Letters of rec & getting to know profs?

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LogiKid
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Joined: Sat Feb 01, 2020 1:15 am

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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mani_fold
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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!

complexcat
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Joined: Wed Mar 06, 2019 3:31 pm

Re: Letters of rec & getting to know profs?

Post by complexcat » Sun Mar 01, 2020 10:22 am

Don't feel obliged to continue doing something like working with X if it becomes counter-productive for your goals. There are ways to explain this to people in a way that they will understand.

As mani_fold recommended, academic work over the summer is a great opportunity. You can also take a class in the fall and make it your priority to stand out (talk to the prof about material beyond the course requirements, aim to ace all the homework and exams, come to office hours with thoughtful questions.) Doing a research project or reading course with someone new is another direct strategy.

scrubm8
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Joined: Tue Jan 28, 2020 12:07 pm

Re: Letters of rec & getting to know profs?

Post by scrubm8 » Sun Mar 01, 2020 3:27 pm

I'm not convinced one needs three stellar letters to get into grad school. I had one letter from my senior thesis advisor, one letter from an instructor from an advanced grad course (who is known to write excellent letters), and one letter from another prof who I had another advanced grad course with. You can see two of my recommenders didn't actually know me THAT well, but I still hold six extremely good offers.

Basically, don't sweat it too much. Having one stellar letter and two good/very good ones is totally fine. Of course, if you want to maximize the quality of your letters, just create reading courses with the desired faculty.

complexcat
Posts: 48
Joined: Wed Mar 06, 2019 3:31 pm

Re: Letters of rec & getting to know profs?

Post by complexcat » Sun Mar 01, 2020 3:49 pm

scrubm8 wrote:
Sun Mar 01, 2020 3:27 pm
I'm not convinced one needs three stellar letters to get into grad school. I had one letter from my senior thesis advisor, one letter from an instructor from an advanced grad course (who is known to write excellent letters), and one letter from another prof who I had another advanced grad course with. You can see two of my recommenders didn't actually know me THAT well, but I still hold six extremely good offers.

Basically, don't sweat it too much. Having one stellar letter and two good/very good ones is totally fine. Of course, if you want to maximize the quality of your letters, just create reading courses with the desired faculty.
It's worth clarifying from your profile that your recommenders are well-known, which probably made a difference. Someone from a small school with lesser known recommenders is probably going to need their recommenders to know them better.

scrubm8
Posts: 4
Joined: Tue Jan 28, 2020 12:07 pm

Re: Letters of rec & getting to know profs?

Post by scrubm8 » Sun Mar 01, 2020 4:26 pm

complexcat wrote:
Sun Mar 01, 2020 3:49 pm
scrubm8 wrote:
Sun Mar 01, 2020 3:27 pm
I'm not convinced one needs three stellar letters to get into grad school. I had one letter from my senior thesis advisor, one letter from an instructor from an advanced grad course (who is known to write excellent letters), and one letter from another prof who I had another advanced grad course with. You can see two of my recommenders didn't actually know me THAT well, but I still hold six extremely good offers.

Basically, don't sweat it too much. Having one stellar letter and two good/very good ones is totally fine. Of course, if you want to maximize the quality of your letters, just create reading courses with the desired faculty.
It's worth clarifying from your profile that your recommenders are well-known, which probably made a difference. Someone from a small school with lesser known recommenders is probably going to need their recommenders to know them better.
OP says the other profs are "quite esteemed," so I figured they'd be in a similar situation.

complexcat
Posts: 48
Joined: Wed Mar 06, 2019 3:31 pm

Re: Letters of rec & getting to know profs?

Post by complexcat » Sun Mar 01, 2020 6:18 pm

scrubm8 wrote:
Sun Mar 01, 2020 4:26 pm
complexcat wrote:
Sun Mar 01, 2020 3:49 pm
scrubm8 wrote:
Sun Mar 01, 2020 3:27 pm
I'm not convinced one needs three stellar letters to get into grad school. I had one letter from my senior thesis advisor, one letter from an instructor from an advanced grad course (who is known to write excellent letters), and one letter from another prof who I had another advanced grad course with. You can see two of my recommenders didn't actually know me THAT well, but I still hold six extremely good offers.

Basically, don't sweat it too much. Having one stellar letter and two good/very good ones is totally fine. Of course, if you want to maximize the quality of your letters, just create reading courses with the desired faculty.
It's worth clarifying from your profile that your recommenders are well-known, which probably made a difference. Someone from a small school with lesser known recommenders is probably going to need their recommenders to know them better.
OP says the other profs are "quite esteemed," so I figured they'd be in a similar situation.
Oh oops, good point. I was projecting the situation onto myself :lol:



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