Recommendation Letters

Students frequently ask me to write letters of recommendation or to be willing to act as a reference (by phone call or an online form) when they apply for jobs or admission to graduate school. I've written this page to help simplify the process.

If you have taken one or more classes from me or worked for me as a grader, TA, or RA, and if you've done good work for me, then I will most likely be willing to write you a letter of recommendation. When I'm unwilling to write a letter of recommendation, it is generally because I either don't know you well enough to write a good letter of recommendation, or because I feel that I can't write the kind of positive letter that would increase your chances of getting that job or graduate school admission. Context matters a lot- if you have a 2.5 GPA but you've worked really hard in my classes, I might be willing to recommend you for a job in industry, but I wouldn't be able to recommend you for admission to a top graduate program. Feel free to ask, but please don't feel hurt if I tell you that I can't write a particular recommendation- you're better off with no recommendation than a weak or negative letter of recommendation.

Please give me at least two weeks notice to write a letter of recommendation- recommendation letters are lower on my priority queue than teaching, research, and various service committments, so it can take me a while to get around to doing the letter. Please do give me a deadline- if my schedule slips to the point that I'm in danger of missing a deadline I will reprioritize writing your letter so that it gets done on time. Once I've done one letter of recommendation, it's typically much easier to write additional letters of recommendation, since I can reuse a previous letter as the starting point for the new letter, so I can turn out subsequent letters on short notice.

Most letter of recommendation forms include a place for you to sign indicating that you waive the right to read the letter of recommendation. I will not write a letter of recommendation without this waiver. Similarly, when I receive a letter of recommendation without such a waiver, I consider the letter unreliable and simply ignore it.

I will ask you to sign a form giving your consent to my disclosing information about you to third parties.

If we've talked about a letter of recommendation, please also send me an email with your request so that I can enter the email into my "todo" list.

I will email you back when I have sent the letter out. If you haven't received an email confirming that the letter has gone out and the deadline is approaching, please contact me to remind me about the letter.

Provide me with the following information:

Please let me know how it turns out. I like to hear about grad school and job offers that students have received and where they ultimately decided to go.

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