Can I ask/ insist a bright undergraduate student (who is having similar areas of interest) to work under me for his final year project period and try to come up with a scientific publication in favor for giving him recommendation letters for internships?

  • 3
    What you propose is plainly unethical and abusive towards the student.
    – Dan Fox
    Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 5:49
  • give, and you will be given... Sometimes the bible helps ;-)
    – OBu
    Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 8:04
  • 1
    Generally speaking, if you think something might not be ethical, it probably is not ethical. The things you give up by being ethical are trivial in comparison to what you give up by not being ethical.
    – user94256
    Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 20:52

1 Answer 1


It sounds like what you want to do is to write a letter now in exchange for the promise that they will work for you later. Whether you can do this is down to your university's rules, but I would argue that it is unethical and unwise to coerce a student in this way.

My recommendation would be to accede to the request and make the offer

Sure, I can write you a strong letter. For that matter, if you are looking for research experience, I would be happy to supervise your senior project next year. Let's chat sometime if you are interested.

If you are not willing to write the letter:

My policy is to only write recommendation letters for students who do research with me. That said, I'd be happy to discuss hiring you as a research assistant next year.

Note, this second one still links the two, but it simply tells the student your requirements, rather than suggesting quid pro quo.

  • I would go with your first highlighted paragraph. The policy in the second paragraph is no good for the reasons that people have been concerned about the original proposed bargain. Letters of reference should never be tied to any sort of compensation. You should write such a letter if you find the person worthy of a letter of reference, period. Even restricting it the way you suggest in the second paragraph is on the wrong side of the line.
    – user94256
    Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 20:50
  • I agree that OP should write the letter. In general though, having a policy that "I will only write for students that meet X criteria" is reasonable and ethical, and it is proper to cite that policy when declining to write a letter. I don't think the policy of "I'll only write for my research employees" is a good one, but that's for OP to decide.
    – cag51
    Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 21:48

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