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Helenacyl

Professor refused to write to top schools

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I am pretty new here, so I am not sure whether my case frequently happens on others.

I just got my master degree from a university ranking around 50 in US. Currently I am applying phd programs for 2013 fall. Going to top schools have been one of my dreams these years. For me, it doesn't hurt to try in my application.

But my professor concerns that those top schools are long shorts for me. And my "unreasonable" application strategy may have a substantial negative impact on the reputation of recommenders. And my professor asked me to sit and talk with him regarding my application.

Do you think I should insist on choosing him as my referral? Since this professor is the best referral among my referrals: he knew me well, he had very good impression about me ( I took his course before; he gave me high grade and actively offer me TA for him), and he was most renowned professor among the three (actually he is the head of my department), I really hope that he can write LOR for me.

So what shall I do? What shall I say when I talk to him?

I know the worst situation is that to find another professor now, which is only two or three weeks before deadlines...

Any idea? Any suggestions will be appreciated!

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If you're applying to a program I think it is because you are convinced that you can get in. Try to make the case for yourself, and try to change his mind.

If you're compelling enough, he may sign it. That's basically what you'll do when applying to a school: convincing the admissions committee that they have to accept you.

But also find a backup. You don't want to be left hanging without any time to make additional movements.

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Guest Gnome Chomsky

Wow. That's kinda cold. Especially since he seemed to like you. Still, I would try to convince him. If you really want to go to a top school, I don't think you should let anything stop you. That is kinda screwed up on his part.

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Is there a specific reason he can cite? Surely there has to be more to the story. It sounds like he's actively trying to dissuade you from applying to certain schools, which is...well, not cool if it's undeserved.

And if he's truly reluctant to write an LOR for you, I'm not sure it's a great idea to insist on a letter from him. It may end up forced, lackluster, or coded with "I don't truly endorse this applicant," and a negative LOR is application suicide.

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It sounds to me like he's trying to tell you that he won't be able to write you a strong letter of recommendation for those schools. I would talk to him about it. It's possible that he might have attended one of these schools himself, or have worked at one in the past, and so he has a good sense of the type of students that are typically admitted. If he is very reluctant, I would take that seriously (and probably not ask him to write to those schools...). Also, I would ask him to suggest other programs that he thinks would be a good fit.

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I'm not sure how common your situation is, but having scanned these forums (fora?) for a couple of months, it seems that plenty of people have gotten negative recommendations from referees who initially seemed enthusiastic about their applications. If this professor is actively trying to dissuade you from applying or telling you that you don't have "the right stuff" for these programs, then I would strongly advise you against using him as a reference. Even if he is 100% wrong about your merit, he will not write you a strong letter of recommendation. At best, if you convince him you're serious about applying, he will write you a qualified letter of recommendation with numerous caveats. This will most likely send red flags to any university to which you are applying.

I agree with previous posters that if you have a good relationship with him personally, you should try to find out why he is so hesitant to support your applications to these various schools. Perhaps it is a matter of fit - he thinks you would be better off elsewhere. If he does have legitimate concerns about your abilities, however, then at that point you have to decide whether or not he is misguided.

Good luck! It sounds like a difficult situation.

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You should talk to some other professors honestly about your admission chances. I was once in your situation and I asked my other profs, about my chances and I actually said that I am asking this because of the discouragement I got from this other prof.

By the end of the conversations(I talked to 5 different people) I learned a lot about the field, departmental politics, interdepartmental politics and my actual chances with my stats. All of these can play into this person trying to dissuade from top schools. Try to listen to the other profs and piece together the puzzle (oh and by the end of that discussion round, I had more than enough recommenders and I had a better idea where I want to apply.so while this route is scary it can really work ). Good luck!

Edited by kaykaykay

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It sounds to me like he's trying to tell you that he won't be able to write you a strong letter of recommendation for those schools. I would talk to him about it. It's possible that he might have attended one of these schools himself, or have worked at one in the past, and so he has a good sense of the type of students that are typically admitted. If he is very reluctant, I would take that seriously (and probably not ask him to write to those schools...). Also, I would ask him to suggest other programs that he thinks would be a good fit.

I'm not sure how common your situation is, but having scanned these forums (fora?) for a couple of months, it seems that plenty of people have gotten negative recommendations from referees who initially seemed enthusiastic about their applications. If this professor is actively trying to dissuade you from applying or telling you that you don't have "the right stuff" for these programs, then I would strongly advise you against using him as a reference. Even if he is 100% wrong about your merit, he will not write you a strong letter of recommendation. At best, if you convince him you're serious about applying, he will write you a qualified letter of recommendation with numerous caveats. This will most likely send red flags to any university to which you are applying.

I agree with previous posters that if you have a good relationship with him personally, you should try to find out why he is so hesitant to support your applications to these various schools. Perhaps it is a matter of fit - he thinks you would be better off elsewhere. If he does have legitimate concerns about your abilities, however, then at that point you have to decide whether or not he is misguided.

Good luck! It sounds like a difficult situation.

Is there a specific reason he can cite? Surely there has to be more to the story. It sounds like he's actively trying to dissuade you from applying to certain schools, which is...well, not cool if it's undeserved.

And if he's truly reluctant to write an LOR for you, I'm not sure it's a great idea to insist on a letter from him. It may end up forced, lackluster, or coded with "I don't truly endorse this applicant," and a negative LOR is application suicide.

Yeah, you are right. When I talked to him yesterday, he tried to persuade me not to apply those schools and listed many programs that he felt like I have zero probability to get into. But I am not sure how right he is, for my school doesn't have a PhD program in my field. Even though he is the head of my department, he himself said that he's not that familiar with current application market. I think one of the most important reason he concerns is his reputation. He told me that he has some contacts with professors in those schools, whom he considers might get Nobel Prize some day. From his talking, it seems that he is still on the way to build higher reputation in the field.That's why he's so careful in recommending students to those schools where the professors he desired to connect work. Yet after listing all the impossibilities and difficulties, he said if I insist, he would still write "good recommendation letter" for me. and do whatever he can to help me. But I don't know how "good" he means. Also he did doubt my ability to excel in those programs, for he said, they are genius people. but we are only smart...

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I find it really bad that he's trying to dissuade you from reaching high. It seems weird for a professor who's a department head, and presumably experienced, to put those programs on some genius pedestal and not to know that all kinds of students will often try and apply to top programs. Or for him to not to know that while some professors may be "geniuses", hardly everyone there or their students are. I've never heard of an honest recommendation letter harming the reputation of a professor.

I would personally try to find someone less in awe of these schools and more grounded in reality, and who is willing to support you unreservedly in your ambitions. It seems like he's gonna write the letter but even if it is good there will be that reluctance, and it may come out when he's talking about whether he thinks you'll do well at the program there or not. You'd need to clear this out with him before you ask him to write it.

Either way you decide, make sure you apply to other programs as well besides those top choices. I don't know how it is in finance, but top programs can be really competitive and they often get more qualified applicants than they can accept.

Edited by TeaGirl

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I'm going to go against the grain of this thread and say that I think you should take your professor's advice to heart. Yes, it's possible that he's underestimating you, and yes, it's also possible that he's looking out for his reputation ahead of your career, but I think the more likely scenario is that he honestly feels that it would not be worth your time and money to apply to the schools he has discouraged you from. He may also feel that you would be more comfortable, maybe even more successful, in a somewhat lower ranked department.

My sense is that he would like to write a positive letter for you, but it will be difficult for him to write a credible letter to a top department strongly recommending you for admission (and presumably you would need a very strong recommendation to stand a chance of admission). Depending on how big your field is, it may actually be the case that "going to bat" for you may make faculty at top departments think less of his judgment. If you heed his advice and target more 'realistic' schools, I suspect that his letter will be quite positive.

Obviously, there's a lot of subtext here and the full story is unclear, so you are welcome to ignore this advice and seek another letter writer who presumably does not know you as well. But though professors' judgments about their students' abilities and potential can be wrong, they're usually more objective than students themselves.

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I'm going to go against the grain of this thread and say that I think you should take your professor's advice to heart. Yes, it's possible that he's underestimating you, and yes, it's also possible that he's looking out for his reputation ahead of your career, but I think the more likely scenario is that he honestly feels that it would not be worth your time and money to apply to the schools he has discouraged you from. He may also feel that you would be more comfortable, maybe even more successful, in a somewhat lower ranked department.

My sense is that he would like to write a positive letter for you, but it will be difficult for him to write a credible letter to a top department strongly recommending you for admission (and presumably you would need a very strong recommendation to stand a chance of admission). Depending on how big your field is, it may actually be the case that "going to bat" for you may make faculty at top departments think less of his judgment. If you heed his advice and target more 'realistic' schools, I suspect that his letter will be quite positive.

Obviously, there's a lot of subtext here and the full story is unclear, so you are welcome to ignore this advice and seek another letter writer who presumably does not know you as well. But though professors' judgments about their students' abilities and potential can be wrong, they're usually more objective than students themselves.

Thank you very much! I think your suggestion is really reasonable. Yeah, even though he's trying to discourage me from applying those schools, I do think he is a good professor who will think from student's perspective and try whatever to help, at least from my previous experience. After talking with him and reading all the posts following my topic, I do think I need to be more realistic: not only save my time and money, but also save professor's. He is a respectable professor. I don't want his time and energy, or even reputation, wasted or hurt because of helping me. I will still try one or two of those schools, but target more on lower-ranking schools. Thanks again!

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I would never go for a reference from someone reluctant to do it, no matter the circumstances. If you have no other sound alternatives you should consider, in my view, putting aside your PhD ambition for now and work a bit before preparing a stronger application with other referees. Of course I don't know your whole situation so that's just my 2 cent. I also find it utterly surprising that he argues on the basis of his fame and possible connections with Professors at Harvard or similar institutions, how could a reference have an impact on his own career? It seems insane to me or at least totally paranoid.

Edited by Lud

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