Background: In the next few months I will be applying for graduate school for a PhD program (or Master's if I have to go that way first). The degree will be Electrical Engineering focusing on Computational Electromagnetics (CEM). I have heard that the letters of recommendation are crucial, and should absolutely be written by people that personally know your work. Right now I have two candidates willing to write for me: (1) a tenure-track professor for whom I have worked for 2 years and although her expertise is not in CEM, the work I do for her requires a similar skill set. (2) a tenured faculty who has had me in a class, is a nationally recognized expert in CEM, and has worked on a project with me outside of school (specifically he was consulting where I was working over the summer).

Issue: For the third letter, the most readily available option would be my boss at my summer internship. He has known me for about 2 years now, he is a double major in Math and Comp Sci, and has a Masters in Comp Sci. He has also been doing work in CEM for a few years so he is an expert in that area as well. However, he does not have an appointment at a school right now (although he surely could), but instead works in industry. Keep in mind I will be applying to programs that are top 50-30 overall, but are top 25-10 in CEM (i.e. Ohio State, UTEP, U of Houston).

Would he be considered a strong letter writer, or should I seek another letter from a professor (who may not know me as well and/or may not be an expert in CEM)?

Note: although my internship is in industry, my job is to do research and development, so I am not questioning whether my background is strong, I am questioning whether the third writer's profile would be considered strong/adequate by the committees.

  • 1
    There are questions on this site which address your problem (see, e.g., this one and that one). Another point I'll add here is that your intern advisor may not know what is expected in an academic letter of recommendation, so you may need to do some form of quality control. – Mad Jack Jun 26 '16 at 16:07
  • @MadJack thanks those were helpful! Something else I forgot to mention is that he has been a guest lecturer and has taught full courses in university before, he just never has been a full-time professor, so I think he does have a little bit more academic rep than the other examples listed in those questions. – M Barbosa Jun 26 '16 at 16:38

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