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Through the last three years of my undergrad, I have worked closely with a professor in my university and we published several papers together. Once I graduate this spring, I plan on working for two years before going back and applying for graduate school.

I am wondering if it would be “weird” if I ask my professor to write me a reccommendation letter now and save it for two years when I apply. He has previously told me he’d love to write me a very strong reccomendation letter for grad school. However, he is a bit old and he tends to forget some details in a few months so I am worried that in two years he would forget many details he would have otherwise included in the letter.

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It's certainly acceptable to ask. But:

  • In the US, at least, most universities require the professors to electronically upload their letters directly. So, having him write a letter and hand it to you might not be all that helpful -- you'll still need him to upload it when you apply to grad school. If you're worried about him dying, you might be able to get another professor to upload his letter on his behalf...but that gets a little tricky.
  • A lot of students have plans to go to grad school N years after graduation -- but at least anecdotally, it seems like the vast majority of those students change their plans and never end up in grad school. So, he may be reluctant to write a letter that has a good chance (at least statistically) of never being used.

I would just discuss this openly with him -- tell him that you plan to ask for a letter in 2 years, and want to make sure that all the details aren't forgotten before then (it is not necessary to suggest that he is senile or at risk of dying).

  • He may write some notes to help himself write it, or he may agree to write the entire letter now.
  • If not, this conversation gives you an opening to write your notes and e-mail them to him -- including some bullets that summarize your work and others that record any subjective evaluations he's shared with you. Then, two years from now, all you have to do is reply to this message and tell him you need the letter.
  • Actually, there is a reason to ask for the letter now and to send you an informal copy. In the future, when you want to ask for a formal LOR, you can attach the one you got as a reminder of what the professor thought of you back then. Something for your files. And you know before you ask, what the letter will likely say. But +1. – Buffy Mar 16 at 20:21
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    Agree - if the professor is willing to write the letter now and upload it in 2 years, that's great news for OP. Even better if they share it with OP. The professor may not be willing to do this, especially at such an early stage, however (I would usually not). – cag51 Mar 16 at 21:06
  • One college I know of has, in essence, an escrow service. The professor writes a letter, deposits it with the office, and the office can then forward it in the future to grad schools. Check with your institution. – Jon Custer Mar 17 at 2:11

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