I live in the US and have been working as an engineer in industry for over 10 years. I graduated from a top UK University, with outstanding grades in a Masters degree and several university-level prizes.
I have decided that I want to pursue a PhD, as I have a strong desire to be doing more advanced and challenging work. So, I am planning to apply to the PhD program of the best university that is in my area (which happens to be a top-tier US institution). My family and I are fairly settled in the area and we have no desire to relocate.
The institution has an admissions requirement that I have to provide three recommendation letters, two of which should be academic. Therefore, it seems that I have little option but to reach out to some of the professors that I worked and studied under during my undergrad course 10+ years ago. I am planning to provide one industrial reference and two academic; however, I am concerned that my undergraduate course was so long ago that the professors will struggle to remember me, given the hundreds of undergrad students they interact with each year. So, at best, even if they do generously agree to write a letter, it will probably be fairly generic and unspecific. And of course, it won't be in any way a good reflection of the more experienced and mature person I am now.
At worst, they might simply refuse, given the amount of time that has passed. I wouldn't blame them, and in a way I feel bad asking, after all this time.
So, what should I do in this situation, given the amount of time that has passed? Is there another way I can approach this?
The irony is that, given my industrial experience and personal development over the past 10 years, I think I am almost certainly a stronger candidate for a PhD program now than I would have been straight after I finished my undergraduate degree; however, given the amount of time I have been out of academia, obtaining strong recommendation letters is going to be much more challenging.