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I'm trying to transfer, I'm a good student and one of my teachers is writing me what I assume will be a fantastic letter. I am in an upper undergrad level (200+) CS course with this teacher. We had a group project, and without going into too much detail, I was discouraged from intellectual exploration and feel like I was put into a box. We're submitting our individual write ups, so I have the opportunity to address my feelings about the project. What I wrote is strongly worded but I feel like it gives a fair assessment of what my problem was.

Is this a bad idea? I will feel awful if I have to let this slide without saying something about it, but I also strongly dislike my institution and want to do what I have to do in order to transfer. Should I include my assessment or should I hold off until after I apply?

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What I wrote is strongly worded but I feel like it gives a fair assessment of what my problem was.

I would reconsider the strongly-worded part. Giving a fair assessment is good, but people rarely react well to sharp criticism, and this can burn bridges. My advice is to state facts, not conclusions. For example, rather than saying that you were "discouraged from intellectual exploration" (a conclusion), you could say that you were "disappointed not to be able to pursue X" (a fact).

Should I include my assessment or should I hold off until after I apply?

Assuming what you write is not ridiculously far over the line, I would not expect your professor to change their letter of recommendation. Particularly if they've already written it, I doubt they would take the time to go back and make changes.

But, consider the cost-benefit analysis. The (potential) cost is burning a bridge (you can mitigate this by being diplomatic). The potential reward is that future students might have a better experience, but this is likely only if the professor (a) does not already agree with you, (b) agrees with you after reading your report, and (c) chooses to address your feedback.

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Have you tried speaking with this professor about the project, in an open and non-confrontational way? We don't have any details about the event you're describing, but maybe the professor had a perfectly valid reason for what was done, even if it isn't clear to you right now. Ask for feedback about that project, and why you were asked to do it the way you were.

Professors are people too, with all the same weakness and faults. A strongly-worded criticism in the official record is not likely to be taken well, nor is it likely to result in positive change in the future, nor is it likely to improve the recommendation letter they write for you.

If you have already discussed it with the professor and remain unsatisfied, I would still advocate for leaving it alone. You already discussed it with them and didn't get anywhere; a strongly-worded review is unlikely to get any further. It's natural to have the urge to repeat a point with extra force if you feel like you weren't heard the first time, but that urge also hardly ever accomplishes anything. Take your fantastic recommendation letter and move on.

Good luck at your new institution.

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I suggest that you leave it alone. Or at least leave it alone for a few months and see if you, then, feel the same way.

There is much to lose and little to gain.

And, while you may feel unsatisfied, you may still have learned from the course and the project. You can, in fact, learn from people that you don't like. If your time hasn't been wasted then don't let emotions spoil what may be a good thing.

As long as this isn't a situation in which you need to protect yourself, give yourself time for reflection and evaluation.

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Part of maturing is resisting the urge. The urge to say the first thing that comes into ones mind, the urge to say the second thing that comes into ones mind and the urge to say anything at all.

If you do not like your project, remember this, and do it differently when it is your turn to arrange things. My experience is, you will with high probability suddenly discover how difficult it is to get things right while balancing every other constraint around it. You do not know why they designed the project the way they did. You talk about 200+ course participants? Perhaps they simply do not have the manpower to manage each of you individually, who knows?

Also, I find it remarkable that a comparatively minor criticism (such as the style of a problem-solving session, compared to - say - bullying, intimidation and the like) so much more often elicits the urge in people to write "strongly worded" responses. If people stood up to the system earlier in serious violations, who knows, perhaps we would not be where we are?

Maybe you are right in your criticism. Maybe not. We cannot judge. But you should think very carefully what you wish as outcome from expressing this criticism. If it is just venting and making your point, I recommend to drop it.

If it is that you really wish to improve things for future generations, and that's what you sacrifice your own well-being for (namely your letter of recommendation), that is your decision - in this case, the "strongly worded" part is counterproductive. You will neither get a fantastic LOR (unless the teacher is a saint) nor help future generations. The best in this case is a factual, but not charged list of suggestions for improvements. Best is you concentrate on the really important ones rather than a long list of "could be improved" entries.

Finally, keep in mind the possibility that you have not seen the whole context under which this project has been run and your teacher actually knows what they are doing.

Sometimes (and we, your internet advisers, cannot ultimately judge whether this is the case here) not saying anything is the best thing to do.

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