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How to build relationship with professors to get good LOR


Averroes MD

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Hi,

 

I'm currently a master's student looking to do a PhD. Do you have any tips about how to get close to my professors so that I can get a good LOR from them?

 

What does, for example, one discuss during office hours?

(I understand that one should get close to professors for the value of the relationship itself, but alas, I am a bit "shy" with authority figures and so this is an area of difficulty for me.)

 

Thanks!

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Don't be shy, for one. Remember, one day you will be a peer and not just a student. So have confidence (while still being open to their wisdom) in yourself.

 

Take interest in their interests as well as share your own. Also share your goals (what you plan to do after MS, in this case PhD, and beyond so they can speak to your ambitions for your letters).

 

Also, do you not plan to go for your PhD at your current institution? Could you not position yourself to continue on after you defend your thesis? These professors probably have the best advice for you on that subject if you do plan to stay. So ask (it never hurts to).

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Something I did was hang out where the profs hung out for lunch. I ate there every day for almost my entire two years. They got to know me better (which is important because MA students tend to not have as much advising or interaction with profs compared to phds) and I think, in the end, it helped me network without seeming desperate or awkward. 

As Ian said, self-confidence is also key. Not only in regards to networking but in general. You need to have confidence re: your research/ideas because as a PhD, they're going to be torn apart, stepped on, and constantly revised. 

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Make sure you participate in classes but without dominating the discussion. You want to show that you've done the reading, can think critically, and are a good writer in the classroom because that's what people remember just as much (if not more sometimes) than the remember the out of class stuff. I have students in my office all the time but the rec letters tend to focus on the academics and research, not how much I enjoy talking to them about semi-random things on a Tuesday afternoon.

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I think this is all good advice, with the caveat regarding the 'hanging out where profs eat lunch' suggestion that you do so without seeming slightly creepy, like you are following them around scoping out their favorite lunch spots.  In that you are attending a divinity school, the refectory can be a nice place to have chance run-ins with your profs (if they deign to eat there from time to time).  Always balance eagerness with not coming off as a stalker. 

 

The most important thing for a good letter of recommendation is to have your recommenders see your work in a variety of settings.  You obviously need to take classes with them, and need to participate in those classes in a meaningful way, not just as a slathering graduate hopeful who wants to show off.  I think a good candidate for PhD work has a 'feel for the game' when it comes to this balance.  If you feel as though you don't know what to talk to a prof about during office hours or how to engage meaningfully and pointedly in a classroom setting, you should also bet that your prof notices this.  There unfortunately isn't a procedure for successfully carrying this out.  Like learning to cook, ride a bike, or play piano, you have to try things out and see what comes most comfortably to you.  You'll hit some wrong notes, burn some expensive steaks, and come off as a idiot a few times, but you'll come to point where you ask yourself: Do I burn the steaks more often than not? Do Chopin's nocturnes still come out sounding like a bad, late 90s art piece for piano despite my practicing them for a year? You get the idea.  This goes also to the question on another thread.  Some people just don't have any business applying to PhD programs, despite things like good grades, high GRE scores, and knowing fourteen languages.  They have a pair of Air Jordans, and have read every book on the technique and methods of basketball, but they can't make a layup. 

 

How's that for a bunch of mixed, confusing metaphors?

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