Bottom line: IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY ON CAMPUS, YOU WILL NEED TO COME SEE ME FACE TO FACE IF YOU WANT ME TO WRITE YOU A LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION!!
Regardless of if you’re on or off campus currently, continue reading everything below.
First – let me say AWESOME! You’re here which means you’re seriously thinking of asking for a letter of recommendation from me, which means you’re off to something new in your life. I’m excited for you and hope your plans go well and your adventure is an exciting one!
Second – at its very basic innards, a letter of rec. requires me to have known you pretty well (usually not a problem) and to have a favorable impression of you as a person, scientist, student, etc… I will be honest with you about whether I can write a STRONG letter of recommendation for you. Honestly, if I cannot, I will tell you that and you should consider going elsewhere with your request. A weak letter of rec. is worse in many ways than no letter of rec.
So, if you’re on campus, come see me. If you’re off campus, email me to check in and ask if I can write you a strong letter.
Third – while I know that it’s not always possible, please try to give me as much advance notice as you can (FOUR TO SIX WEEKS IS IDEAL) and tell me THE EXACT DATE THE LETTER IS DUE. This lead time allows me to write a well-composed and rather thoughtful letter for you and the due date helps me get it there on time; both things, I think, are best for both of us.
Fourth – to make things easier I’ve made a list of things you should give me that make it easier for me to write you an amazing letter that actually arrives to the right person before the due date. I’ve created a downloadable form that includes all of the below (.pdf, .docx). If you print it, fill it out, and get it back to me, the whole process becomes that much easier for both of us.
A. Provide me with addresses, forms, dates, names and titles of people I’m addressing in the letter, and anything else that needs to accompany letters that are mailed or emailed. You do not need to provide postage, stationary, or cookies – but I do like cookies…mmm…cookies.
B. Provide me with a DUE DATE for the letter of rec. (already written above, but it’s so important I’m going to write it again).
C. Let me know if I should expect an individual or group to be contacting me about the letter of rec. (e.g., letters for the NSF graduate research fellowship need to be routed through an online service which should send me an email). This helps me to know if I should be checking my spam filters.
D. ***MOST IMPORTANTLY*** send me an email with the following in the email body:
i. A brief (1-2 sentence) description of the job, program, course of study, internship, opportunity, reality show, marriage proposal, and/or lease application that the letter will bolster.
ii. Courses with me; grades you were assigned in those courses.
iii. Snazzy hats you’d like me to wear as your recommender — e.g. microbiology professor, research supervisor, independent study adviser, internship supervisor, academic advisor, etc.
iv. Personal attributes that make you a strong candidate for the opportunity you seek (be concise but precise with these attributes).
v. Issues that might make your application weaker (e.g. a bad grade in a particular class, a lack of a particular kind of experience, trouble remembering all the one-letter codes of all the amino acids, hatred of cute kittens or comic sans font, etc.)
vi. Names of other people (if any) writing you letters of rec. for this particular opportunity.
vii. An attachment containing the text of your most current draft of your cover letter for this opportunity.
viii. An attachment containing your current resume or C.V.
ix. Any particular aspect of our experience(s) together that you want me to discuss.
x. Anything else you would like me to know.
Full Disclosure: A good deal of the inspiration for this page was drawn from the website of Dr. D. Chatterjea at Macalaster College.