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I was curious if anyone asked their lecturers writing their letters of rec if they could see them or if anyone simply checked the box on the applications stating that they did not waive their rights to read them. I'm sure my lecturers wouldn't mind showing me the letters they wrote, I know they were all positive, but it seems gauche to ask. It would be useful in case I'm reapplying next year to have some idea of what they said in the recs so I have a better idea of what to make sure I cover in my SOP and what I can maybe leave out because it was emphasized in the letters. Of course I feel in a bit of a double-bind now because even if it's not weird to ask, it does seem as though I'm suspicious if I ask them when I've been rejected, as if implying that their letters had anything to do with it. Suggestions?

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I asked, fully knowing it was gauche in the extreme, and was refused. They did all assure me, however, that the letters would be glowing, stellar, etc..

It can't hurt to ask, really. You'll look a little awkward, maybe, but you can always put it down to anxiety and obsessiveness.

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I don't think it is appropriate to ask. Some writers will just give the letters to you (a few of mine have done that), but if they don't offer, I wouldn't ask. As for not checking the box, I've heard of recommenders who won't provide letters if that is done because they don't have the privacy to really express their opinions. I think LORs (as frustrating as it can be!) remain a mysterious, inscrutable part of the app package.

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One of my professors initially told me he would show me a draft of my letter, but during the application process I lost interest in seeing any of them. I just wanted them submitted. I plan on asking one of my recommenders now out of curiosity. One school I applied to did not ask me to waive my access to them. There's really no awkwardness in it for me.

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I agree with Lioness. One of my letter writers volunteered one or two sentences (I didn't ask to see it), which was very overwhelming. I couldn't imagine reading the whole letter. In any case, the letters are not written for me to read; it's simply not my place to put someone who has done such a gracious thing as write me recommendations in an awkward spot.

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Each time I've needed letters (Grad school apps as an undergrad, and then fellowship apps as a grad student) I've had one professor send me the letter- but only one, and I've never asked to see any of the others. What they wrote is between them and the committee, and I don't think it's my place to ask. If it's offered, that's fine.

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You guys are right. I knew I shouldn't ask, but it's so hard not to know. One of my lecturers talked about how some of the refs one gets at this stage will be ones we request again when looking for work and again when moving up in our fields--we've already begun accumulating the recs we might be using in 20 years when trying to get that professorship or senior lectureship. Weird thought and just adds fuel to the fire.

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I should add, i'm in the UK and my reasons for asking to see the letters lie in the very different cultures between the US and UK: namely one's fondness for understatement. From what i've heard, it's pretty standard for a LOR to say "X was the absolute best student i've ever taught even in my life" and go on like that for pages. In the UK, things tend not be over-egged like that. Only one of my LORs knew anything about the US system (he was himself American), so it seemed sensible to ask--it didn't hurt--on the offchance that they might say yes. I know friends who have had some really bad experiences with LORs,

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I should add, i'm in the UK and my reasons for asking to see the letters lie in the very different cultures between the US and UK: namely one's fondness for understatement. From what i've heard, it's pretty standard for a LOR to say "X was the absolute best student i've ever taught even in my life" and go on like that for pages. In the UK, things tend not be over-egged like that. Only one of my LORs knew anything about the US system (he was himself American), so it seemed sensible to ask--it didn't hurt--on the offchance that they might say yes. I know friends who have had some really bad experiences with LORs,

Michael Bibler, by any chance?

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Michael Bibler, by any chance?

No, it was at the uni where i did my BA. By the time applications started coming due i'd only been at Manchester for 10 weeks and had had no assessments back; that's no time to expect glowing (or even vaguely personalised) LORs. When i reapply next year, though (as seems likely), i'll be going for two if not all three from Manchester. Not Bibler. though.

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I should add, i'm in the UK and my reasons for asking to see the letters lie in the very different cultures between the US and UK: namely one's fondness for understatement. From what i've heard, it's pretty standard for a LOR to say "X was the absolute best student i've ever taught even in my life" and go on like that for pages. In the UK, things tend not be over-egged like that. Only one of my LORs knew anything about the US system (he was himself American), so it seemed sensible to ask--it didn't hurt--on the offchance that they might say yes. I know friends who have had some really bad experiences with LORs,

As a fellow European, this is so true! I had one recommender from the American system (although originally from Britain) and two from Europe, and I heard later from my recommender (at a university to which I applied) that her colleague who had read my file had commented on my other two references "I'm sure they think 'X' is smart, but they don't seem really enthusiastic" or sth like that. It's just a cultural thing. One just has to hope that they make allowances for it.

On the flip-side, one of my other recommenders told me about looking through post-doc apps for my home-home uni, and having to "filter" through the gushing and unrealistic praise overflowing the recs from American professors. :P

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Your two cents is extremely US-centric.

Guilty as charged. I didn't see that the poster was from the UK; however, given the handle, I probably should have caught that! My apologies. So I'd say my two cents just applies to us Yanks :) Are British professors famously reserved or something?

Edited by RockDenali
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