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I'm a new full-time faculty member in the process of finishing my PhD. Because I have not yet graduated, Instructor is the only title I feel comfortable using until I defend.

A student has asked for a letter of reference to an REU program, and I've become concerned that a letter from an Instructor may not be as highly received as a letter from some rank of Professor. In particular the REU is a research position and Instructor doesn't make it clear that I've been involved with research in any capacity. (I did in fact mentor 6 REUs while a grad student and several more independent study undergrads, and think that this particular student is a fine candidate.)

I should note that I was asked for a letter based on having this student in class, and I feel I can write a strong letter for this individual on their qualities as a student. Another faculty member (Assistant Professor) is writing a letter based on an extracurricular project.

Two questions:

1) Will my Instructor rank cause problems for this student? Of course my letter will be less highly regarded in general due to my newness, but does being an Instructor present an additional hindrance on top of that?

2) If so, is there anything that can be done in the letter itself to mitigate this? Or, should I counsel the student to pursue a different recommendation?

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Include the following information in your letter:

  • You're a new full-time faculty member.

  • You mentored 6 REUs while a grad student and several more independent study undergrads, and think that this particular student is a fine candidate.

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If your job title and academic rank is "assistant professor", then that's what you should put on your REU recommendation letter. This also applies if you don't have an official title, but your position is considered tenure track. It's not particularly relevant to the letter that you don't have a Ph.D.

More generally, it's fine to be a little insecure about not having a Ph.D. yet, since this is certainly not the norm for a starting full-time faculty member. But this letter isn't about you, and you have a professional responsibility to represent your academic rank accurately on a letter of recommendation. This means that you report the rank that your college has bestowed upon you, not the rank that you personally think that you deserve.

If your job title really is "instructor", you should make it clear in your letter that you have been involved in research. For example, you could mention as part of your recommendation that you were involved in mentoring a group of REU students at (insert college here), and that the student you are writing the letter for seems at least as capable.

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