I did my Masters (by Research) from a premier institute in India. I had taken 6 courses and the rest of the time was dedicated to research. All the research and collaboration was done only with my advisor.

Now, almost all the universities ask for 3 recommendation letters for PhD applications. But I have only worked with my advisor and published a paper too. So my advisor would be able to write me a good recommendation letter based on his experience with me.

How do I manage to get the other two recommendation letters? I have done only courses with other faculties and no small projects. I am aware that based on just courses and grades, these professors might not be able to write good recommendation letters.

  • Most of your profs could write decent recommendation letters, so don't worry about getting letters that actually harm your application. And thus, your job is to pick the three letter writers who will write you the best letters—which means you can kind of let go of worrying about the absolute goodness of each letter. Sep 13, 2021 at 1:45

2 Answers 2


It doesn't have to be only people who've observed your research work. Pick instructors who know you from classes where you did well. Best if it was a small upper division class with especially relevant content and where the instructor got to know you well, e.g., in office hours, and can report some detailed observations of your work and ability.


Good PhD candidates aren’t necessarily the ones who have lots of research experience.

What you want are referees who will not repeat information that you already supply on your CV or that is already supplied in your transcript. Given that you are early in your career, nobody expects you will necessarily have 3 referees that will speak to your research activity.

Presumably there are others who can speak to your work ethics, industry, autonomy, punctuality, resourcefulness, tenacity and other qualities that would make you a good PhD student.

Such people might include professors from which you took courses (especially if you did projects or term papers in a course), your department chair, even people with whom you recently worked outside of academia.

Remember: supervisors don’t necessarily look for “machines”, but for humans who will interact constructively with others. Maybe you had a chance to do some marking in a course, or ran a tutorial or a lab section in a course; the instructor for this course can function as a referee. Maybe you worked part time in a shop and the manager can speak to your ability to deal with people or customers politely, correctly and efficiently.

  • This fills me with good hope.
    – akr_
    Oct 15, 2021 at 18:49

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