I am dealing with one very mercurial professor and I had a bit of an incident with him. I think I might have offended him slightly (I told him about the deadline to submit a letter of recommendation (LOR) in the nicest possible way and yet he flared up on me). My seniors tell me that he has the habit of extracting revenge on people who ask him for a LOR if they irritate him. I am afraid I might have offended him; he kinda scares me. But he is a very good researcher in computer networks and I performed well in his class. I don't want to drop him and choose another faculty.

Now I know very well that the other two lecturers are going to rate me well, but if this lecturer gives me a bad rating will it harm my chances of getting admitted?

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    As a side note: I was always taught to not only ask a person for a LOR, but ask whether he/she is willing to write a positive LOR. The reason to ask explicitly for a positive one is that in many countries a professor/boss is formally not allowed to deny a request for a LOR and therefore will agree, but write a negative one. He/she is allowed to deny to write a positive LOR (obviously), and in that case you can find someone that is willing to write a positive one, because, as mentioned by @BobBrown, a negative LOR is something you really want to avoid.
    – Michiel
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 9:58
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    @Michiel must be noted that at least some will not refuse to write the letter, but will suggest you get a better reference.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 16:30
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    @Davidmh: That's been my approach: "Ask someone in whose courses you performed better."
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 16:34
  • Ofcourse @DavidKetcheson.
    – user17282
    Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 11:36
  • It is a defamation for character if you don’t tell the student your going to write a bad letter.
    – user31996
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 14:28

2 Answers 2


Pick someone else if it isn't already too late.

The actual answer to your question is this: It is far better to have a good letter from a faculty member who is relatively unknown than a bad letter from someone they recognize and respect. In fact, the latter is probably the worst thing that could happen.

If it is already too late, i.e. you have asked Professor X, he's agreed, and you've sent him the material (which is probably an online link these days) then work hard to make writing the letter easy. Put together the following information and send it fast:

  • Include your student number.
  • Remind him which of his classes you have taken, and when.
  • How did you distinguish yourself in those classes?
  • How would you describe yourself? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? He is going to have to answer those questions when he writes your reference, so the more details the better; but these must be things your referee knows himself.
  • What are some of your academic and nonacademic accomplishments that he may not remember?
  • What makes him particularly qualified to write a letter for you? That is, why should the recipient of the letter value it over a letter from someone else?

This goes in an email that says, "Thank you very much for agreeing to write a reference for me on very short notice. I hope the following will be of use to you when you write it."

  • One of the other two faculty told me that they had the LOR printed on a college letter head, signed it, scanned it and uploaded it. Is it necessary for colleges? Cause I am pretty sure he wouldn't do that extra work.
    – user17282
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 9:36
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    That's an entirely different question, and you should be able to find the answer in the admission material of the institution to which you are applying.
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 9:40


A bad recommendation can ruin your chances. If a letter writer were to write that you had committed some grave academic dishonesty, for example, that would look extremely bad for you, even if the others were generally positive.

An answer to another question says that even a "good but not great" letter could keep you out of some departments.

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