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I am instructed by my university to offer 1 academic reference and 1 work reference for industry work (I am doing a year-long placement). However, all attempts to actually get suggestions on who to use from the university have been useless as they appear to be dodging my questions by not responding.

As my course is quite large, I seriously doubt any lecturer or demonstrator will even know my name, let alone me as a person and therefore cannot give a personal reference. But, as we have to give somebody, who should it therefore be?

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Your academic reference should be a teacher you have taken a class from or worked with in another academic capacity like a research assistantship, an academic internship, etc.

For students very early in their careers who have only taken large lecture classes, this can be challenging. Some teachers of large lecture classes have concrete guidelines for when they will recommend students in these classes (e.g., I might have a policy of recommending any student who achieves more than a 3.7/4.0). You might look at your professors websites or ask them. The professor will likely review your work in the class before writing a letter so you will be wise to pick a professor of a class you did extremely well in.

Alternatively, you might be able to ask a post-doc or graduate teaching assistant that you worked with more closely with who is familiar with your academic work. I wrote these letters for undergraduates when I was a graduate student. Graduate student letters would be inappropriate for applying to a graduate program but should be just fine for intra-University programs and placements.

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  • I am in the situation where I am early in my career (Only a second year undergraduate). I was concerned about asking any of my lecturers due to the class size and thought it may be unreasonable to ask any for references as they do not know me personally. However, I am a top-performer in pretty much all of my modules (Scoring on average >80% in each one - some last year as high as 95%). You are saying it may be worthwhile to ask the lecturers of my best modules for a reference then? This isn't asking too much of them?
    – user23761
    Commented Nov 2, 2014 at 19:19
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    @user23761: Decisions about when a teacher will or will not write a letter are personal ones. I'd say it's totally reasonable to ask if you are in the top 5-10% of your class and you should would mention this fact when you ask. If it's asking too much, they will say no. I don't think it's presumptuous to ask in the first place.
    – mako
    Commented Nov 2, 2014 at 19:50
  • Thank you for your suggestions. I will ask one of my lecturers from last year if they would mind providing a reference if a company requires one. I suppose the worst that can happen is a "No" after all.
    – user23761
    Commented Nov 2, 2014 at 20:02
  • @user23761: The worst thing can happen is no answer. Unfortunately, that's probably not particularly unlikely. Try to think of a TA who might be good to ask as well.
    – mako
    Commented Nov 2, 2014 at 21:47
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Real world employers mostly want to confirm that you have ability to work independently as well as on a team, which is evidence of self-discipline and good communication skills.

For this reason I would suggest, if possible, to ask a lecturer/professor in a class where you did some type of project which required working over a period of time to produce something tangible like a presentation or a paper or a design. Preferably in a team, and ideally where you had some leadership role or were responsible for a good chunk of the work.

Ideally this lecturer would have acknowledged your project as of especially high quality and well done. When you meet to ask them, bring some evidence that will help them remember your work (they deal with hundreds of students and it may be challenging to recall any one individual's accomplishments).

Anecdotal evidence is always great in this case because it gives them something specific to talk about. You can also bring a hard-copy sheet with a bullet list of your accomplishments (grades, projects, extracurricular work) that will give the lecturer some raw material for the reference.

Help them out, and they will help you. Good luck!

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