First time writing a letter of recomendation. Never saw one about me. In this case I'm writing a letter for a PhD fellowship for an applicant who has not been my student.

I know this student personally, but we worked together only while writing the proposal.

As the title says, in this particular circumstance (if it matters), should the letter focus entirely on the student, or should I also talk about my research interests and how the student fits within them?

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    I'd say (just my sane opinion, as I don't have experience with letters of recommendation) that if you write a letter of rec. for someone, then you are at least moderately known in the community. And even if the reader of the letter doesn't know you, you surely have a record of publications etc. that can be easily found on the web. So I'd say you should entirely focus on the student. Of course, if you two had some valuable achievements/results, mention that they were obtained under your supervision, but praise the student, not yourself.
    – user68958
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 11:11
  • Is the PhD fellowship to work directly with you, or is it a general fellowship?
    – Nathan S.
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 13:56
  • @NathanS. yes if awarded, that would be the case. Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 13:58
  • @TheWanderer I'd look at the instructions for the letter. In a case where you will work with the student on a specific project, they might specifically ask for you to discuss why you want to work with the student, or how the project will be beneficial. But, the instructions should specify this. If there aren't adequate instructions you may be able to task.
    – Nathan S.
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 17:21

1 Answer 1


Only write about yourself if it clarifies why your opinion would be specifically relevant to judge the student.

The reference is about the student, not yourself. Where more information about yourself is required to understand what you wish to say about the student, provide it. Otherwise, leave it out. The recipient will have to make up their mind as to whether you are (for them) a suitable referee or not.

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    To add to this answer, it is common to say something like "Of the N students I've seen in category M over the last X years as a Y, this student is in the top Z%." That is, it is often useful to establish who you are and who you've interacted with in order to give more weight to your recommendation. (Especially for very top students.)
    – Nathan S.
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 13:58
  • hmm, I'd stay that 'who' you are usually comes up automatically because its typical to include a sentence that outlines your set of interactions with a particular student upon which you base your remarks (i.e., participated in upper level UG course I teach, worked on project in my lab, general UG advisor to students, or faculty mentor to student club....).
    – Carol
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 15:49
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    As an example, I used to teach at a very prestigious school and am now an assistant professor at a not-so-prestigious school. I have sometimes pointed this out in order to say that a student I'm recommending would have fit in well among the strong students at my old school.
    – user37208
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 17:39

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