If you have been working on projects independently and not under a professor, does compiling your work on a personal website/blog also serve as a good reference for an admission committee looking to select a graduate student for a Master of Science program? Or should a professor always vouch for the work you do? Thank you.


No, realistically a list of external projects will not make up for not having letters.

Letters are typically not, or not primarily, used as a description of projects you have done, but as a subjective evaluation of your potential as a PhD graduate student. Letters may include a discussion of undergraduate research, but will also include a discussion of your personality, especially your strengths and weaknesses as a researcher. It is evident that this cannot be learned from a description of projects alone, especially given that this list is curated by yourself.

Incidentally, this is also the reason why senior professors are considered the "best" references - admission committees assume that the best judge of prospective grad students are those you have seen many grad students succeed and fail, i.e., senior professors.

Edit: as jvb correctly notes, the question is about master rather than PhD applications, but at least for a master by research, this does not change the spirit of my answer. For masters by coursework, I think most universities don't really employ a competitive selection procedure anyway (at least the ones I know don't).

  • Please reconsider the question asked, it's not about PhD students. – jvb Jun 27 '17 at 19:43
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    Even a not very selective program would probably be skittish about someone with no references. It's hard to think of a bigger red flag. – Ben Webster Jun 28 '17 at 8:59

Depends :) If your pet project is gcc or some part of the Linux kernel (to give a computer science example), or something else which is well-known and actually in use somewhere, or a successful commercial product, it might serve this purpose well. And of course it's interesting to get to know the candidate a little bit.

On the other hand, I wouldn't be overly impressed by most un-reviewed work. (Incidentally, this includes work of professors and workgroups, too.)

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    I think this answer is (very) misleading. Even a very good "pet project" does not serve the purpose that letters serve, i.e., evaluating your potential as a PhD candidate. – xLeitix Jun 27 '17 at 15:42
  • @xLeitix but the question was not about evaluating potential as a PhD candidate, but for a master's degree course. In the end, the result of the masters degree will show the potential for a PhD. – jvb Jun 27 '17 at 19:40

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