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I want to apply for master’s programs, but I need two letters of recommendation. I was never very close with any of my professors, though I did receive good grades in all of my classes. The professor who probably knows me the best is one of the core faculty at the college. I asked her for advice on how to start with undergraduate research, which wasn’t a requirement, just an interest of mine. I also received an A in her class, and suggested an outing for the class which she then took up. It’s also been about a year since I graduated. Would it be appropriate to ask her if she could write a letter of recommendation, perhaps in exchange for some gofer work (filing, watching class while students take tests, running errands)?

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    In exchange for running errands? Are you suggesting you professor would write a letter of recommendation for running errands? Why not offer her $10 at least? – Quora Feans Aug 17 at 17:53
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    Some profs have a rec letter policy and put it online. Mine says that you have to give me a copy of your resume, (in whatever shape it's in) and supply me with stamped envelopes and/or directions for submitting electronically. You might check and see if your prof has a published policy. – B. Goddard Aug 17 at 21:19
  • Wasn't there an answer by Solar Mike? – user111955 Aug 18 at 7:59
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    What you are proposing is called a bribe, and it is the type of thing that will get you and your career taken to the woodshed. Don't do it. – J... Aug 19 at 12:11
  • FYI, I up voted @QuoraFeans comment under the assumption it was sarcastic. – computercarguy Aug 19 at 20:20
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It’s appropriate to ask for a letter, but completely inappropriate to offer a thing of value in exchange. Professors are already paid to do their job, which includes writing letters of recommendation, and it would be unethical for a professor to accept a favor or other thing of value in exchange for agreeing to do what is already a part of their job.

  • Does a professor's job generally include writing such letters? I believe I have read in this forum that it does not and also that one prof has a policity not to write letters for applications into the US. – user111955 Aug 20 at 14:07
  • @user111955 yes, in the US, and all other countries whose academic norms I’m familiar with, it‘s seen as part of a professor’s job. I can’t vouch for this being true everywhere, or for all professors being equally conscientious about taking this duty seriously. – Dan Romik Aug 20 at 14:27
  • In their answer to academia.stackexchange.com/questions/100404/… and especially in the chat, @NicoleHamilton emphasizes that it is completely wrong that in the US people have an obligation to write refernces letters. – user111955 Aug 20 at 14:40
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    @user111955 there is no obligation to write a letter for any specific student who asks for one. But generally speaking, writing letters is part of a professor’s job. – Dan Romik Aug 20 at 15:02
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Just ask for the letter. Writing recommendation letters is part of a professor's job. No need to be a gofer, and importantly, offering some sort of service in exchange for a recommendation sets up an unethical situation: recommendation letters should not be paid for in any way.

Assuming your request is granted, it might be helpful to remind her of some of the things you've done related to her course, etc, as you've included here, since professors have many students and may not recall all the details.

  • Thank you. I’ll probably email her and bring up the things I mentioned here. Not sure if scheduling to meet her in person is better. – user352848 Aug 16 at 18:51
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    @user352848 I'd probably start with just the email asking if she can write a letter; you can offer to be available to meet but I wouldn't organize a meeting just to ask. Some professors like to meet in person to discuss letters with students, others prefer written information to help them structure the letter (such as a CV, reminders of your association with them like I suggested, future plans, and particular attributes you might want them to focus on). – Bryan Krause Aug 16 at 19:05
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    To supplement this answer, a standard request email could be something like: “Dear Professor Jones, Would you be willing to provide me with a letter of recommendation? In case you don’t recall me, I took your course on Practical Theorising in spring 2018, receiving an A, and you also gave me some very helpful advice on finding undergrad research projects in Theory of Modelling. I am now applying to Masters programmes in Applied Theoretics, and would be very grateful if you can provide a letter of reference. Many thanks, @user352848.” – PLL Aug 16 at 21:00
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A much better way to help out this professor is simply to remind them about your interactions ("I took class X and received an A and you gave me excellent advice on how to start my undergraduate research project") so that it's easier for her to recall your background and actually write the letter.

I remember being mildly upset by the fact that I had a letter of rec written by a professor who remembered me by name, yet several years later the letter was accidently given to me, I saw they had written "He received an A in Linear Algebra from me", when it should have been Differential Equations.

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