Letters of Recommendation
I receive many requests for letters of recommendation. To smooth the entire process, I've prepared some information for you. Please read this over before bringing me any addresses or materials.
Who I will write a letter for... In order to write a meaningful letter, one that is useful to the intended recipient, I have to have had contact with you in a variety of contexts over a period of time. In addition, the purpose of the letter naturally dictates the depth of content. A letter for a summer research experience would not generally be as detailed as one for graduate school. I assume that if you ask me for a letter, that you have given careful thought as to which faculty would be in a position to write the kind of letter you'd like to have. I am amused by students who ask me "would I be willing to write them a good letter of recommendation." The use of "good" in the sentence is a subtle check of the waters, so to speak. This approach must have been suggested in a recent book on how to get into medical school. I will write you a meaningful letter. It will be realistic, and I will try to put things in the possible best light. Admissions committees can readily detect letters that are syrupy, like "this student's going to save the world" in their tone and readily reject them. If I am uncomfortable writing you a letter, I will tell you so.
The table below summarizes the circumstances in which
I usually feel comfortable in writing various types of letters:
|Purpose of Letter||Circumstances|
|Summer Research Program||Minimum of one completed course from me, earning a grade of B- or above.|
|Medical/Dental/Vet School||Minimum of two completed courses from me, earning a grade of B- or above in at least one of them.|
|Graduate School in the Sciences||Minimum of two completed courses from me, earning a grade of B- or above in at least one of them.|
Note: In most cases, I cannot effectively write letters for people who have graduated unless I have written a letter for them while they were still on campus and impressions were fresh in my mind.
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What I need to write a letter for you. Here is what I need from you in order to efficiently prepare your letter:
Time. If this is the first time I have written a letter for you, I need about a month's notice. This is because I must have an uncluttered mind in order to write the sort of detailed letter I like to prepare, one that will throughly and honestly evaluate your abilities and potential (this might sound ominous or intimidating, but this is the kind of letter graduate and professional schools want, and will be more helpful to you than a quick, superficial letter). Unfortunately, with my schedule, I only have an uncluttered mind, one able to write articulate letters, once in a while, so I need lots of lead time.
Forms. Please provide any printed forms with your part filled out completely. Be sure your name is on everything so that I can't get different people's stuff confused.
Addresses. I want all addresses sent to me electronically (in the body of an e-mail). Be sure they are complete and in standard format. If you are applying to more than one type of program, be sure it is clear which addresses go with which program. By providing this information electronically, I can quickly paste the addresses into your letters and onto your envelopes. You get faster service!
No Envelopes and No Stamps. In the event an actual piece of paper is necessary, I don't want envelopes in any form and we can afford stamps. I will write and send your letter on university letterhead in a university envelope. This is the professional way to do it if paper is necessary.
I don't want your resume or anything similar. I write based upon my observations of you in class, lab or wherever we've had contact. Admissions committees can read your personal statements, transcripts etc. There is no point in my repeating any of this info. The only exception is if you have graduated and I need to be caught up on your life.
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What I cover in your letter. When I write a letter, I like to do a thorough job and say something significant that honestly evaluates your abilities as I've seen them. I try to cover the areas listed below in your letter. Some of these categories are not appropriate for certain types of letters. If I've not had much contact with you, I won't know enough about you to address some of these points. If you read this over, you'll get the idea of what I will be doing as I write your letter. Keep in mind that I comment on these areas as I've seen them. I might say something positive or negative about a particular point; that doesn't make it true, it makes it my opinion based upon what might be fairly limited contact. Admissions and evaluation committees know this, which is why they always solicit multiple evaluations.
How I've had contact with you:*
- student in lab or lecture (how many courses?)
- WT intern
- teaching assistant
- research student
Overall rating/opinion ... in comparison to what group
- Ability to recognize important problems
- Problem solving ability
- Conceptual ability
- Ability to analyze complex materials/concepts
- Ability to handle and integrate large amounts of material
- Knowledge in area of future study, if known
- Breadth of knowledge in chemistry, biochemistry, ?
- Competent in fundamental skills (academic & lab)?
- Exceptional, both in dexterity and use of common sense; resourceful
- Like most people: competent/satisfactory (not a negative comment!)
- Problematic: clumsy, lacks confidence, lacks common sense, lacks independence
- Tends to be too verbose; rambles in writings
- Appropriate; articulate; thoughts are organized. Most DPU students are really quite articulate and fall into this category.
- Poor expression; poor record-keeping
- Excellent, seems to enjoy learning for learning's sake. Has the makings of a scholar. Engaged in the course. Asks questions. Active learner.
- Good, like most students (this is not a negative statement).
- Just "jumping through the hoops". Hard to tell the true level of interest.
- Original thought capacity
- New perspectives/approaches
- Insight/Resourcefulness (lab and intellectual)
Attributes closely linked to academic performance
- Integrity (this is a quantum function in my mind)
Quiet or outgoing, sense of humor, etc - that sort
- "Gets along well with others" (The kindergarten sandbox test)
- Seeks excessive attention/overeager
- Carries an Uzi to solve interpersonal problems
- And so forth...
- Attitude toward supervision
- Self awareness
- Self confidence
- Performance under pressure
- What kind of xxxxx will the candidate make?
- Grades: a good/bad estimate of potential
- Reiterate if contact is fairly limited
- Recommend with confidence or reservations?
- Ready/not ready for graduate/medical school etc
Last updated Friday, January 25, 2013 . Contents & layout copyright 2013 Prof. Bryan Hanson