I am an undergraduate in an engineering field in the United States planning to apply to graduate schools, but am struggling to figure out who I should ask for letters of recommendation.

Currently I have the following options who I think would be good.

  1. Professor who I have done related research with for a while and published a research paper with.
  2. Industry research internship advisor (has a PhD) in a tangentially related field who I worked with for one summer

However, generally graduate schools require 3 letters of recommendation, and I'm thinking this would have to be from a professor I took a class with. This is where I have a problem— despite having good grades, due to being generally a quiet person, I'm not sure I got to know any of my professors well enough for them to write an outstanding letter of recommendation. I also can't really think of anyone else to ask a letter from.

Would having one "generic" letter from one of my classes kill my application?

Also, would a letter of recommendation from industry be seen in a good light if it was relating to my lab research skills?

  • 2
    There are many questions on this site about whom to ask for such letters. Search for them. academia.stackexchange.com/questions/152204/… Apr 19, 2021 at 14:11
  • 2
    A "generic" letter won't kill your application. It'll be a little less strong, that's all. Apr 19, 2021 at 14:15
  • This is likely a duplicate as @EthanBolker suggests. I won't vote it now since my vote would be definitive. But, you can ask the "other" professor whether they know you well enough to write you a strong letter. Some will say no, but others might surprise you. Academics are better than industry people, but you use what you have. Your question is a likely duplicate of: academia.stackexchange.com/q/95713/75368
    – Buffy
    Apr 19, 2021 at 14:18
  • @Buffy wasn't me. I just replaced "who" by "whom" in the title. I agree the edit you're pointing out could be rolled back. Apr 19, 2021 at 15:16
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    Have you TA'd a class in any capacity? What professors would you be thinking of for that third recommendation? In a similar boat here (one letter from an REU professor at another school, another from my undergrad "advisor" who I TA'd for, not sure for the third)
    – Daveguy
    Apr 19, 2021 at 18:00

1 Answer 1


Ideally, you do want letters of recommendation from academia. That being said, graduate schools (especially for PhD programs) are all about research and not so much about coursework, so you would want a letter to describe how you have the potential to succeed in a research setting. The industry connection may help you do that, but you haven't provided too much detail on how you worked under that person.

I mentioned this in a comment above, but have you done anything outside of research where you interacted with professors (including TA'ing a course)? That is also a valid source of getting a recommendation letter. In addition to this, who would you be thinking about for that third recommendation letter from what courses and why? It's never too late to try and send a quick e-mail and/or have a conversation in their OH to try and see if you/them remember each other. Maybe talk about how interesting their class was, what your plans are in the future, or maybe how interested you are in their field/research. (As a recent graduate, I occasionally try to send a quick e-mail to get advice from professors, especially since with COVID things are largely virtual, and maybe see if I want to ask them for a recommendation down the road, since I am also in the same boat)

When would you be applying for graduate programs? Maybe you could try to TA a class or get an additional research experience in before you do so, and by extension, that third recommendation letter that you need.

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