Requesting a recommendation letter from Joe P. Chen
***Please read these instructions carefully***
Firstly, thank you for requesting a recommendation letter from me.
By its very nature, it is a letter meant to recommend you for the appropriate program or job.
Therefore, if I do not feel confident enough to write at least a good letter on your behalf, I will politely decline your request.
(A tepid or weak letter does no good to you or me. It would be better if you can find another person that can vouch for your credentials.)
Surefire ways to make me happy to write a letter for you:
Situations where I will most likely decline to write a letter:
- You took a course with me for at least one semester, and received excellent grades and/or made a strong impression on me.
- You did a research project with me, and I can vouch for your research / problem-solving / communication skills.
- If you did so well to become my co-author on a publishable paper, then I have little reason not to recommend you strongly.
Depending on the purpose of your request, my standards for accepting it differ.
- I hardly know you from any academic context.
- You took a course with me, and received a grade lower than a B.
- The program / job you are applying to is too distant from the scope of my letter to be useful for your application.
Realistically, I can only comment on your performance in the class you took with me, or the research project you did with me.
Unless you can provide further information about your goals and/or the mission of the program you are applying to, I would not stray from the above.
(And even if I do, it will only be a short addendum.)
Given this, please consider carefully if my letter can be of substantial help.
- You asked me as a "last resort" coming up against the application deadline. (Don't ask how I could tell. It has happened to me at least once a year.)
Roughly speaking, in order of increasing standards:
Reference for job application = Colgate-internal reference < Summer REU application = Masters program application < Fellowship application = PhD program application.
Some DOs and DON'Ts:
All of these come back to the first point I made: A recommendation letter is meant to recommend you for the appropriate program or job.
- Once I agreed to write a letter, DO send me your latest resume/CV, a personal statement, and any other information that will help me craft a strong letter on your behalf.
- You may wish to send an unofficial transcript, though it is not absolutely necessary.
- DO give me at least a week's heads-up before the letter is due.
- DON'T ask me to write a letter last-minute (say, due in 48 hours). I will not be able to write a strong letter in such a short time. Even worse, you may risk my not writing it at all.
- Where applicable, DO waive your rights to access the recommendation letter. I take my letters seriously, and do my very best to give an honest appraisal of your credentials.
When you present yourself as a strong, worthy candidate, it makes my recommendation all the more convincing and glowing.
Thank you, and best of luck with your application!
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