Ask me, Don’t Ask the Mouse! Writing recommendations (and serving as a reference in other capacities) for students seeking additional academic or job opportunities is an important role for academic faculty at the university. It is also a source of misunderstanding so I like to make my expectations clear.
Let’s start with some facts regarding recommendations and references:
- No student is entitled to a recommendation or reference from their lecturer.
- Lecturers receive many requests from students for recommendations or references, and, thus, they cannot agree to every request.
- Doing well in classes does not guarantee that the lecturer will be able to provide a reference. A student can increase their chances of getting positive responses to their requests for recommendations letters and references by doing well in the classes and getting to know the target lecturer (i.e., the one who they would like to write the letter of serve as the reference). This means you should engage with your lecturer about your interest in the subject and discuss with them your desire to continue your studies in the area.
Understand These Policies Before Sending Me A Request! The following are a few points of policy that I have adopted with regards to writing letters of recommendations:
- I am only willing to write recommendations or serve as a reference for students I know well. Typically, that means you’ve taken and done well in 2 or more classes from me and have started a conversation with me in office hours or over email about your academic goals and aspirations or you have worked closely with me on a research project. (In exceptional cases, I may agree to write letters or serve as references for others, but they will not be detailed—and, so you might do better to consider someone who knows you better to write the letter.)
- You should give me requests as early as possible, but no later than 2 weeks before the deadline. Even so, if I am particularly tied up, I may decline even with 2 weeks lead time. Get me the requests early!
- I prefer letters that will be confidential from the person for which I am writing the letter. This allows me to provide a more candid assessment and it is a more valuable letter because the recipient knows that the referee can be more candid under these circumstances. If you think that I might write something negative about you, you should reconsider whether I am your best reference. I will only do “open-envelope” letters under very special circumstances (i.e., you must provide an explanation with documentation for me to consider it, and there is no guarantee that I will agree to do it).
- Requests for letters of recommendations and/or references should come with the following:
- a short statement that addresses how your request meets each of points #1 through 3 above. That typically will include courses you’ve taken with me along with information about when you took them and what final mark you got, and due dates and methods of submission for letters. (Your initial request should include this.)
- a bullet-point list of things I can touch on in your letter or reference with official titles and dates. Yes, I know you, but I have probably not memorized your CV. No need to list non-academic stuff unless you think it will bolster your case. (You can include this in your initial request, or you can make your initial request with just the information in the first bullet point, and send this along once your request is approved — keep in mind, though, that all of the information must be received with a two-week window before the due date, as discussed above.)
Hope the policies are clear. Let me know if you have any questions.
-Dr Geoff Kushnick
Updated on 20 July 2017