2

I am a math M.S. math student who is looking for a transition to Ph.D in statistics/machine learning. I will be applying to Ph.D programs this winter, and I need to think about potential writers of my reference letters. My coursework consists of: Measure Theory, Functional Analysis, Smooth Manifold, Riemannian manifold, Probability (Measure), Algebraic Topology.

I decided to receive two letters from instructor of Riemannian Geometry and instructor of Probability respectively. Also, since I do not have a statistics background, I was planning to take Statistical Machine Learning and receive a letter from the instructor to prove my statistical ability.

Very unfortunately, the instructor has an Economics Ph.D with an affiliation in Business Department, and what's worse is that he is an adjunct professor with a heavy involvement in private sector. Should it be a good idea to receive a letter from the instructor nonetheless?

Alternatively, I can ask a letter of recommendation from my Analysis professor who taught me both courses in analysis for the past year (I did very well in Measure theory, but received B+ in functional analysis). Also, my most desirable place is Stanford, and he received his Ph.D in Math from Stanford. The only thing that I am worried is that I do not have a letter from a statistics professor.

I am very interested in hearing your precious advices. Who should I ask for my final letter? Thank you in advance.

2

Very unfortunately, the instructor has an Economics Ph.D with an affiliation in Business Department, and what's worse is that he is an adjunct professor with a heavy involvement in private sector.

None of those things is especially unfortunate. I am an academic in statistics and I would have no problem receiving a letter of recommendation from an economics PhD, or an academic in a business department, or a relevant professional in the private sector, or someone who is all three. Even if I got a really good reference from a student's lecturer in French poetry (e.g., student works hard, is inquisitive, takes instructions well, is easy to work with), that would still be a compelling reference. So long as the other aspects of the student's CV showed sufficient grounding in the preliminary material for the degree, the reference letter would be most useful in understanding the general quality of the student as a budding professional.

I think you might be overthinking the kinds of things the academics look at in reference letters. We can already see your existing knowledge of preliminary material for the degree from the courses and grades in your academic transcript, so when we get a letter of reference, it is usually focused on your potential as a future researcher, perhaps with a commentary on soft skills and professional characteristics. Generally speaking, we trust the ability of other professionals to give a helpful account of the quality of a student, even if they are in a different field from us. What matters most is the quality of the reference, not minor differences in the professional qualifications of the letter-writer relative to the degree program of interest.

At most, it might be worth more if you get a reference from someone who is highly esteemed and successful in academic research, but even that is a maybe. An accomplished professional in the private sector might be just as good, and it is not especially important if they are in a slightly different field from the degree program of interest.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.