I'm planning to apply to graduate school next year after working a year in industry (software engineering) but have received advice to get my letters of recommendation and other application parts sorted out asap.
I'm conflicted on who I should keep in contact with for letter-writing purposes-- a professor from a top-ranked school (I plan to apply to this school for PhD) that I did a summer REU with after my sophomore year but that I didn't see very often and where I don't think I made any real contributions even though he said I was doing a good job (my impression was that he says that to everybody who does research for him). Part of the reason I don't think this would be a good letter was because I did a lot of the work from home (he recommended I do this since I was far and I had a medical condition that made it difficult to commute) so he didn't really get to see my day-to-day work. The work that I was doing was also largely grunt work like running simulations and writing programs to handle data.
On the other hand, I have close relationships with 3 professors at my institution (I attend a small non-research-focused institution):
- 1 of which is my advisor and I have taken 2 courses with
- 1 I did an independent study with and did really well in his class, which is largely related what I want to study in grad school
- 1 of which is new and I'll begin doing research with him soon but hence won't have much time to do research with since I'll be graduating soon (though I do plan to ask if I can continue to collaborate with him on research after I graduate)
I also did an REU (not a well-known school or professor) after my freshman year where my supervisor said that I would do "stunning work" in graduate school, so I could get a strong letter from him, but this was a long time ago so it probably doesn't carry much weight.
So my question is-- should I take a probably not great recommendation from a well-known professor, or strong recommendations from not very well-known professors who know me well and I've formed strong connections with more recently (junior/senior year versus summer after sophomore year). Will it raise flags if I don't seek out a letter from the well-known professor?