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Letters of Recommendation

On occasion, I provide letters of recommendation for students that I have taught. Before making such a request, please consider whether you have been a good student in my class (For PhD applicants- UK students 70+, North American students A. For job-related references high 60s). My letter will offer an honest assessment of your performance in my class so if you have not done well, it will not serve your interests. Also bear in mind that a good letter must be specific- it needs to demonstrate that I know you well enough to vouch for your abilities. If I do not know you well (for example, I have not taught you), you should not ask for a letter from me.

Tip. Always ask a potential referee this question: Would you be comfortable writing a positive recommendation letter for me? This allows you to avoid a lukewarm recommendation letter, which is likely to end up harming rather than helping your application. Phrasing your request this way will give your letter writer the chance to gracefully decline.

Academic References: For those applying to PhD programs, please provide (1) a one page (250 words) summary of your research proposal (2) a list of the schools you are applying to, the specific program, specific instructions, and the deadlines (postmark/email/receipt) (3) Your c.v. (4) Your transcripts (5) Particularly strong feedback that you have received in your assignments, exams, or theses (please also scan/link to original sources for verification). Remember that it is easier for me to paint a positive portrait of you if I am armed with information about your successes. (6) Anything in particular that you want me to highlight. (7) Phone numbers (landline + mobile) that I can call if I have a question.

For MA, JD, MBA, MPA/MPP applicants, please do the same as PhD applicants minus the research proposal.

For university applications where I will be required to submit the same letter to many different institutions, I prefer to use Interfolio’s letter writing service or Vitae’s free dossier service.They provide an efficient way for me to deal with the many requests I receive for reference letters. Dossier services are  efficient and effective. (I have no ties to Interfolio or Vitae.)

Job/Internship References: Please provide the job title, the department, the organization, and the job reference number. Who should the letter be directed to? From the job description, highlight the key skills required. If there is something in particular you want me to highlight in the letter (your passion for X, a particular bit of work experience), please be clear about it. As before, if you performed particularly well on a course, in an assignment, exam, or thesis, then please bring this to my attention (scan/link to original sources for verification). Make it as easy as possible for me to say good things about you in a way that will help you get the job you want.

Confidentiality: Before making such a request, please bear in mind that I will only provide a confidential letter of reference and that you must agree to waive access to this letter. If you do not waive access, the letter will simply be discounted.

Materials: Please provide the necessary forms, instructions, and deadlines (postmark/email/receipt). To write a proper letter for you, I would like a copy of your latest transcript, a c.v., a description of the job/graduate program/initiative, and your statement of purpose (or equivalent).

Please try to make this easy for me. I receive many requests for recommendations and I would appreciate it if you provide complete information.

Notice: Please give me at least 2 weeks’ notice before the deadline. Also bear in mind that if a hard copy is expected, you will need to factor in this time as well. (Again, Interfolio/Vitae is recommended here.) I will notify you when the letter is sent. If you do not hear from me the day before the deadline, please send me a reminder.

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