I'm applying for a summer internship at a big biology research lab in my city. This is such a fantastic opportunity and it would be such a tremendous help careerwise to get this experience. The application asks for 2 letters of recommendation from "individuals familiar with your academic performance." I've asked 4 professors and have gotten one yes, one no, and 2 haven't answered. The application states that the letters of recommendation must be attached to the application so I need to receive the letters of recommendation. Because of this, I think some of my professors are hesitant to write them.

With the deadline 2 weeks away I'm getting kind of desperate, would it be frowned upon if I get a former lab partner to write my second letter of recommendation seeing as they are an "individual familiar with [my] academic performance?" They have seen me in a lab setting and are familiar with my work ethic and technique. I'm not exactly best friends with them but I'm sure they would help me out in a pinch. Is there anyone else I can ask?

2 Answers 2


No. A letter of recommendation evaluates your suitability for the program by comparing you to others in the field. An undergraduate student, even if dispassionate (which is debatable), does not have the academic maturity to make such an assessment. While I'm sympathetic that "a bad letter is better than no letter," a letter from an undergraduate might not be accepted at all.

I think you should consider other options:

  • Follow up with the professors who haven't responded, or to other professors. Even a graduate student, while borderline, is certainly better than nothing.
  • If the "no" was definitely due to discomfort about providing the letter directly to you, perhaps they would agree to provide it in a sealed (i.e., with an institutional seal) envelope? You could then attach the envelope to your application. A little unusual, but shouldn't be a problem.

You can ask, but it is sub-optimal. They may know about your performance, but are not in a good position to evaluate it in such a case. Moreover, peer evaluations might be suspect in any case, if friendship relationships can be assumed to exist.

If "haven't answered" means that they haven't responded to emails, then it is time to go visit them in person. You will be much more likely to get a response that way and you might even learn how strong it will be. Be sure to inform them about deadlines if they agree.

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