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I only have 2 research experiences, one of which lasted more than a year and is starting to look very promising for high impact factor publication (I'll be the second author though, and it's not likely to be published by the time of application). The other is with an highly esteemed professor from the U.S. who's quite happy with my 2-month research internship in his lab. Both are willing to put in some good words for me, but that's all I got, so I need a "did well in class" letter of recommendation which will probably be worth nothing. Will this hurt a lot to my graduate application? (I'm an international student)

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If you have two strong letters of recommendation for research work, that's already quite good. I would think that "this person is a strong student" letter filling out the set will be just fine---after all, somebody has to testify that you're good outside of the lab as well!

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  • One of my research adviser doesn't really have much experience in writing letters of recommendation (this is his third or something), and have no connections in the schools I'm applying for, plus the research paper won't be published in time so I don't really have a publication. Would the letter of recommendation from him still be considered strong? – arax Aug 27 '15 at 17:23
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    @arax - It's fine. Don't confuse an application for a PhD program with an application for a postdoc. --- Regarding the inexperienced letter writer -- if he's feeling unsure of himself, he can get some mentoring in the letter writing from a more senior person (perhaps the person you've been working with for two months). --- Don't worry about the lack of connection with the schools you're applying for. I have seen how important that is in some countries, but it doesn't matter in the U.S. – aparente001 Aug 27 '15 at 17:30
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All of your fellow students are in the same boat: almost nobody has more than 2 successful research experiences (and many have fewer). You don't have to have a stellar file when applying -- it just needs to be as good or better than that of all of the other candidate, most of whom will mostly have "did well in class" letters.

In other words: you're ahead of the curve. Nothing to worry about.

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  • Thanks! I've been browsing gradcafe lately, and it seems that many people there can get 3 or even more strong letter of recommendations from influential scientists that anything less than two pages can be a concern. Is that merely sample bias? – arax Aug 27 '15 at 17:18
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    @arax Yes, it is. – jakebeal Aug 27 '15 at 18:04
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    Indeed. I've looked through hundreds of grad school applications. That is not the norm. – Wolfgang Bangerth Aug 27 '15 at 19:24

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