I am a senior applying to CS PhD programs this fall.

I have got two summer research experiences and my mentor from Summer 21 is writing one of my letters. In summer 22 also, I worked on a research that produced decent results. I have written a paragraph about it on my SoP and some points about it on my CV but a bulk of my SoP talks about my summer 21 work instead (75% summer '21 vs 25% summer '22). Will it hurt if I do not get a letter from my mentor from summer '22 but mention it on my SoP? Like will the letter be required to verify that I did the work I claimed to do on my SoP?

Main reason for not wanting his letter is he was quite passive-aggressive at times, often gave cold replies to emails, ignored two of my emails when I was planning to apply to a conference and wanted to verify a short 200 word research abstract with him, and threw in the "I need to go somewhere" card many times when I would ask him a few questions in the lab. He did agree to write a letter but I feel super uncomfortable about taking his letter, and he wasn't the most encouraging or proactive person either. Will not having his letter hurt me, particularly since I write about it a bit on my SoP?

1 Answer 1


Normally, in the US, three letters are requested and it is the student applicant who chooses who is best. You don't need letters from everyone you have had contact with, or even research contact, but you need letters from people who both know your work and can honestly predict your future success.

So, think about who fits the bill properly and avoid those whom you think might not support you whole heartedly.

It is hard to say whether that raises any questions with respect to your SoP, though I doubt it. If asked about it you can reply that you thought the other letters gave a more complete picture of your abilities, which I suspect is true.

  • Can the other letters include people I did not do any research with but took classes with and did well in class hw/projects and eventually got a good grade? Oct 16, 2022 at 16:35
  • Yes, but better if they know you well. Several courses. Advanced courses. Anything beyond the ordinary. Great papers.
    – Buffy
    Oct 16, 2022 at 17:48
  • I am currently working on my math senior thesis in network flows. But my advisor is just a recent PhD grad -- he is currently a visiting assistant professor. Should I ask him to write my letter? I do not know what impact it will have since he has only recently gotten his degree and my school is his first job as a prof. Oct 16, 2022 at 18:27
  • Hard to give advice. Balance it against other possibilities. The letter writer doesn't need to be a superstar. They do need to know you, be believable, and predict your future success. Along your educational journey, ask people for advice when you feel a connection. Let them know that at some future point you may want/need a recommendation from them.
    – Buffy
    Oct 16, 2022 at 18:36

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