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I'm situated in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and went to one of the country's top schools for my undergrad (University of Toronto). I have a Honors Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Bioethics, and Psychology. I have four publications at the undergraduate level, have edited on an undergraduate journal, and have worked at least one serious research-assistantship (for a Psychology Dissertation; but this was done online and not in a lab).

I also had a pretty low CGPA (it's right between C+ and a B-). On top of that, I had very little contact with my professors (coming from a huge school and being relatively shy). So my problem now is one of reference letters and making my low CGPA look relatively "okay".

Does anyone have any ideas about who I could ask for reference letters for my Masters program in Philosophy or Bioethics? I know that the the person I worked for as a research assistant could help, but I've heard that's a bad idea. I can also ask one of the professors whose class I did really well in. The problem with him is that he probably doesn't remember me very well and I'm afraid his reference letter will come off as dull/"she asked me and I couldn't say no". For instance, he's given me reference letters before and I've never, ever received any interest/contact from the places I applied to. My other option is to get a reference letter from work. I actually work in university administration and the person I would ask has his MD from the Philippines. My concern with this is that the University is a Caribbean one and there's a lot of taboo about non-Western education (that I at least have noticed) here. I have asked previous TA's to no avail.

Does anyone have any suggestions for me?

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    I know that the the person I worked for as a research assistant could help, but I've heard that's a bad idea. - Why would it be a bad idea? Usually the person you worked for as a research assistant would be in an excellent position to write a letter about your research ability. – ff524 Sep 20 '16 at 5:18
  • P.S. (graduate student) TAs who declined to write letters for you were very likely right do so, as such letters may not help your case - see the answers to Writing a letter of recommendation as a graduate student – ff524 Sep 20 '16 at 5:25
  • Is Philosophy, Bioethics, and Psychology a constructed major or a normal program at your university? – virmaior Sep 20 '16 at 14:36
  • @virmaior: It's a constructed major (Philosophy Major, Bioethics Minor, Psychology Minor; although I have enough credits in Psychology for it to have been my major ... I just never got into the program) – ARykova Sep 21 '16 at 15:59
  • @ff524: People kept telling me that if the person doesn't have a Ph.D yet (e.g., they're still working on it themselves and have their own mentors at their own institution) their recommendation would "fall on deaf ears". Apparently.. – ARykova Sep 21 '16 at 16:21
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There are a couple of tricks to getting good LORs.

  • You can ask more than one person, you know.
  • Approach the person and ask (by email if you like) whether s/he would feel comfortable writing you a LOR. If s/he thinks the letter would come out lukewarm, s/he can say something tactful, such as "I think you would do better to ask someone who ... (e.g. knows your work better than I do)
  • Send the person an unofficial transcript
  • Give the person an outline of what aspects of you should be emphasized for the particular application

I think the Caribbean is fine; also a reference from your workplace is fine. Do supplement it with a purely academic one.

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    At this point I have no idea which people to actually ask. Do you think sending them an unofficial transcript (when my grades aren't the best) would be a good idea? – ARykova Sep 21 '16 at 16:25
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    Unfortunately you will have to send the unofficial transcript at some point. If you are feeling rather doubtful about someone, then go see him or her in person during office hours. Re your transcript, the overall GPA is not as important as the grades in the classes in your area. Final advice: go see your dean of undergraduate studies in your department. Your department should be guiding you more if you are feeling so unsure about the grad school application process. Perhaps they will assign you a graduate peer advisor to help you with some of these steps. – aparente001 Sep 22 '16 at 19:04

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