Before I state my query, you should know two things about me:

  1. I'm an EE graduate
  2. I'm working in field of VLSI for past one year.

I'm applying for Masters in VLSI for fall-2014 and I'm in a dilemma here.

I've approached my head of department and a lecturer from my department for getting letter of recommendation. I only need one though. These are the reasons as to why I'm conflicted in deciding between the two.

  • My head of department has a PhD in VLSI while my lecturer is just a postgraduate.
  • My lecturer has guided me for my thesis project in my final year of my undergraduate course. My final year thesis project is NOT on VLSI.It is on power systems.
  • My lecturer has taken classes for me while my Head of department has not taken any class for me . So she doesn't have any benchmark to judge my academic capability. She knows me as a student body member who has organised technical events though.(Which is why she agreed to give me recommendation, that and the fact that I had a discussion with her on my current job responsibilities)

    My other two recommenders are my technical manager from my workplace and a teacher who took Integrated circuits during undergrad level- (again not a PhD)

Whom should I choose? I am confused because My head of department has that PhD tag( none of my other recommenders are PhDs) . So I'm in doubt as to whether I should go for her credentials or take one from my senior lecturer( in which case none of my recommenders will have that PhD tag)

2 Answers 2


In general, if you are applying for a research degree, then you are better off getting letters of recommendation from people who can comment on your ability as a researcher. Even if the person is a well-known expert in the field, that won't do them a whole lot of good if they can't comment on your abilities in the field.

Your department head has neither observed your work in classes nor supervised research for you. How much detail she can provide on your capabilities is therefore greatly in doubt. You have taken classes and performed research with the lecturer. Therefore, your lecturer can evaluate you more thoroughly and provide evidence supporting those claims.

So, unless you have some additional absolutely compelling reason to obtain the letter from the department head, I would go with the instructor who actually knows your work.


One possibility is to get letters from both. Some application web sites will not accept more than the standard number of letters, but others will, so you should check first. It's considered obnoxious to assemble an unreasonably large number of letters, since it wastes the time of your recommenders. However, one extra letter could be reasonable in your case.

Another is for them to write a joint letter. I've seen this occasionally, with a graduate student and faculty member co-writing a letter of recommendation for an undergraduate (where the grad student knows more about the undergraduate's work, but the faculty member has more perspective and credibility). You should treat this carefully, so you don't inadvertently offend the lecturer by suggesting that their recommendation is not valuable by itself. However, it could be one way to handle a strict limitation of three letters.

If you have to choose one, I'd probably go with the lecturer, since the head of department has neither taught nor supervised you, so her letter is unlikely to be as informative as the lecturer's. However, you would have to decide based on the specifics of your situation.

I'm assuming you can't replace either of the other two letters, since the course on integrated circuits is obviously relevant and I imagine your technical manager can say a lot about your background, experience, and abilities in VLSI (since that's what you are doing).

  • You nailed it.. I cannot replace two of my recommenders. And I'm sure that neither my HOD nor my lecturer will take kindly to the "joint letter" idea. But I'm still undecided between the other two. I hope your answer will help me sort it out.
    – pjamu
    Commented Oct 28, 2013 at 13:47
  • Another is for them to write a joint letter. — This is a really bad idea, in my opinion.
    – JeffE
    Commented Oct 28, 2013 at 17:49
  • @JeffE: How come? It's certainly awkward, and not appropriate for most circumstances, but on occasion I think it can work OK. Do you think it is always a bad idea, or specifically in this case? (I've never seen it in any case that didn't involve a grad student. I was envisioning a lecturer with a master's degree as being somewhat like a grad student in status, but maybe that's not a good analogy.) Commented Oct 28, 2013 at 21:41

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