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How Long Should You Know a Prof Before Asking for a Letter?

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I don't think it's a matter of how long you know the professor, but what you think your relationship is. If you've known a professor for only a month, but you've already done work in his lab and your relationship is good, that's fine. If you've known a professor for 2 years, but you didn't do much in the lab other than wash dishes, and you rarely saw him except once a month, then that's probably not going to be a great letter.

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I'm not a science person, so my answer is a little different than monochrome's, as Literature students don't do lab work, and more like zapster's. I think the answer lies in how well the professor knows your abilities. When I have advised undergrads, I generally find they've taken at least two classes with the professors they ask for LOR's and in addition they've developed a significant rapport with them. However, one of my classmates asked a prof that he'd only known for a semester for a recommendation, and got a very strong one, so there is some variability here. 


The short answer is: your professor should know you well enough to be able to speak for your ability to complete whatever graduate degree you're applying for. Since this is the case, you should be certain this professor has seen your absolute best work and work ethic. 


Lastly, it is OK to ask, "Dr. So-and-so, would you feel comfortable writing me a letter of recommendation for grad programs?" That gives the professor a chance to bow out if they feel they don't know you well enough, and you'll get the added bonus of being sure of their support.

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