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If an applicant has research experience in a field that they are applying to and includes it in their application, would there be negative impact on the application if they chose not to include a recommendation letter from their research advisor for that research experience?

The reasons that they don't may be misconstrued as negative, but it could just be that there are others who could give stronger letters of recommendation, for instance from other research advisors in another field or a teacher with whom the applicant had a very good relationship with. Would not including the research advisor as a recommender be cause for speculation?

  • Is there anybody else in that research field can write a strong recommendation letter for you? – scaaahu Feb 21 '16 at 5:29
  • While not necessarily a cause for concern, it does mean that you don't have a recommendation from someone in that area. This will make the application weaker than if there had been a recommendation. – stjep Feb 21 '16 at 22:57
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It would likely be cause for speculation if the applicant is promoting their research experience but does not include a letter from their advisor. There may be inert reasons and it does happen (an advisor that is too busy or too aloof; on a leave for medical or other reasons). There are also cases where the applicant and advisor do not get along well, or where their interests are not aligned. In these cases it may be worth a direct conversation to find out if they would offer strong support for the position and if not then ask why not. The applicant may be surprised to learn that the advisor with whom she/he argues holds them in high regard. At the same time, the advisor may have useful input to offer that the applicant may wish to weigh as they decide on an educational and career trajectory.

That said, if no advisor letter is provided then the applicant should succinctly provide an explanation for why the given recommenders were chosen, and leave it at that unless pressed. If the applicant has a good relationship with another recommender, she/he might ask that recommender to include a supportive explanatory note in their letter.

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I can only think on the applicant's PoV. I think I would be comfortable doing this if I have other good recommendation letters from perhaps more influential advisors. I don't think the field you specialize in in your undergrad study matters all that much in your application. It's good to have that experience but it's even better if you have good relation and leave good impressions on many advisors not limited to your field.

But if I spent a lot of time researching and somehow screwed up so that my advisor in my undergrad lab now hates me I would really think about how to approach this (more so if I have no one else to go to for letters). I can't say for sure but I think many advisors will still give you a decent letter even if they don't like you at all. After all an undergrad is a student who is expected to make mistakes.

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