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I am concerned to the fact that how a professor whom I am asking to write an LOR, will change the name of the person every time before sending? I am applying to like 100 different persons for the position of postdoc. Does it really matter that it should be addressed appropriately (name basis)?

I am working in the interdisciplinary field of materials chemistry, nanotechnology, environmental remediation, physical and theoretical chemistry.

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    If I were your supervisor, I would never agree to accept your request of an LOR for 100 different persons. – Coder Apr 25 '18 at 6:21
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    You can see recommendation letters with "Dear Sir/Madam" at the beginning. Or "To Whom It May Concern". Why pretend it is a letter to only that one place if it is not? – GEdgar Apr 25 '18 at 11:27
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    I always write "Dear committee members". Recommendation letters are rarely read by only one person. – JeffE Apr 25 '18 at 13:47
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    @JeffE : For post-doc, it may happen that only the PI of the grant is making the decision, without any committee. – Clément Apr 25 '18 at 15:05
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    Great question. I think this question is nicely narrow (whether/how to customize the names), but the question you brought up in a comment, about the larger application strategy, might be a good separate question. Good luck! – cactus_pardner Apr 25 '18 at 18:42
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Not all professors customize their letters to the specific recipient. It probably helps a little (especially if the recipient is at a prestigious institution, so that they know that this letter isn't directed at a generic less-prestigious institution), but it's not that necessary.

But you definitely should. If you are applying to 100 different professors for the position of postdoc, and you send them a form letter saying "I am very interested in your work" without once mentioning what their work is, they are very likely to realize that it is a form letter, decide that you're probably not all that interested in what they're doing, and disregard your application.

So it's probably not enough to just put in their name, but you should also mention something about their field of research that interests you and explains why you would be the correct postdoc for them.

Is this a lot of work? Yes, but consider that you're competing for postdoc positions with a lot of other people who may not mind going to the effort of putting in a lot of work in order to get a job. Do you think professors want to hire lazy postdocs?

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  • I completely agree what you are remarking here. I have read several articles including some by professors themselves, in which they stress on mentioning the 'what work they do which I am interested in' part. But, I think, here you are talking about the cover letter/research statement. Should my referees also mention about the prof's work in LOR as well? – LekhaS Apr 27 '18 at 4:26
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    For 100 applications, you are not going to get your professors to mention the professors work in LOR as well. That's asking for way too much work on their part. – Peter Shor Apr 27 '18 at 10:07
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I can hardly see the need of addressing the reader in a letter of recommendation, but if your professor wants to do it, they can use a process called mail merge.

Common word processors have mail merge functionalities (e.g. MS Word).

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A customized letter of recommendation shows that the writer cares about the success of the applicant. Each letter should have the name of the recipient, or if unknown, the recipient's institution, at the beginning. It should also address the specific requirements of the position.

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    No wonders...But how can I expect my references to change the name every time. That's why I wanna know if it is normal to provide a generic letter? What is the average number of applications one should send for the postdoc position? In materials chemistry field.. – LekhaS Apr 25 '18 at 18:34
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    @LekhaSharma Asking about how many applications to send in your field may be a good one for another question, along with a question about how to support a large request and/or how much customization is reasonable to request. – cactus_pardner Apr 25 '18 at 18:41
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    I also want to see this as a separate question. In case it never gets that far, what I ended up doing was asking for 2 different "types" of letters - say version 1 and version 2 based on the two broad types of jobs I was going after. Then I asked the professor to do some personalized outreach for my top 10 jobs. That basically consisted of them sending an email. To support this, I gave them a sheet with the places, the job, the special things about that job, and a reason I would be a good fit. I'm not sure how much this was used, but the idea was that my advisor didn't have to think too hard. – Dawn Apr 25 '18 at 19:06
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If your professor has basic programming skills, they can do this pretty easily in any common programming language, such as C or Python.

If it is important that your letters be personalized (unlike say in mathematics where generic letters are 100% expected), I would be more concerned that the letters are not contextualized rather than them not being addressed. Letters of recommendation should describe how the applicant would fit in and contribute to the institution receiving the letter. If your reviewers expect your letters to be personalized, they may be disappointed that the content of the letter doesn't describe how you and your experience relate to their institution/research project/etc. In some fields this does not matter (math and CS in particular expect you to mail one letter to a thousand people), but it might in your field.

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    In some contexts, it is understood that the writer will write one generic letter that will be sent everywhere. For instance, in math in the US, they'd write one letter and upload it to MathJobs. In such cases it would not be unreasonable for it to end up being used for applying 100 different places. (Oh, your profile says "mathematician" so probably you already know this...) – Nate Eldredge Apr 25 '18 at 14:24
  • @NateEldredge I was kinda assuming that that style wasn’t the case, since the OP expects the letters to be addressed to specific people. In my experience I’ve seen either the mass-mailing approach of mathematics or the highly personalized approach, similar to what you might do when applying to grad school. It’s possible that there’s some middle ground, where names are expected but institutionally-relevant context isn’t, but I don’t know of it. – Stella Biderman Apr 25 '18 at 14:33
  • @Stella Yes, I am also concerned about the content of the LOR as well. I wonder how people manage to apply at different places with different LORs..Is it really possible? I wanted to know if actually people give generic LOR as mentioned in another comment – LekhaS Apr 25 '18 at 18:29
  • @LekhaSharma It probably highly depends on your field. As Nate mentioned, this is super typical in mathematics and people would 100% except an unaddressed generic letter. If you share your field, someone with direct experience in that field might be able to give more useful advice. – Stella Biderman Apr 25 '18 at 18:31
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    @LekhaSharma You should include that in the Original Post, not hidden as a comment on another answer. – Stella Biderman Apr 25 '18 at 18:38

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