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Should I pick LOR writer who was my lab/research supervisor, one whose course I did well in or one whose field of work is relevant to the program I am applying to? Five possible choices.

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So I need two LORs for all of my applications, and I have one slot already filled. My next one will likely be from one of the following five people. The first two wrote LORs for me five years ago(when I unsuccessfully applied to grad school), so I would be asking them both a second time:


Number 1: Professor of geography. She never had me as a student but I worked in her lab for two years, did a research project, got a small grant to pay for some lab tests and presented the research at a conference. She even said explicitly that she'd write me an LOR before I even asked for one. I also knew her well and even went to some hangouts with her outside of school.

Number 2: Professor of mathematics. I took a year of statistics courses from him and did very well, getting A's both semesters. I also did a research project for his class and presented it, but he was not the research mentor for the project, although he did give me advice along the way, so he was familiar with what I was doing. He's a really nice guy and was happy to write me one the first time.

Number 3: Professor of anthropology. I took one class from her and got an A in it. I also did a video project for her class, got a grant to pay for some recording equipment and presented it as a sort of "creative expression" project. She was an incredibly kind woman and I am guessing she would write me an LOR if I asked, but I didn't know her for as long as the other ones.

Number 4: Professor of biology. I took a class from him and got an A in it. He was also my boss (we worked for some science education mentoring program) along with being a research mentor and is a co-author on a publication of mine. I always found him to be a bit intimidating for some reason and I was unsure about how he felt about me, but he did say some really nice things about me when I graduated and finished working. I had asked him for a letter the first time I applied and he said he would do it, but I ended up not using him because my friend said she asked him for one and he basically gave her the "write it for me and I'll let you know if it works" spiel. I would say this one has the advantage of knowing me in a class, research and work setting, but I am not sure if he would write as good of a letter as the other three.

Number 5: Supervisor from my time in the Peace Corps as an English teaching volunteer. This one would be the most relevant to my degree, as he has seen me teach English and can vouch for my foreign language fluency and my ability to adapt to living overseas. I have a good relationship with him, and he's a very nice guy, but I wouldn't say that I was an absolutely stellar volunteer - just average. My working relationship with him is also the most recent being my supervisor from 2017-2019. But I don't know how well of a letter he would write and if he even has experience writing LORs.


The thing is, my undergraduate degree was in anthropology, but I am applying to graduate programs in TESOL, so the only real relevant one is number 5, but I am also less certain of how willing he'd be to do it. Right now, I am leaning towards number 1, but I started wondering if the fact that she never had me as a student would work against me. Any advice on which choice would be the best?

Edited by gradschoolcoolguy
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  • gradschoolcoolguy changed the title to Should I pick LOR writer who was my lab/research supervisor, one whose course I did well in or one whose field of work is relevant to the program I am applying to? Five possible choices.
  • 2 weeks later...

Part of this depends on who your other LOR will be from.

Does you program specifically state what kind of references they want? Some programs ask specifically for academic-only references, some might say one academic and one potentially professional.

To cut it down some, I would suggest against 2 and 3, since they just aren't as strong as the others.


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