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Letters of Recommendation Advice


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Hi everyone! 

It's April, so it's dawned on me that I should start more-seriously prepping my application for the next cycle for Clinical/Counseling PhD programs. 

I'm going to reach out to ask for letters of recommendations. I am in the fortunate situation of having too many good choices, and would like input on how to optimize them.

1. One of my letters will definitely be from a lab I worked with for most of undergrad which pertains directly to my chosen area of study. I already asked when I left. 

The other two are up in the air. 


- PI from the lab I did my undergrad thesis in. I really, really like them on a personal level, and they've always been very supportive and complimentary of my work. 


- Professor who taught the class associated with my undergrad thesis program (a tenured PhD faculty member at my university). They've soft-offered to write a LOR, and it seems like they have a great track record of getting people into programs. Is it better, however, to ask for a LOR from the PI I directly worked under? Will it look bad to ask a professor, even though the class they taught was an intimate research seminar/basically just teaching me how to design and write up my thesis project? 


- Since undergrad I've been volunteering for a suicide hotline. They will write LOR's, but I'm sure it's just a form letter. By the time I apply I'll have been working with them for 1.5 years, so I like being able to reflect somewhat long-term work, particularly since my resume after undergrad has been kind of spotty. However, this is probably last choice. 


- I've been doing a little bit of volunteer work with a professor at a nearby institution to the city I live in now. The issue is, by the time I apply I will have been working with them for only about 8 months. I also have no sense of how our relationship will develop overtime. When would I even ask this person for a LOR? 

So basically, TLDR; how do I best represent my thesis? How do I best represent my time after undergrad? Should I just ask both faculty members associated with my thesis, even though that won't reflect anything I've done post-bacc? 

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In my non-expert opinion, I feel like your best bet moving forward would be to get your letters from your undergraduate lab and the two professors (former PI and former course professor). I essentially had the same LOR. 1 from my undergrad PI, 1 from a professor I took several courses with, and the last from my current supervisor at work. The advice I was given the first time I applied was to get as many professors who know you well enough academically to write you letters AND someone who can speak to your work ethic. If the rec from the suicide hotline is more of a form letter, that might not put your best foot forward. In terms of the professor you could potentially have a stronger relationship with around application season...I wouldn't want to put my third egg in an uncertain basket when it comes to these applications.

But those are just my thoughts based on advice I've been given the past few years!

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Yes, just do the LOR from the lab you already asked, your PI from your undergrad thesis, and your prof who taught your thesis class.  You want your LORs to be PhDs and ideally LORs that speak to your research and academic/coursework abilities. For sure dont do the suicide hotline and probably don't do the prof you volunteer with since you seem to already have LORs who can speak to your research experiences.


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