I'm applying to graduate programs in Biomedical Engineering. The University of Pennsylvania application says the author of one letter of recommendation must be a faculty member who is familiar with the candidate's scholarly abilities. In layman's terms, does this mean they want a letter from a faculty member who has served as my research advisor?

  • We don't want your athletic coach, minister, or boss at your part-time job -- all of which we've seen.
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Jun 18, 2016 at 0:53

2 Answers 2


It doesn't necessarily mean your research advisor. It could be a faculty member you've taken classes with, someone you've worked on a project with, etc.

What the admissions committee is looking for is evidence that you will succeed in graduate school - and that means evidence that you can think independently, tackle difficult problems, and so on. Choose faculty members who can speak to your abilities as a student and a (future) researcher.

When I asked for LoRs, I asked (1) a faculty member I had taken several classes with and with whom I was working as an undergraduate research, (2) another faculty member I had taken several classes with and had a good working relationship with, and (3) a faculty member who I was currently taking a class with (and who admittedly was an alumnus of my top school) :-)


It means, well...that it should be a faculty member familiar with your scholarly activities.

That can be your research advisor, and if you have one, they're likely a good faculty member to choose. But really what they're working for is someone who can speak to your scholarship as a whole, and is familiar with it past "He/she did well on some multiple choice exams...". So a faculty member who you've taken several essay heavy courses with might also be a worthwhile recommender.

What they don't want is someone who will just be providing a narration of your transcript.

  • 1
    Faculty in essay heavy courses may not necessarily be the best recommenders for grad programs in biomedical engineering.
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Jun 18, 2016 at 0:54
  • @RoboKaren That very much depends on the course. I took a very writing intensive course in microbiology
    – Fomite
    Commented Jun 18, 2016 at 0:55

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