not exactly a spring semester study tip, but related: how to ask for a letter of recommendation
More than a few of my colleagues who have been following the spring semester study tips series have asked that I write a post devoted to how you ask a professor for a letter of recommendation. These aren’t study tips, but they’re still useful.
- Long before you ask for letters of recommendation, you might know that you’ll need them in the future. Make it a point to develop relationships with at least five faculty members, all of whom are tenure-stream and four of whom teach in your major (these conditions can relax if you are applying to professional graduate programs rather than Ph.D. programs). Choose your classes wisely, consider opportunities to work as a research assistant, and identify when in your program you might be able to take directed/independent studies courses.
- When it comes time to needing a recommendation, make sure you’re asking the right person. Is this someone you have worked closely with (as a research assistant) or taken a few classes from (and done well)? Big names aren’t always winners as recommenders — and yet that doesn’t give you license to ask a bunch of graduate student teaching assistants for letters, either. (If you followed point 1, this part should be easy.) I am not like everyone else, but I only write letters for students whose applications I support. That means, I do not write bad letters. Instead, I will excuse myself from writing a letter for you and encourage you to ask someone else. <<< Again, I am not like everyone else. Choose wisely.
- Before you ask, you should have a draft of your application done so that you can give it to the professor. This helps us to write the letter by reminding us how great you are. Be prepared to give a dossier to the professor that includes your personal statement, a resume/CV, and details on how to submit the letter. For a guideline, see the form I give to students when they ask that I write a letter of recommendation (credit to Laura Seay, who wrote the original version of this that I modified).
- Ask well in advance if the professor will write the letter for you (I require 3 weeks notice, with rare exceptions). Once the professor says yes, give her/him the dossier in point 3 above, and/or follow whatever instructions s/he has for letter writing.
- After your applications are submitted. Write a brief thank you note (gifts are really unnecessary).
This post is somewhat related to a series of blog posts I’m writing this semester on studying in college.