When Deadlines Aren't Really Deadlines

I have always been the kind of person who takes deadlines seriously. I like to set deadlines for myself well ahead of the real ones just in case I want to make last minute revisions.

Despite years of applying for/to all sorts of academia-related things, I still often end up working on final tweaks at the last minute. Who knows if these are beneficial or not?

In one sense, I’m a big believer in deadlines. Once something is submitted, it is completely off my mind and out of my control.

However, what I really want to talk about is when deadlines impose on opportunities

Particularly when it just happens out of circumstance.

For example, let’s say you find out about a college program that didn’t come up at all in your search (maybe it was classified differently, or under an unusual department). Or maybe it’s that scholarship solicitation that’s calling your name.

In all your excitement, you rush to the APPLY NOW button, only to find that (somehow despite the forms still being open), they are no longer accepting applications.

What do you do in this situation?


(I know what I would have done, I would have sighed and moved on.)

However, I now believe that when the opportunity speaks to you, speak back.

Call someone. Find a contact point and try reaching out.


Try to find someone involved with whatever thing you are looking at, and get in touch.

Stay calm, express your interest (a little institutional flattery doesn’t hurt), and ask if they would be willing to be gracious enough to consider you despite the deadline.


You’ll be amazed how often deadlines are totally arbitrary.


Often they aren’t. Still, it is worth finding out.


This may be hyperbolic, but I’ll go ahead and say it on the record:

No one (worth working with) turns down great talent because of a deadline.

Neil Gaiman said in his Make Good Art Commencement Address that as far as successful employment goes (in the arts and freelancing), you must be

  • Good
  • On Time, and
  • Likeable

But fortunately, you only need two of these three. I now quote Mr. Gaiman directly:


People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time.

People will forgive the lateness of your work if its good and they like you.

And you don’t have to be as good if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.


If you are a good candidate and can get someone to vouch for you, you can get around a deadline (from time to time).


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There are times when not enough good applications have come in, and committee members send out emails to their colleagues soliciting new submissions well past the deadlines.

Advertising emails go unsent, attention wavers, and sometimes plain oversight just gets the best of us.

You simply never know what’s actually going on, especially in an academic department

So it it always worth trying to reach out to someone and asking if you can submit something past a deadline.

I have far more than my fair share of anecdotal evidence to support this. I do not hold that this is indicative of academic disciplines in general, just that trying to reach out is a low risk action for a high potential reward.

It is irresponsible to not try.

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Michael Pilosov
An (applied) mathematician on a mission. Denver, CO.
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