Letters of rec & getting to know profs?

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Letters of rec & getting to know profs?

Post by LogiKid » Fri Feb 14, 2020 4:31 am

TL;DR: what are the best ways to get to know your professors so that they could write you an awesome letter of recommendation?

I've just realised I'm in a slightly thorny situation. I have done a lot of work with one particular academic (let's call them X) at my university - including a project last summer which led to a paper, more work this summer (leading to at least one more paper), as well as a senior project over the next year. From this, X has come to know me quite well and can speak highly to my research abilities. Awesome, one letter of rec down.

However, that leaves me with two more letters to get. The problem is that while I have been cultivating a great working relationship with X, I have not had the chance to do so with other professors. Many of them will know me as an excellent student, but we don't engage beyond exchanging niceties - certainly not intellectually. None of them could really testify to my character, research abilities, etc, in a meaningful way.

In particular, we have some profs who are quite esteemed in the field I hope to enter - I'd like to get to know them better, for my own intellectual curiosity, as well as getting a good letter. I could choose to do my senior project with them, but the complication is that due to my past work with X, he is giving me a generous scholarship for senior year, so I feel somewhat obliged to continue helping him with his research aims.

Thankfully I've got (nearly) a year on my side before F21 applications are due. How should I proceed in getting to know other profs, or more specifically, getting them to know me, in such a way that they could write me a glowing letter of rec?

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Re: Letters of rec & getting to know profs?

Post by mani_fold » Thu Feb 20, 2020 10:48 am

One way that I reached out beyond my primary advisor and connected with another faculty member was a summer research project focused on expository writing on a topic of mutual interest. That way I could use most of my time focused on my main research goals, and work on the expository project on the side without the stress of the semester getting in the way. I learned a lot about a new topic, was able to have intellectual discourse with a new advisor, and enriched our relationship beyond the classroom.

If you're going to be attending an REU over the summer, this might not be the most effective idea (but you'd be connecting with new researchers in that context anyway). In my case, my faculty advisor was actually in Europe for the whole summer visiting family and attending a conference, so it was all carried out long distance. But since the subject matter was less technical than original research it was easy to communicate via email.

Food for thought-- there are other ways to enrich these student-professor relationships, beyond demanding original research. After all, we're only human and can juggle so many projects at once. :D

Good luck!

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