Asked lecturer for reference - have had no reply

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blossomx
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I asked my dissertation supervisor from when I was at university (I graduated last year) to be an academic reference for my PhD apps and she has not replied. I sent a reminder after 8 days and have still not had a reply. I know it's really busy for academics, especially with COVID.

It's now three weeks until the deadline, is that enough time to ask someone else? I'm worried as the only lecturer I can now think to ask is a lecturer who doesn't know me very well and won't be able to speak about my suitability for research.

I'm really stressed out over this. I've put so much effort into applications and feel like it's been a waste of time, sorry I know I'm over-reacting but I'm just worried.
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Keele University
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(Original post by blossomx)
I asked my dissertation supervisor from when I was at university (I graduated last year) to be an academic reference for my PhD apps and she has not replied. I sent a reminder after 8 days and have still not had a reply. I know it's really busy for academics, especially with COVID.

It's now three weeks until the deadline, is that enough time to ask someone else? I'm worried as the only lecturer I can now think to ask is a lecturer who doesn't know me very well and won't be able to speak about my suitability for research.

I'm really stressed out over this. I've put so much effort into applications and feel like it's been a waste of time, sorry I know I'm over-reacting but I'm just worried.
Did you let your dissertation supervisor know the deadline for your application? I'm sure 8 days feels like an age for you but a week's not really a huge amount of time given how busy the average academic inbox is at this time of year. And you're right in suspecting that Covid-19 has increased this - far more student queries are coming in via email as a result of blended/online learning, plus there's been a lot of additional preparation for classes and assessments.

So unless you've specified a clear timescale for your reference, it may be that your dissertation supervisor has just put the request on their very long 'To Do' list and is intending to get back to you in due course, not realising the urgency. If you did give the deadline, it may just be that they're very busy, have been on leave or sick, or have simply forgotten - far from ideal obviously but academics are humans too and these things happen.

Either way, I would send a very polite follow-up checking if they received your initial email, advising of the deadline for your PhD application (maybe make the date you give them a few days before your actual deadline, just to be on the safe side), and asking if they could confirm whether or not they currently have the capacity to complete a reference for you.

It may also be worth checking with your former university that you have the correct email address for the academic in question (sometimes website details don't get updated if there has been a change), and that they are not currently on research, sick, or parental leave - a quick phone call or email to the admin team for the department should be able to confirm that for you.

If you still don't hear back, think about other academics you worked with during your last year of study - a module/seminar leader that you completed an assignment for, or a personal tutor. Yes, they didn't work with you on your final project but they can still comment on you as a student - trust me when I say they'll remember if you were engaged in their classes, and if you asked questions or contributed to discussions. Whilst you wait to hear back from your chaser email to your dissertation supervisor, it might be worth dropping your other lecturer a quick initial email to ask them if they could act as a secondary referee for you, should one be required - that way you've 'primed' them for as and when you do send the reference request across.

Hope that helps and good luck with your PhD applications.

Amy
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megascream
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I strongly suggest you ask someone else as soon as you can.

From my experience working with my multiple supervisors, they will notice they have received new emails immediately after you send them. They will have time to give a "yes" or "no" reply in three or four days (though no one really replies no, that sounds awful). If they didn't reply to both your original request and reminder for such a long time, they don't want to reply at all.

Don't worry about asking someone who "don't know you well". Most scholars are willing to provide a reference if you give them the information they need. They don't really know anyone to be honest, even if they have supervised you in a dissertation.

You can send another reminder and make it clear that the due is to come, but there is a high possibility that you won't receive a reply. After all, this is a busy time and writing reference really takes time and efforts. By the meantime, you can ask others for it. It's never wrong to have more references than you need. If your preferred scholar still doesn't reply to you in another three or four days, you can just use other references.

I had the same problems when I applied for my PhD. My most preferred referencer never come to me. But I manage to get references from other scholars after I waited for two weeks or so. Ask as many as you can and you will be fine. Good luck!
Last edited by megascream; 1 month ago
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blossomx
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If my supervisor has an assistant, should I try contacting them or should I just take the silence as a no and find someone else?

Also do you think asking someone to provide a reference when the deadline is two weeks away is enough time?
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blossomx
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Also thank you both for the replies.
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megascream
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(Original post by blossomx)
If my supervisor has an assistant, should I try contacting them or should I just take the silence as a no and find someone else?

Also do you think asking someone to provide a reference when the deadline is two weeks away is enough time?
You can contact your lecturer again, or the assistant, or both. This doesn't matter. If there are still no reply in a few days, you can take it a no.

Yes, two weeks is sufficient, but you need to tell them this when asking. Also, you can tell the admission you are applying. They are very likely to understand this and allow you to submit your reference later.
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