I am a graduate student pursuing my masters in physics, with the intention of eventually getting my PhD (just not from my current institution). This past summer, I taught a physics course, and several of my students asked me to write letters of recommendation for them, and I offered to write letters for others, too. The students who asked did very well in the course, and I am happy to write letters for them. Most of these letters are for employers or graduate/medical schools. Would it be in their best interest for me to write them, since I am not an established/tenured faculty, and, in fact, have not even received my masters? I don't want to write them letters which will be disregarded by their employers/institutions because I am not a faculty, but was just the instructor of record.


2 Answers 2


This depends a lot on what the student is applying to. Being an instructor means you're qualified to assess the students' ability to do well in your class (and some related things like study skills and desire to learn), but not a lot else. For e.g. Ph.D. admissions, they really want someone to speak to the student's potential to do research, which you probably won't be seen as qualified to do. Thus is for two reasons - first, being somewhat early in your career yourself, you haven't established a ton of credibility by your own research career; second, you only know the student from class, not a research-related activity. Whether fair or not, I think in reality a well-known professor's recommendation will be taken much more seriously than yours, even if you know the student better. If you were a postdoc or other junior/non-permanent faculty the balances would tip a bit, but not having a graduate degree yourself is likely to make the reader be skeptical of your recommendation.

On the other hand, if the student is applying to a summer program or a job that isn't directly related to physics research, writing that they're a strong student who did well in your class and asked good questions and came to office hours or whatever is perfectly good. I have no idea how professional schools (med school etc) work but my guess is you'd be taken more seriously - it seems to me that their admissions process puts more emphasis on grades/class performance, which of course you're qualified to speak to!

I'm a PhD student and have been asked to write recommendations once or twice for students I've been the TA for (at my university, TA's are typically the only people interacting directly with the students in the larger classes). I have warned the students that I'm likely not the best person to ask and asked if they have even a tenuous connection to someone more senior, and helped them out if they can convince me I'm actually the best person for them.


There shouldn't be any issue about this as long as you clearly state who you are and what your position is. If your institution trusts you to teach students the receiver of such a recommendation should also trust it, though weigh it against your experience in these things. But if your position is Lecturer or Instructor, or some such, it should be clear enough.

I would, however, also advise the students for whom you write these letters that they should also seek other letters from professors with a more established reputation. But it may also be true that you know them better than the professors if you are in a place where they have mostly big classes with the big names.

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