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Who to ask for my letters of recc.?

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I have three people that I want to write me letters of recommendation: my faculty mentor/thesis advisor, another thesis advisor who has known me since freshman year, and a professor I had last year that I have a great relationship with. The other day, my internship supervisor who oversees my work in the research field I want to get into offered to write me a letter as well, and then a third professor joined the advising team for my thesis. Who would be the people that I should reach out to?

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I think the best choices are the people who can speak to your research work and scholarly potential the best. So, if you are limited to three, the top three from your list would be:

- thesis advisor
- other thesis advisor who has known you since freshman year
- internship supervisor who oversees your work (assuming they are a faculty member too...but if not, then perhaps more details is needed for all of these people).

The other two choices are less desirable because the "prof from last year" sounds like someone who taught you a class but did not supervise any work and the third prof on the advising team may not know you as long as the other three.

If the internship supervisor is not a faculty member, then you might want to consider adding a 4th letter if the schools allows it and if you think all 4 letters are going to be strong. 

Finally, keep in mind that you can ask more than 3 people for letters in general because you might not use the same 3 for every application. You would figure out which letters you want to send to which schools before making the request. It's also okay to chat with these people and see whether they think a letter from them can be especially helpful for certain schools. e.g. maybe you do want to include that 3rd thesis advisor as a 4th letter if you are applying to a school where this prof has a great relationship with.

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Sounds like you have several good options, so at this point I would ask who knows you best, can talk about your research abilities and potential, and will together cover everything there is to say about your different experiences? In general, a letter from someone who you've done research with (thesis advisor, internship mentor, lab supervisor, etc) would be better than a letter from a professor who you only took a class from, but there are caveats. If the course was a seminar that you wrote a good paper for, if you participated a lot, if they're very famous, those might be reasons to ask this person for a letter, especially if your two thesis advisors might write about very similar things. But as a whole, I think the advice above would be my choice, too. 

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  • 4 months later...


I have a similar problem, though it's for my third recommender. (Applying for a PhD in Anthropology, an international student with an MA in Development Studies). I guess I'm also freaking out because of the insane condition that some schools have that all 3 recommenders be Doctorates. 

I graduated 2 years back and have held one full time job since, that I quit exactly a year ago. Since then, I've done short term consulting projects for 2 different  places. I just started working at a full-time job again this week.

While I wrote to my last full-time boss earlier this week, she hasn't responded or picked up my calls. She is known to be quite unresponsive until the deadline, however she hasn't accepted or declined my request and that really worries me. She's the only supervisor I've worked with for a considerable period of time after graduation, though an Economist who works in public policy. She holds a PhD from one of the schools I'm applying to and I guess that would really help atleast there. 

I also reached out to another supervisor (she's an architect) from my recent project, who has also not responded. But I believe she is travelling. Though I worked with her for about 3 months for this assignment, I've known her for about two years and have been a regular contributor to her firm's research blog. 

I don't think it's a good idea to ask a letter from my newest supervisor, because it's been only a week. This is a research organization and she too, holds a Doctorate.  

My final option is to ask a professor from my old department (both my other referees are old professors too, one was my Supervisor and the other person is an expert in my area of interest). The person I have in mind is someone that I share a very cordial relationship with and we've been in touch and on good terms over the last two year. However, he taught me only one course (which is closely allied to my research interest) and knew me outside the classroom for my other volunteering activities on campus. However, this would mean that all my referees are only from my college days and do not speak to my professional acumen. 

Please give your suggestions and feedback guys! I'm in a conundrum and have no idea what to do!


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