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Getting a strong Letter of Recommendation from a prof with whom you have not done research


deepmetal

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Hi everyone,

I am am international graduate student in the University of Maryland currently pursuing my MS. I am planning to apply for PhD programs for Fall 2012 to some other universities (MIT, Caltech, Berkeley etc.) as well. Currently I am doing research with a professor in my department and I am getting a letter of recommendation ( LOR) from him. For the other two LORs, I am not sure who I should approach. I can get one from a prof in my undergrad school or from a scientist under whom I worked during my internships but I wonder if they would have the same impact as a LOR from UMD. But I am not sure who I should approach for the third LOR.

I feel that having two LORs from professors in Univ. of Maryland would give a better chance of nailing a good PhD admit. So far I have done well in my courses ( 'A' s in all courses, but I guess thats common ) but only my advisor is knows about the research that I am doing right now. Currently no other prof from the university is associated with my research group. I am not sure how to showcase my research skills to profs under whom I have taken classes, so as to get a strong LOR.

Can anyone offer some advice ?

Thanks for going through my message.

Regards,

Deepmetal

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I was in a similar situation and this is what I did:

I asked a professor that I knew fairly well to right a LOR. The class I took with him related to my research interests. I discussed my research interests and also gave him a copy of my related research paper. Although I never worked with him, from the information I gave him, and his history with the topic, he was able to assess my skills and ability and give an ostensibly good recommendation.

Edited by SJS
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The best case is a strong letter from a big-shot researcher, but a strong letter from a small name is generally better than a mediocre one from a big name.

Also, small-name programs sometimes have big-name researchers. If your internship supervisor or your undergrad prof are big names in their own right, it doesn't matter much if they come from smaller-name institutions.

"Did Well In Class" recommendations are a waste. However, are any of your classes seminar or research-based classes related to your field of interest? You might be able to impress a professor with a particularly strong and innovative term project, for instance.

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  • 1 month later...
"Did Well In Class" recommendations are a waste. However, are any of your classes seminar or research-based classes related to your field of interest? You might be able to impress a professor with a particularly strong and innovative term project, for instance.

What if you had lots of chit-chat with the professor? Or what if you managed to kill the curves for a class? (not just 4.0 it, but get a score of 98%, when the next highest score was a mere 85%?)

Also, what if the form had a "rank the applicant compared to all the other students you've ever taught" option? (where you could be in the top 1% that he's ever taught). Could that be a place where you could get a good recommendation letter despite it not being very detailed?

As someone said in another thread: "The best LORs have two main features: 1) Comparison superlatives (e.g. level of _____ far surpasses all students in my 20-40 year career as a professor)

2) Talking very specifically about your work and accomplishment "

And comparison superlatives are much easier for classes than for research (since most undergrad research isn't really that exceptional).

Edited by InquilineKea
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@SJS : Thats a very idea. I am also going to do something similar. But I need to be able to write something by the time I apply for the PhD program. In all my courses I have had to do projects which required significant effort. I hope this will work in my favor when the prof writes me the recommendation letter.

@Inquiline : I did not manage to kill the curve for sure, but I managed to get an A in his course. Only two guys got A's out of 15 odd students. Not sure if this is anything spectacular.

But I have another question now. To what extent does publication matters for students who already have got a MS ? I presume that the bar for students with an MS will be even higher as compared to students with only a Bachelor's applying for the same program. What if I do not manage to crack out a publication by December this year ?

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