Letter of Recommendation from a professor you currently have

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Letter of Recommendation from a professor you currently have

Post by mattwags2077 » Fri Oct 21, 2016 11:12 am

Hey there,

So I am getting my letters of recommendation but unfortunately I am one of those students that is way too shy for my own good. Anyway due to some changes in my school one of the professors who usually only teaches graduate classes is teaching an undergraduate class for me so this is the first semester I have met him or had him.

My question is would it be beneficial or detrimental for me to ask him for a letter? He is the first professor I have had outside of my research that I actually will talk to consistently, but he is not all that familiar with my academic performance outside of a few tests and homework from this semester. I could just ask a professor I received an A in their class, but I am concerned of the cliche letter for professors that don't know the student well.

Any help is appreciated!

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Re: Letter of Recommendation from a professor you currently have

Post by TakeruK » Fri Oct 21, 2016 12:04 pm

Whether or not it's a good idea depends on your other options and your other letters. Generally, letters from people who supervised your research are the best letters to get. Letters from professors that taught classes to you aren't very helpful, but as you point out, the better they know you, the better the letter will be.

Most schools require 3 letters and for many students, it will be hard to get all 3 letters from people who supervised their research, so don't feel bad if you don't have 3 letters like this. If you have 1 or 2 letters from research supervisors, then finding a letter from someone who taught you a class is fine, and it's certainly better than someone who doesn't know you at all (or missing a letter).

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Re: Letter of Recommendation from a professor you currently have

Post by astroprof » Sat Oct 22, 2016 3:45 pm

The strongest letters of recommendation will include references to how you have interacted with the recommender. That is one reason letters from research advisors are preferred - because they (usually!) have a long term relationship with you and can provide anecdotes that highlight your accomplishments. However, if you have had significant interactions with a professor from one of your classes, that can also lead to a strong letter. After you have asked that professor if he/she will write you a strong letter of recommendation, you then need to provide him/her with additional information that will help strengthen the letter. Provide copies of your research statement, CV, transcripts, etc. Talk about your research and your career goals, why you want to go to graduate school, what you find most interesting about physics, etc. This will allow them to write things like "so-and-so is very enthusiastic about physics and has well defined career goals. I expect that they will succeed in graduate school because they have significant research experience as an undergraduate. For the past X years, they have been working with Prof such-and-such. While Prof such-and-such can provide more details, I was impressed by how so-and-so described the work they have been doing."

In terms of timing, by the time the letter of recommendation is submitted, the semester will be over (or nearly over), so this professor should have a more complete picture of your academic skills. Again, you want to supplement his impression of you by also providing additional information/context for your application to graduate school.

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