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LORs from a Study Abroad


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I am a third year undergraduate at a large US state university. However, it actually does not have any researchers in the scientific field I plan to pursue graduate work in. So, while I will have one or two strong LORs from professors at my university, I have not yet secured a letter from a researcher in my own field.

Last semester I studied at a foreign institution which put me in contact with several researchers in my field. I feel it appropriate to ask for LORs from two researchers, one whose class I performed quite well in and another whom I met with to get advice and criticism on my work. I will not be applying to graduate programs until 2014, and it seems bad to wait to ask for these letters until I am putting together my applications in a year or more. Is it appropriate to email them, explaining my situation once again and asking if I could count on them for a letter of recommendation in a year and a half? I realize that these letters must be submitted by these people themselves, so what would the best course of action be to get these LORs to graduate programs in 2014?

Thank you in advance for any help.

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Is it appropriate to email them, explaining my situation once again and asking if I could count on them for a letter of recommendation in a year and a half? I realize that these letters must be submitted by these people themselves, so what would the best course of action be to get these LORs to graduate programs in 2014?

I think it a reasonable to do that, but I'm not sure if the LOR from the "researcher" who you had a class with (a professor I assumed?) would help. Unless you were not officially enrolled at that institution and you don't have a transcript from that school, otherwise, your class performance should be shown on the transcript. I supposed advice from TGC that you would get is don't waste a LOR on someone who only know you through a class that you get an A whatsoever.

As for the other "researcher" who you get advice from, he/she may know you better personally, which put them in a better position to evaluate whether you are a good candidate for a particular graduate program(s) or field(s). Remember that graduate school application isn't just about your academic performance, hence your LORs are extremely important to reflect how good you are as a person, a colleague, and a researcher.

I was in a similar situation when I wanted to apply grad school years ago -- but I had to go back to my home country the year before I apply grad schools (on top of that, I took a year off before going back to my home country). I actually asked my LORs if they are willing to write me letters (While it make sense that your PI would write you a letter after all these years, professors who you didn't work with may be hesitate to do so.) Fortunately, my LOR (who wasn't my PI) understood my situation and this person eventually wrote me a letter.

ps. I did not take any classes with this professor; however, this professor was closed to my mentor (who was a year ahead of me as an undergrad) and was in good terms with my PI, which allows me to get to know this professor better, and vice versa.

Edited by aberrant
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Thanks for the advice. You're right in presuming the POIs are professors. I probably should have specified that. Of course, I acknowledge that you're right in warning me about wasting a LOR on a professor I never knew outside the classroom, but considering that I frequently visited that professor during office hours to get advice and follow up with problems that arose, I feel that this might be a good reason to ask for a LOR. Still, I'll have to give it some thought whether a strong LOR from someone not in the field would be worth more.

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I would say a LOR from an established professor who is in another/outside of your interested field (from field B) weight more than a less established professor who does research in your field (from field A). Simply because LOR would also evaluate your ability in research, critical thinking, professionalism, etc. -- all that stuff that can be observed regardless what field s/he is in. Obviously profs from field A = ideal, but for a scenario where prof from field B had 100 grad students and that from field A had 10 grad students, wouldn't the prof. from field B be a better judge? (Just a way to show that LOR from the same field may not always be the best letter.)

Of course you don't have to agree with what I said. But keep in mind that one of the better things about going to grad school in the U.S. is you can switch fields / research interest that isn't the same as your undergraduate studies (especially for the interdisciplinary ones.) However, I don't think my opinion has a strong foundation if your major is hugely different than what you want to pursue in grad school (which is not the same as professional school(s)).

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