Writing recommendations 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.
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 detailed references 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 about your academic goals and aspirations and/or you have worked closely with me on a research project. I may agree to write letters for others, but they will not be detailed—and, so you might do better to consider someone else to write the letter.
- You should give me requests as early as possible, but no later than 2 weeks to the deadline. Even so, if I am particularly tied up, I may decline even with 2 weeks lead time. Get me the requests early.
- Requests should come with a bullet-point list of things I can touch on in your letter 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.
- 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).
Hope the policies are clear. Let me know if you have any questions.
-Dr Geoff Kushnick