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Did i screw up getting a good letter of rec - bizarre story

  1. Aug 3, 2008 #1
    as i just finished my REU and was on my way to take my flight back home. one of the students offered to give me a ride to the bus stop so that i can take the bus to the airport, which is about an hour away from school. this is where the main problem occurred: there were 2 bus stops near the school, one about 5 min away from school, the other about 15 min away. i got the directions about the bus stop w/o realizing it was the 15 min one, when i thought it was the 5 min one. thus, the guy who was giving me a ride thought 30 min before the bus coming was plenty of time for him to give a ride to another student who needed to go to the post office, which was about 5 min away. this student was willing to walk there, but he offered and gave her a ride anyway. the guy then came back about 15 min before the bus arrived and picked me up and gave me a ride to the bus stop. it turned out that i arrived about 30 seconds too late! the bus driver was an ******* and didnt let me on board because i didnt have my bus ticket which i would have bought there, which would have taken like 5 - 30 seconds to buy!

    this was the worst part: most of the students who lived in our dorm had already left. since no more buses left for the airport in time for my flight, i had no choice but to have this same student drive me all the way to the airport, which was in the opposite direction of where he needed to drive home. or to ask one of the profesors to give me a ride. so i asked if my prof whom i did research with could give me a ride there, which he agreed. i explained the whole thing to him honestly, and i even blamed myself to him, saying that i should have known that it would take 15 min, not 5 min, to get to the bus stop

    on the way of driving me there, though he didnt appear angry, he certainly didnt appear too happy. usually he smiles every now and then whenever we have conversation. this time, he never smiled. i'm very worried that i appeared very irresponsible and impolite to him and thus really screwed up earning a good letter of rec from him

    did I?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 3, 2008 #2
    Could you have phoned for a taxi to the airport?

    Unless you were spacey during your REU as well I wouldn't worry too much. Everyone makes little mistakes like this occasionally. A postdoc I worked with once waited 4 hours at the airport to pick up a new grad student who hadn't sent his complete flight information to his supervisor. And another person I work with went to the wrong *city* for a meeting. Oops.
  4. Aug 3, 2008 #3
    Let's look at this in the scenario-scope.

    The worst case scenario is that this was the tipping point for him. He maybe thought of giving you a good letter before, but this made him angry and made him lose valuable time that he needed doing other stuff than driving you to the airport. Maybe he even holds a grudge against you now.

    The best case scenario is that he just thought it was sloppy and inconsiderate of you to not actually have a contingency plan. He communicated that through the "least resistance"-approach. He just wasn't going to be nice about the whole thing, he did what you asked him of, you sloshed his valuable time away by makeing him drive the car to the airport.

    I would say that you won't know until you see the letter of recommendation yourself. But probably you will notice what he thinks of you, maybe probe him a little by makeing a phonecall in a given time frame and check his sentiments out.

    Although, I myself would try to stop think of these things. If you know you put in a lot of work, interest and dedication to this REU-unit, there is a snowballs chance in hell he will give you a bad letter. Maybe laugh at this event on some seminar with you, or make an anecdote out of it.

    TL;DR: Don't worry, just do your job.
  5. Aug 3, 2008 #4


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    You letter will be concerning your ability in the lab and your aptitude for doing research at a graduate level, not your ability to be on time for a bus. If you made a good impression on him with your lab work, then you have nothing to worry about.
  6. Aug 3, 2008 #5
    This. I think it's still a good idea to write your professor an informal thank you note, both for the work experience and taking personal time to take you to the airport.

    Also, professors have a lot of different things going on all the time. Maybe he had a grant proposal get denied, but didn't feel like it was something to discuss with you (despite putting him in a sour mood). Maybe some other research project wasn't going as planned - or maybe it was, and so he was devoting a lot of brainpower to that instead. I don't smile when I'm thinking (about science).
  7. Aug 3, 2008 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    One's research advisor is usually not expected to be one's chauffeur. A cab would have been a better idea.

    That said, I think your only problem is that if you had a history of flakiness, disorganization and lack of preparedness and that this was just one more example. But to be honest, if that's the case, you probably wouldn't have gotten a good letter even if you got to the bus stop on time. So I wouldn't sweat it.

    Besides, there's not much you can do about it now anyway.
  8. Aug 3, 2008 #7


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    It would be a good idea to send him a thank you letter saying how much you appreciated what he did for you and how incoveninet you knew it must have been and thanking him for his help for the summer research.

    This said, unless he has no work ethics, this incident will have absolutely no bearing on your letter of recommendation.
  9. Aug 3, 2008 #8
  10. Aug 3, 2008 #9


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    With respect to the whole ride issue: this I wouldn't worry about. This kind of thing happens to everyone.

    The best way to know whether or not he would provide you with a positive reference letter is to ask him. From your last post it seems like he has already volunteered to do this.

    It also sounds like you're very aware of little issues. Timeliness can be seen by many as a form or respect (or lack thereof). Research is not generally a 9 to 5 kind of job, but it's always a good idea to make it clear from the beginning what your time committments are expected to be. Also when a supervisor makes a big deal over "unnecessary details" - there's usually a reason.
  11. Aug 5, 2008 #10
    this is his response to my thank you email:

    "am glad to hear of your safe return home. It was great that you could come and spend the summer with me. You have succeeded in turning out a great work; your no-nonsense march ahead was very effective. Channel your attention on learning more of the physics world, and you will do very well. Keep me posted of your progress."

    so i guess that he's going to write me a decent letter of rec?
  12. Aug 5, 2008 #11
    Perhaps I am not getting this but any professor who would refuse a letter of recommendation just because you asked him if he could give you a ride to the airport is in my opinion a corrupt individual. Not relevant to your situation but excessive kowtowing is not a positive in my book either.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2008
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