I want to apply for a program where I will be doing research in a particular area for roughly 6 months. This is an area of research I'm very deeply interested in, but I don't have any experience yet. The program asks for a letter of recommendation and I'm a little torn who to ask to write this letter for me. I'm currently a visiting assistant professor at a college and I have a colleague in my department who knows about my interest, but he's honestly someone who isn't super familiar with my work. He's offered to write a letter with the caveat that this would be a relatively weak (albeit positive) letter. On the other hand, I'm considering asking my thesis adviser to write a letter for me. My concern however is that this would like like I'm relying too much on my grad school experience to get me into this program (it's been almost 2 years since I finished my PhD). Unfortunately neither one will be able to speak that much to my experience in the intended area of research (since I have none). Are there merits to relying on a newer colleague at this juncture, or is it safer to rely on someone more familiar with my work?

  • I assume that your skills, if not your direct experience, will be useful in the new area. – Buffy Jan 5 at 19:55
  • @Buffy Yes, i definitely have the prerequisite skills to enter this field, it’s just new for me. – Mnifldz Jan 5 at 20:00
  • What have you been doing in the 2 years since grad school? – user151413 Jan 5 at 23:26
  • @user151413 adjuncted for a year, and just secured a full time position last August. Fall semester was too teaching intensive for me to work in research. On top of that, I went to a very small grad school with little funding and didn’t make any collaborators during my time there. Trying to change that now. – Mnifldz Jan 5 at 23:31
  • Ok. But if you want the last two years to be accounted for when assessing your application, it makes sense to have a letter from someone who can assess that time (can be your PhD advisor, but only if he/she can in fact assess it). – user151413 Jan 5 at 23:51

You want letters from the people who know your work best. At this point that is probably your thesis advisor, with whom you have actually done research, even though in a different area. Be sure to explain your new interest when you ask your advisor for that letter.

Recommendation letter from CS faculty for math grad school (and vice versa)

  • Yes, always from those who know you best. Preferably those who have worked with you. – Buffy Jan 5 at 19:54
  • Not clear that someone who knew you best 2 years ago (even better than anyone knows you now) is the best person to write a letter. After all, what people did recently matters, not what they did X years ago. – user151413 Jan 5 at 23:28
  • @user151413 Depends on the work you've done with the person who knows you more recently. The OP says not much in this case. – Ethan Bolker Jan 5 at 23:41
  • @Ethan Indeed, just saying that it is not clear in this case. – user151413 Jan 5 at 23:50

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