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LOR from grad student?


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So I worked for a year for a Grad student and he knows me very well (like how hard I work, how good, etc). The problem is, the PI does not know me and has never supervise me working (huge lab). Since the PI doesn't know me, he told me he won't write a good rec letter (he told me this). The grad student knows me and will write a strong good letter, so I want to get one from the grad student, but my current mentor (another PI) told me not to since it's better to get LOR from a professor. Should I get the letter from the Grad student or one from a class (related to the program) that I got an A from?

Btw the grad student is famous for being one of the best in the program (highest grade (even though grade doesn't matter in grad school lol), published couple papers in high ranked journal, won fellowships all the time (including NSF), crazy teaching exp, became instructor (not TA anymore) couple of times) and I'm applying to the same program as him in the same school. He's going to graduate in 3 months. So I'd say his opinion *should* has some weight as well.

My current LOR:

1) A PI (prof) which is my current mentor (I worked for him 1.5 years, she told me it's "friggin strong", and she's in adcom of the program)

2) Small upper div class (5 ppl) I got A from (I kind of know the prof, we went field trip, etc)

3) Either the grad student or another small upper div class (30 ppl) I got A+ from (I also kind of know the prof since he knows I worked very hard e.g. I came to office hour, discussed assignments a lot, etc)

FYI I have bare minimum GPA and above average GRE and slightly above average experience.

Edited by exacerbated
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I would get the recommendation from the prof. The grad student may be excellent but probably he does not have the academic accountability that a prof has ( he is not playing with his reputation when giving out glowing recommendations so they will take his word probably with a pinch of salt). Also he has not seen enough to be able to be taken seriously if he writes that this is the best student I have seen in my career. If I someone asked me for such a recommendation I would refuse to do it because I would not want to do any student a disservice.

your advisor has probably been an adcom a lot of times and knows which LORs give applicants an edge.

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Is it possible to submit both? You should probably have the professor as your third but having the grad student as your fourth won't hurt and if he is as well respected in the program as you say, it will probably help.

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Here is the fundamental problem with having a grad student be your recommender for a PhD program:

The point of recommendations is for your recommenders to vouch that you can succeed in and complete a PhD program. A grad student, no matter how great a grad student, hasn't completed his or her PhD. He or she still has part of the process left. Why would anybody take his or her assurance that you can complete your PhD seriously?

For people (like me) who have worked in industry between undergrad and doctoral study, this problem comes up with our bosses. Depending on who my boss is over the next year, I could run into this. However, at least a boss in an industry research position has the experience of being a PI, even if he or she doesn't have a doctorate, and can attest to your ability to become a PI. It's something, at least.

If the recommender were a postdoc, it would be different. A postdoc might not be a famous scholar or anything yet (and might not have had the experience of being a PI - the opposite problem from the industry boss), but a postdoc has completed his or her doctorate.

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kalapocska, LJK, and starmaker, thanks a lot for your replies.

The application only allow three therefore it's either the grad student or the prof.

I'll get the rec from professor then. You're right that the grad student didn't have the experience of PI and his recommendation could be taken as grain of salt (also since my adcom mentor told me not to)

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Maybe this suggestion comes belated, but have you tried asking if the professor will agree to signing a letter the grad student writes? I don't know if this is usual, and I haven't applied yet, so take my "advice" with a grain of salt. But in my college application, I did research with a *important* person at the university I applied to. Even though he was a really nice guy and really liked me as a student, he was also extremely busy and I probably consulted with him for a total of 2 hours during my whole summer there. I worked much more closely with his grad student (who just got her PhD when I joined). What ended up happening when I asked for a rec letter was that she told me the same thing your PI told you- that I should get a letter from him (the professor), BUT she can write the letter, run it through him, and have him sign it. That way, you kind of get the best of both worlds.

Now I may have been an exception, and I don't know how well or how little your PI knows you (or how much he/she even likes you as a student). If you haven't thought of this, maybe you should ask about it since it can't hurt. Just make sure that you get the OK from the big guy, and not just the student's word. This happened in my lab where a former grad student here (he transferred) promised undergraduates that he would write the letter than get the PI to sign it. Only problem was the undergraduate never got the explicit "okay" from the PI, and when he came back for his letter, no one had any idea what was going on. Apparently, the grad student made the promise but never did anything to go through with it.

Edited by cherubie
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I agree with Cherubie. I was going to suggest the same thing: have them co-sign the letter the grad student writes, or if its okay with the PI, have the student write the letter and he will sign it. It depends what the issue is. Is it that he doesn't want to write you a good letter for some reason, or just that he is busy and doesn't know you as well so was honest in saying it wouldn't be stellar because he doesn't have much to say?

If not, the prof is probably a fine choice as well!

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