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I would like to apply for Master of Science about electrical engineering, in USA. Most universities require 3 letters of recommendation and I am a little confused about from whom to get them.

I scored a very high GPA but I did not participate in any kind of research activities. However, there are many professors that know me very well, particularly my enthusiasm, my potential, my passion to learn new things and my ability to critical think and judge the information without taking it for granted.

I want to apply to the schools with the "electronics, semi-conductors" branch.

However, the professors who know me well are from : 1) electrical engineering, power electronics area 2) electrical engineering, computer branch and 3) mathematics department, I took differential equations and calculus from this professor.

I want to ask the followings:

1) Are old professors regarded more important or less important compared to younger professors ?

2) Is it OK to take letter of recommendation from a professor in another discipline or even different faculty, knowing that he will write a very good letter ?

3) Is a letter of recommendation from a famous faculty member that does not know me very well is better than a letter of recommendation from a less well-known professor that knows me very well ?

4) Is a professor that did his/her Masters or doctorate in USA regarded as more important compared to ones who did not ?

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1) Are old professors regarded more important or less important compared to younger professors ?

I cannot speak to this, but in general, a well known researcher in the field you are applying to is more valuable than a not as well known researcher. For example, Terence Tao is only 41 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terence_Tao), and Manjul Bhragava is only 42, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manjul_Bhargava). Their age is considered decades younger than many profs in math, but I would wager any mathematician would do anything to get a recommendation letter from the profs I have mentioned above.

2) Is it OK to take letter of recommendation from a professor in another discipline or even different faculty, knowing that he will write a very good letter ?

I can speak to this. I am an electrical engineer who has done a MASc. and two of my recommendation letter were from mathematicians, one pure and one applied. But then again I applied for a very mathy branch of EE.

I would not consider semiconductor research to be an extremely mathy branch of EE, (compared to research in signal processing, or control theory) and this is coming from another EE. In semiconductor research they need people with good simulation skills and will be able to write softwares of which the theories are grounded in PDE. You can find an applied mathematician who works in PDE (preferably computational PDE) or a physicist who will provide you a letter.

3) Is a letter of recommendation from a famous faculty member that does not know me very well is better than a letter of recommendation from a less well-known professor that knows me very well ?

The best case scenario is that you receive a letter from someone who knows you very well and who have written a good letter. Otherwise, you need someone who knows you a little but will write a good letter. The last you want is someone who knows you very little and will probably write an average letter.

4) Is a professor that did his/her Masters or doctorate in USA regarded as more important compared to ones who did not ?

This is an important question and I think it is highly dependent on the tier of school you are applying to. I can't imagine the top 5 engineering universities will ever perceive a letter from a reputable researcher from overseas (outside of US or even Canada) to be less valuable.

  • Can you please explain the last one a little bit more ? – Deniz Yildirim Nov 1 '16 at 17:48
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I can only speak to # 2, but maybe I can tide you over until someone can give a better answer.

I currently study computer science, and was talking with one of the administrators about letters of rec and grad school, and I was told that they wan't letters from CS faculty, but beyond that they didn't care who. I would imagine letters from people in your field will generally carry more weight.

It's a bit anecdotal, but since we're both in the U.S in related fields, hopefully it will help

  • Did you mail to the graduate admissions office to learn thay they want letters from people in Cs? – Deniz Yildirim Oct 31 '16 at 5:07
  • No, I spoke directly with a member of the office at an information event – Cinder Oct 31 '16 at 19:16
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Today, I talked with one of my professors in department and the professor from the Maths department who knows me well. Their ideas were in agreement and they stated the following order of importance, when it comes to taking letters of recommendation

1) A professor from my own field (electronics, semi-conductors, photonics) that knows me well.

2) A renown professor in my department (electrical engineering), but from another field (such as power, computers) that knows me very well.

3) A renown professor in my own field that does not necessarily know me very well, who may write a monotone letter.

4) A professor from another department (maths, physics) that knows me very well.

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