I am an undergraduate CS student at a US college. Before this summer, I contacted a professor in Game Research and was offered the opportunity to work with one of his PhD students. Currently, I am focusing solely on this opportunity. I wrote lots of code and helped the PhD student run experiments and collect data.

The best outcome of this opportunity would be a publication and a recommendation letter. However, I am only 50% confident that I will be able to get one of the two at the end.

Are there other practical ways for me to demonstrate my contribution (that can help with future applications)?

Any other advice would help too.


A recommendation letter is the way you get credit for this kind of work. I'm not sure why you think you're only 50% likely to get a letter out of this, it would be very unusual for a professor to be willing to work on a research project with you but to not be willing to write a letter for you. As long as you're taking it seriously and professionally I think you should have close to a 100% chance of getting a letter out of it.

  • The reason why I think I'm only 50% likely to get a recommendation letter is this: I meet with the professor at most once (about 20 minutes) per two weeks, and I am not sure whether a total of 4-5 meetings and some email exchanges suffice for a recommendation letter. I do meet much more frequently with the PhD student though. – Wiza Jul 6 '19 at 15:35
  • I am thinking about meeting more frequently with the professor. However, as I mentioned in the question, my job is to run experiments. I find it hard to start a causal conversation without priming it with some (interesting) results. – Wiza Jul 6 '19 at 15:38
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    The professor can talk to the graduate student to learn more to write the letter. If you’re worried you can tell the professor that you’re hoping for a letter and ask whether things are going well for that so far. But everything you say sounds pretty normal to me. – Noah Snyder Jul 6 '19 at 18:14
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    @ZhihanYang Here's an anecdote. When I was applying for PhD, I didn't ask for a recommendation from a professor I worked with for the very same reason you described. When they found out that I was applying for PhD, they were very surprised that I didn't ask them for a recommendation, mentioning that they would have written a very good letter for me. – user94794 Jul 25 '19 at 0:54
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    The lesson for us faculty is to be proactive and make sure that we tell our research advisees that we’d be happy to write them a letter if they decide they want to ask. – Noah Snyder Jul 25 '19 at 2:36

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