about my work ethics, character, etc. Is trying to get another professor's recommendation really the way to go?

    Yes, and yes. Presumably, your coworkers do not have PhDs, and they have not worked with you in the capacity that you would work in a graduate program. Letters from academics are valued because the professors have gotten a PhD; they know what is required of a student to persevere through and succeed in a graduate program, and they can speak knowledgeably about that. Furthermore, they have actually seen and can comment on your work that's relevant to a graduate program and in the context of other students.

    It's not just that you got an A - a professor could comment on whether your essays were some of the best essays he'd ever seen, or whether you write on the graduate level already, or whether your solutions to problem sets or proofs were some of the most elegant, or whatever makes sense in your field. They can also testify to your work ethic in terms of academia. There are some students who only took one class with me that I could reliably write them a solid recommendation - and a few who I would be enthusiastic to write a reference for because they did excellent work, even if we never cultivated a close relationship.

    Graduate programs really can't do much with a character reference; that doesn't really mean anything to them. And your coworkers may be able to testify to the strength of your work product, but that may not mean anything about your ability to do research, write papers, understand theory, and generally succeed in academic arenas.

    So a work colleague is not a good option. The only exception is if you currently work in research and your supervisor is a PhD holder - maybe an MA/MS holder, if you are really in a pinch and are applying to master's programs. And even then, the letter should be from a supervisor, not a coworker.
  • NovaLynnxNovaLynnx Registered User Posts: 1,406 Senior Member
    Unless your coworker has the degree you're pursuing, they really don't know what your programs are looking for. Work ethic is important, but they also want to know your potential for research, what you bring to the table in terms of relevant skills, ideas, and more.

    I put together a binder for each one of my letter writers that included my CV, transcripts, personal statement, my thesis (they all served on the honors panel for my thesis, so it was a reminder for them of what I did), and a paper I'd written for their class. That way they had a complete picture of what I had accomplished and they could draw from that to write more than just what grade I got in their class. I have been out of school 6 years, but they all remembered me (even the one who I had only taken one class with 8 years ago), and were appreciative of everything I had provided them.
  • LoveTheBardLoveTheBard Registered User Posts: 2,081 Senior Member
    If the recommender is not responding to emails and you have been told that he/she on leave until mid to late January, there may have been a sudden illness, accident, family emergency or the like.

    Do try to find another faculty member and explain the situation. Make sure that you provide that person with a sample of your work and a summary of your research interests. In the meantime, you can contact the schools you are applying to and explain the situation.
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Forum Champion Engineering Posts: 7,527 Forum Champion
    For what it's worth, the admissions committee in my departnent essentially hasn't touched the applications that were due a few weeks back yet and probably won't until at least a week to two into January. There's still time.
  • royalrangeroyalrange Registered User Posts: 25 New Member
    No update from my original LOR writer yet. I just emailed another professor and they have an automated email saying they won't be back at least for another 2 weeks. My prospects are looking grim at this stage. As I read more into other people's apps and general guidance on the app process, the more I feel like I'm a screw up. I don't believe my application is strong in my intended field given my background. Everything feels like a race for time rather than an actual well thought out application process. I don't know what I'll do if I don't get admitted (and I likely won't).
  • juilletjuillet Super Moderator Posts: 12,713 Super Moderator
    Contact the program you applied to and update them on the situation - tell them you're trying to track down a letter writer who hasn't responded while securing a backup, but because of the winter break your efforts are being delayed. At least give them a chance to help you work out a solution.

    Also, every student - even the strongest applicant - needs to have a Plan B if they don't get accepted to any PhD programs (or to any one they want to attend). This is especially true if you realistically know that you are not the strongest applicant. It's January, and you have 5-6 months to graduation, which is plenty of time. Start thinking about what else you'd want to do if you don't get into any graduate programs. Maybe you can find a paying research job in your field for a couple years; maybe you can find a paying job in an adjacent field; maybe there are some master's programs that will boost your competitiveness for next cycle.

    If you start prepping now, in the case that you don't get admitted anywhere in March or April, you won't feel like you're racing against time again!
  • royalrangeroyalrange Registered User Posts: 25 New Member
    I have been out of school for nearly 2 years. There are no research oriented jobs in my field, let alone research in my area of interest in my country (I'm not from the US). I am working a job that is unrelated to my area of interest and even my major. I'm not experienced in my area of interest because I haven't done any advanced coursework or research in that area because my program never taught that area. I'm not even fond of the work I am doing. It's industry focused and it's not something I want to do for the rest of my life.

    I have applied to MS programs. If I don't get in, I will be nearly 3 years out of school before I can apply again. That's nearly another undergrad degree; it might have been better to just switch careers if money wasn't a concern. There is no guarantee that I will even get in if I re-apply at a later time this year and that my LOR writers will still be willing to support my application. Almost every research based graduate program needs academic referees and almost everyone applying has a chance because they have complete applications. I might not even get a chance to have my application read because of a missing LOR. How useless am I? It's already bad enough to hear one of my past research supervisors (who I believed would have been my strongest reference) say they won't support my application, which forced me to find another referee.

    I wake up with anxiety and I go to bed with anxiety. I get mild chest pains from the excessive worry. The only time I look forward to in my daily life is sleep. Waiting another year doing irrelevant work will cause even more worry because my referees will be less willing to recommend me (I can't keep asking them and expect them to support me) and my overall profile will be even less strong, and it will just be a snowball effect until I am too old to apply or start another career. I can't keep doing this.
  • NovaLynnxNovaLynnx Registered User Posts: 1,406 Senior Member
    edited January 2017
    I'm not sure how your LOR writer failing to fulfill their commitment makes you useless. You did your part, and you're being let down by someone else. Unfortunately, this will happen throughout life, as we can't control what other people do or don't do for us. It doesn't make us less of who we are, because we are not defined by others' actions. We are defined by our own actions and reactions. I strongly suggest getting yourself some help to address the feelings you are having. You will need to develop healthy coping strategies regardless of the outcome; grad school can be quite stressful, too.

    Anxiety is the fear of what may come. Don't worry about what might happen in a year. You have one mission right now, to get your 3rd LOR, and you've been given some advice on how to handle it. So just take one day at a time and do what you need to do. You will create a self-fulfilling prophecy if you keep telling yourself such negative things.
This discussion has been closed.