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Could definitely use some advice. I'm applying for PhD programs in Urban Education/Sociology and Education with the goal of working as an education researcher. I am currently working as a Senior Research Associate at an educational nonprofit and I basically want to be able to continue to do my job at a more advanced level. I have two of my recommenders secured: the first is my immediate supervisor of 2 years, who holds a PhD herself and can speak to my capacities as a researcher and passion for education. The second is a Research Director of a institute at a nearby university, who I have collaborated with through my current position on a few conference presentations and a peer-reviewed article.

Now, I graduated undergrad 10 years ago and finished my masters 3.5 years ago. I did well in grad school academically but I'd be very surprised if any of my professors remembered me personally from class. My original plan was to ask a professor who wrote truly glowing things on every paper I wrote for her class and even assigned a group paper I worked on as assigned reading the following semester. In response to my request, this professor wrote, " I can’t say how you will perform at the doctoral level for several reasons: 1. Masters level work is indicative but not predictive of the quality of doctoral work; 2. I can only speak to your performance based on one class; and 3. Your final paper was excellent but it was a team effort." ... ?‍♀️

I definitely assumed too confidently that that professor would have agreed to recommend me. So now I'm freaking out a bit with only 5 weeks til my first deadline and I think I have 2 options: 1) I can go ask one of my other grad school professors. I got A's in most classes but do not have personal connections with any professors and haven't spoken to most people in this category in 4-5 years. 2) I can ask the VP of my organization, who also holds a PhD and can speak much more specifically to my unique strengths and abilities, but she would be a third person who knows me primarily from a work context and not as a professor. What do you think? Better to go with a so-so academic recommendation or a strong professional one, given that I have already committed to 2 recommenders who are not former professors? Thanks!!

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I'm not in your field, but I'd recommend trying another grad school professor. Since you've been working in your field for so long, I think it's fine you have two non-academic references, but it would definitely help to have at least one be academic. 3.5 years isn't that long to be out of grad school, I'm sure at least one of them remembers you and would be willing to write one.

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