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I am in the process of applying to some masters programs in machine learning, and need to make a choice between two letters of recommendation. One is from an undergraduate professor who told me they were happy to help, but my only interaction with him was one class I took senior year, and I graduated seven years ago. The second is from my current manager at work, who was a former academic whom I have a good relationship with. He knows that I am applying to full time masters programs, and that if I get in I will be leaving my job, and is still willing to help. He also knows the amount of effort I put in outside of work hours to work on machine learning projects. I understand that academic letters of recommendation are preferred, but given the fact that I graduated seven years ago, and that the letter from my manager will most likely be stronger, I am looking for some advice.

  • At my institution an MS in ML requires 3 letters, is this not the case for the schools you're applying to? – kindredChords Dec 4 '16 at 19:49
  • It is for some of the schools I am applying to. I have other letters besides the two discussed here. – mikage Dec 5 '16 at 0:53
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    Great! Tell us a little more about those letters as it might inform your question. Are they academic or are they from work experience? Are those your stronger letters and you're trying to decide for the third place spot? – kindredChords Dec 5 '16 at 0:59
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I don't think it matters too much if the academic letter is about a old relationship, or whether the work letter is actually from your job and not from academia. What matters is that the academic you interacted with has an excellent opinion of you - and that seems to be the case, given the many years in between! - and hopefully that the academic stuff you have been working together is related to your master. Similarly, your employer will have lots to say about your work aethics and dedication, and hopefully his academic background and/or your current job should be somehow pertinent to your masters.

  • not sure I would agree with this. Letters describing interactions older than 3 or 4 years will be stale unless the applicant stood out in some significant way (v.g. won a prize or was first author on a well known paper... that kinda thinng). – user67075 Jan 8 '17 at 1:39
  • ZeroTheHero, I see your point, which is 100% valid for the typical BS-to-PhD-to-postdoc-to-Asst.Prof career. However, if you switch from academia to industry, there is simply no other option available. And if I were to consider someone for a MS in machine learning, (rather than, say, a PhD in particle physics) I would love to gauge both her/his academic, and business skills. – famargar Jan 8 '17 at 19:54

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