Letters of Recommendation
Here are some instructions if you would like to ask me for a letter of recommendation. Key guidelines:
Please let me know at least four weeks before a letter is due.
If you have multiple applications, please provide me with a comprehensive list ahead of time and arrange to have the letter requests sent at the same time so that they appear in one chunk in my e-mail box.
Half-life reminder rule: If you last reminded me about your recommendation some time $t$ before the due date, then remind me again when it is $t/2$ before the due date.
Come talk to me in person.
Should you ask me for a letter of recommendation?
Your strongest letters of recommendation will come from faculty who know you well and who can speak to your abilities above and beyond the standard coursework. For most applications (e.g. grad school), the ideal letter writer is a research mentor who you have worked with closely (e.g. for at least one year). A second tier of letters are those from professors of advanced coursework where you have excelled.
I would like to support our students, but please know that if I have not had a chance to see you shine, then I may not be a good choice for a letter writer. You may want to consult with your undergraduate mentors for further advice on this.
How to ask for a letter of recommendation from me
If you think that I am a good recommender, please do the following:
Contact me to schedule an appointment to discuss your applications. I’d like to understand what you’re applying for and how I can best support you in a letter.
Please provide the following information for me in an e-mail:
- The evaluation criteria for your application. (You may skip this for standard graduate school applications.)
- A draft of your application materials including your CV and any personal/research statements.
- A reminder of how I know you: what classes you’ve taken with me (and your grade in the course), any extracurricular activities where we have worked together, etc.
- A list of specific achievements that I am uniquely qualified to highlight in your application. For example: class projects that you are proud of, physics discussions during office hours, achievements or obstacles that may not be clear in the rest of your application.
It may be useful to combine #3 and #4 into a draft letter of recommendation. The purpose of this is not for me to rubber stamp the letter—I will rewrite everything carefully and according to my standards. Instead, this exercise is to help you explain to me how I can best support your application. If you do this, do not be bashful to sing your own praises; I’ll calibrate.
Most applications have an online system that will automatically send your recommenders an e-mail with instructions for how to upload their letter. Please arrange to have all of these e-mails sent at the same time so they appear in one chunk in my e-mailbox.
Please e-mail me a list with all of the applications that require my letter and the due dates.
Remind me! I will not be annoyed if you are reminding me about a letter that I’ve promised you. A good rule of thumb is to remind me every half-life before the due date.
Please contact me by e-mail to discuss your applications.