I picked up another trick when I applied for doctoral programs: as the requestor, prepare sample letter for the writer. You can highlight things she/he may have forgotten or only known cursorily. The writer is under no obligation to use the sample, but (as a writer of such letters for students) it makes the writing process go much faster. (Although, yes, undergraduate students are inclined to be a bit hyperbolic in their self-descriptions.)
A slightly less presumptuous version of this strategy is to provide a bullet list of things they may like to include in a letter. When I'm writing letters I usually ask students for such a list. I wouldn't really want them to draft the whole letter.
I agree it can be an odd thing if the professor does not request it, so it's probably best to only do it on request.
I'm a sophomore undergraduate currently looking to transfer, and I need two letter of recommendations. However, I feel uncomfortable approaching my professors since I don't have strong relationships with any of them. I find it hard since I only have a year under my belt, not allowing me much chance to get to know a professor. And since I have strong grades I haven't had the need to see professors during after-hours, limiting my interaction with them further.
Do you have any suggestions? Will professors understand my situation, and be willing to write a strong letter of recommendation based on my grades, class participation, and strong resume?
Again, thanks for writing this post! Wonderful blog :)
For undergrad transfers or a terminal masters applicant, industry recs are generally OK.
For a Ph.D. student, not much more than one industry rec would be commonly permissible, unless they're from an industrial research lab.
For a Ph.D. student, a good industry rec will focus on character, strong work ethic and specific examples of problem-solving ability. Industrial assessment of research potential tends to be mentally damped by the reviewer unless the recommender has a Ph.D.
The memories of stressing out over the grad school letters are still vivid after some 8 years. But I did my homework (research with two of the letter writers and TA-ship with the other), and it paid off.
I do remember one episode when a recommendation letter was due at midnight, and I've been emailing reminders to this professor up to the hour the submission was due. He eventually replied saying that his plane was late, and he wouldn't be able to submit until 1am.
It was for a national science foundation fellowship, which I got, so I suppose the late submission was accepted in the end. Fun times.
Strong and frequent participation, interaction and enthusiasm for the subject in class should get you a "good" letter--or at least more than the "She got an A in my compilers class" letter.
You need to do this because you are competing with other students that do this.
What I find upsetting is that so many students have no idea what their competition is up to. And, by the time they find out, it's way too late.
When I read grad school admissions packets, I'm blown away by
what some undergraduates have done.
That's one of the reasons I wrote this blog post -- to take the blinders off. Hopefully it reaches some freshman, sophomores and juniors in college and a few high school students too.
During my second year, I also approached another professor in the dept who was a MacArthur Fellow and asked the same thing, and ended up helping him transcribe and code a bunch of interviews he had done. Wasn't the sexiest work I've ever done, but voila, at the end of three years, I had one very strong letter of rec from one professor (well published), who also reached out through his network to put in a good word for me at CMU, and another rec from a professor who was a MacArthur Fellow.
Granted, I think something that's really cool about my undergrad (UCSD) and department (Cognitive Science) is that they are very open to undergrads helping out in research capacities, but it doesn't seem like something that is out of the reach of most self starting undergrads.
For acedemia, what is wrong with a standard glowing reference?
The people writing recommendations on LinkedIn are also usually colleagues, they don't have to be your boss. From what I have seen, they are also never produced under duress, since these people writing them may hang out with you outside of work.
These letters of rec may not tell you much, but they will at least tell you the type of people that the candidate has worked with in the past. If they are getting other developers to write letters of rec then they probably fit into a team environment well. If they get their managers to do it, then they probably are well-manageable. Etc., etc.
I graduated in May 2009 and have been working in the industry for 2 years. I worked with a professor for my senior project. I recently emailed said professor asking for a letter of recommendation, and I received no response. It's very hard for me to know whether he ignored the email because he was not enthusiastic about writing the letter, or because he forgot / did not receive it / whatever. What do you think is the best course of action here? Wait for a week and then send another email? What if he doesn't reply again?
If that fails, try again a week later with a fresh email.
Lots of profs (myself included) have a crushing inbox overload. We expect to be re-emailed with critical stuff.
Never take radio silence as a sign of malice when it comes to email. Doubly so with profs.
Until I read your teaching statement I'd never really been clear on what the hell a teaching statement was supposed to be.
Honestly, I didn't know what a teaching statement was either.
Fortunately, no one reads them.
Another case: when it's been a several years after you last contacted your professor or adviser. I would feel somewhat uncomfortable to ask for a letter of recommendation.
If it's been a few years, update the prof on things you've done since then, how what you learned in their course helped in your job, etc.