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96 votes

How to avoid writing a 'good but not great' reference letter

Here's a possible strategy. Acknowledge the potential difficulty recommending across cultures - something like Rereading my letter, I am concerned that I have used too few superlatives describing [...
Ethan Bolker's user avatar
78 votes
Accepted

Is there a reasonable explanation for why my professor submitted my recommendation letter months early?

The busy professor wants to get it off their plate ASAP, so they don't waste brain-cycles needing to remember it, see it on a to-do list, or potentially miss the deadline. There's nothing to worry ...
Daniel R. Collins's user avatar
65 votes
Accepted

How can we identify and filter AI-generated statements of purpose (SoP) and recommendation letters?

There is no need to filter out AI-generated statements of purpose. Even without AI, it is not reasonable to assume that applicants have generally written their SoPs all by themselves. They have ...
Arno's user avatar
  • 44.5k
60 votes

Why do people keep saying 'it is your responsibility' to make sure your supervisor uploads their letter of recommendation (or similar)?

You have a situation involving an interaction between three parties. Ignoring the details and thinking a bit more generally, let's call them Alice, Bob and Chris. Alice is asking for something from ...
Dan Romik's user avatar
  • 192k
54 votes

I'm changing PhD programs, and I got a terrible recomendation letter form my advisor. I found out by accident. What do I do now? I'm shocked

I think you've learned you cannot use this person as a reference. It's unfortunate you learned when you did; there is probably nothing you can do to retract these letters and I'm not sure it benefits ...
Bryan Krause's user avatar
  • 120k
50 votes

Do universities check if the PDF of Letter of Recommendation has been edited?

The truth is that no one would probably check if the letter was modified. The moral is that any self-respecting institute should solicit letters directly from the references, and not accept letters ...
Dilworth's user avatar
  • 13.3k
41 votes

How to ask a professor from 29 years ago to write you a recommendation?

I agree with @DavidKetcheson . One class, 29 years ago? Did you do something absolutely stunning in his class? Like, say, write a paper that led to a publication in a serious journal with him as co-...
Peter Flom's user avatar
  • 4,195
41 votes

Why do people keep saying 'it is your responsibility' to make sure your supervisor uploads their letter of recommendation (or similar)?

I think you're missing the meaning of this. In the case of a supervisor submitting a recommendation letter, it's not that the supervisor doesn't have any responsibility, it's that the committee or ...
Bryan Krause's user avatar
  • 120k
39 votes

Do universities check if the PDF of Letter of Recommendation has been edited?

Do not submit this letter! You were asked to draft one, to help your professor, but it is their name and not yours that is at the bottom. You have no right to change what they have written, but they ...
terdon's user avatar
  • 2,484
35 votes

Top 3% in Reference Letter when applying to Yale

I show my students drafts of the letters I write for them. I don't expect or ask for suggested changes, except on matters of fact I might have gotten wrong. Let it be. It's a strong letter.
Ethan Bolker's user avatar
35 votes

What is the route to a postdoc without a PhD supervisor?

I think you're in a dangerous spot. A PhD is a research apprenticeship. If an electrician apprentice told you that they don't actually have anyone guiding them but they're doing a real good job ...
Bryan Krause's user avatar
  • 120k
32 votes

My master's supervisor and paper co-author is not willing to give a letter of recommendation for PhD admissions?

@EthanBolker offers a clever potential solution. Also consider, though, whether there might be someone else who can write you a stronger recommendation. Is there another academic with whom you have ...
Significance's user avatar
  • 7,053
31 votes

Professor offered to write a letter without prompting

I would take it as a polite offer from someone who has recently been in the position of needing to ask for these letters and knows it can be difficult to find people you are comfortable asking. You'll ...
Bryan Krause's user avatar
  • 120k
31 votes

Why do people keep saying 'it is your responsibility' to make sure your supervisor uploads their letter of recommendation (or similar)?

It's a warning! Warnings need to be direct, not subtle. It's "BIOHAZARD, DO NOT ENTER!", not "If you think about entering this room, please consider the effects biohazardous materials ...
Heinzi's user avatar
  • 1,807
30 votes

How to avoid writing a 'good but not great' reference letter

I think a good way to clearly indicate that this student is great (as opposed to just good) is to first give some ranking of how good you think they are. "In a class with X undergraduates and Y ...
David Raveh's user avatar
27 votes

Is there a reasonable explanation for why my professor submitted my recommendation letter months early?

There are three types of professors. Those without todo lists and those with todo lists that they actually process systematically. The latter are very rare. The former split into two groups. Those who ...
Captain Emacs's user avatar
24 votes
Accepted

Can only get "did well in class" recommendation letters, how can I make the best of it?

I would make sure that the people who have agreed to write for you can speak to your TA experience and thesis project. Let them know that you would usually ask A (sick professor) to write about your ...
Dawn's user avatar
  • 16.8k
23 votes

My master's supervisor and paper co-author is not willing to give a letter of recommendation for PhD admissions?

On the face of it that is strange. Most academics I know would be willing to write the necessary letters under those circumstances. Submitting one letter to multiple places would not be much more work ...
Ethan Bolker's user avatar
21 votes
Accepted

Do recommendation letters need to be strictly from professors at universities?

This applies to the US and possibly elsewhere. No, the letters don't need to be from professors at universities. However, the best letters, the ones that will matter, are the ones that both ...
Buffy's user avatar
  • 370k
21 votes

How to ask a professor from 29 years ago to write you a recommendation?

You are what we call an "atypical applicant", and review committees will not expect a typical application. I don't believe a recommendation from a casual professor three decades ago will ...
Scott Seidman's user avatar
21 votes

Why do people keep saying 'it is your responsibility' to make sure your supervisor uploads their letter of recommendation (or similar)?

What they mean with "it's your responsibility if the letter isn't uploaded" is "it's your problem if the letter isn't uploaded". As with many things in life, it may not be your ...
DonQuiKong's user avatar
  • 2,422
21 votes
Accepted

How acceptable is it to copy and paste a certain structure and some particular sentences in letters of recommendation?

Using a template is totally fine. I do that, as does every professor I know. In fact, I shared a chunk of my template in an answer to another question. A lot of those sentences get reused in letters I ...
David White's user avatar
  • 7,023
20 votes

Do universities check if the PDF of Letter of Recommendation has been edited?

It is not uncommon for someone to write a draft for their own recommendation letter, although it felt really really weird the first time I had to do it for myself (which is why I never ask this of ...
BioBrains's user avatar
  • 4,001
20 votes

Recommendation Letter Advice and Examples

When I first started writing letters of recommendation I would also have appreciated having examples to follow, but I think it's reasonable for people to be wary about supplying them. It's hard to ...
Benedict Eastaugh's user avatar
19 votes

Top 3% in Reference Letter when applying to Yale

If your institution is known for sending people to places like Yale, then I think that this is a very strong recommendation. I've written things like that for students after some thought about other ...
Buffy's user avatar
  • 370k
17 votes

Is it mandatory to give four references in post-doctoral positions?

Don't do this. There is no significant difference between having to upload a letter 20 times and having to upload a letter 15 times. You would in fact be doing your references a disservice: they spent ...
Adam Přenosil's user avatar
17 votes
Accepted

Unsure if I am the best fit to write a Recommendation Letter for a Research Internship

You should be fine as a letter writer as long as the student has someone with whom they have done research who will also write for them. Not every writer needs to be a research supervisor and one or ...
Buffy's user avatar
  • 370k
15 votes

How to avoid writing a 'good but not great' reference letter

Being from one of the Asian countries currently in the US, I hope my perspective will help. I would use plain language (not complex words and sentences) and definately use “strongly support”, “very ...
Dr. Banjadebaje's user avatar
14 votes

How to avoid writing a 'good but not great' reference letter

I don't have a ton of experience writing letters of recommendation but I have asked for many and seen how many are received. It is true that in the US, at least at the institutions I have attended or ...
sErISaNo's user avatar
  • 8,653
14 votes

What are my options if a prof ghosted me after agreeing for recommendation letter?

What you can do now is work with the fellowship people to see what your options are. Explain, calmly, that a letter wasn't sent and you don't know why. Don't make accusations, but ask what might be ...
Buffy's user avatar
  • 370k

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