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Is it not uncommon for professors to forget some basic details about their students?

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

I understand that professors are really busy and that they have far more important things to do than to advise students like me. So I'm not offended or anything (and if anything, I am grateful that he has given me a role in the project and is willing to advise me + write a LOR for me). But I am sort of scared that he might forget things when he writes LORs.

My professor has asked me some of the same basic questions several times (what's your year, what's your major). I'm sure he remembers other things about me though. He did include me in a paper for the Astrophysical Journal a couple of years ago (with a lot of coauthors). But he might have forgotten my role in it (my role in it wasn't major - it was just helping him make some plots). Anyways, I'm just wondering - is it common?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Pengwuino
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I think my thesis adviser recently forgot that I plan on graduating this semester.
 
  • #3
Ygggdrasil
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A good idea is, when you ask a professor for a letter of recommendation, to provide them with some material about yourself (your CV, maybe your personal statement). This gives them a list of things that they could mention about you and helps jog their memory about you.
 
  • #4
mathwonk
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In my career I taught about 3,000 students. I had trouble even recalling their names after a while. But I kept notes on every student's performance in every course. Before writing a letter of recommendation, I would always consult those notes and scores and ask the student to provide any other available information on their activities. Of course those few students who asked questions in class and/or came to office hours, or performed really well, made a deeper impression.
 
  • #5
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What type of notes would you have on a student that never asked questions in class or office hours? Wouldn't it be difficult to say anything beyond what their grade was?
 
  • #6
AlephZero
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I remember a comment made to me by my boss, when I gave him the news I was going to accept a better job offer: "As a manager, you come into contact with many people, but the ones you remember are mainly those who were the very best or the very worst." (He didn't say which group he thought I was in.)

Unless you honestly think you are at the top or the bottom of the pile, just accept it as a fact of life that you are "one of the herd", and don't be shy about prompting him about stuff he may have forgotten, if you need to.
 
  • #7
mathwonk
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yep. unless they came in to do an interview after asking for a letter.
 
  • #8
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Anyways, I'm just wondering - is it common?
My advisor could never keep my undergrad major straight and I've worked for him for years and was at some point the sole student in the lab. Random details can get fuzzy after a while and all that. Wasn't really an issue on the whole rec front. He wanted a list of things I'd done when he wrote up my rec and his reason was that all the random things get lost along the way. (You might want to do that too-or write the resume my other recommender asked for one.)

He requires much the same from anybody else who works in the lab because we get enough students each semester (and during the long winter breaks) that they all sort of flow into each other and it can get kinda hard to keep 'em straight, and that's not even including the students (I have almost 100 each semester and am so thankful I don't have to write recs).
 
  • #9


A good idea is, when you ask a professor for a letter of recommendation, to provide them with some material about yourself (your CV, maybe your personal statement). This gives them a list of things that they could mention about you and helps jog their memory about you.
I second this advice. I even did this when I was in a small liberal arts college (read -- one of three physics majors... so they definitely knew me, especially my research advisor).
 

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