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Afraid of LOR fatigue


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I applied for the 2015 cycle, I didn't get an offer that I was excited enough about to commit to for the next 5-7 years of my life, so I'm going to apply again in the 2016 cycle.  

 

The process of submitting LORs for students has got to be exhausting and I'm worried about asking too much from the two professors I want to ask to go another round with me.  

1) A political science professor from undergrad (at a small LAC). That professor has submitted a lot of LORs on my behalf over the past 5 years. I'm most worried that I'm asking too much of this professor.

2) The director of my MA program (economics) who I have had as a professor 3 out of 4 semesters. He likes me but I think he's annoyed that I didn't just settle and take an offer I had.

3) I'm replacing one of the recommenders for reasons I can cover if they matter. Point is, I'm not worried about bothering my third recommender because it will be the first time I bother that professor for this.  

 

I feel like it could be perceived as a little arrogant because I applied to some top programs, it didn't go well, and I’m going to apply to some of them again, regardless of the apparent evidence against my suitability. Is this just a me-issue or do you think these are legitimate concerns? 

 

If anyone out there has written letters for students before, I would love your take on this too. 

Edited by Doe comma John
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Don't worry if they have submitted recommendations for you these professors have a rec of letter of you that they can update and submit. it is much easier than writing a new one (so actually you should be most worried about prof #3 (: ). I would be worried though about a recommender who last knew you 5 years ago. He cannot really say much about the person you are now. This is even more worrisome if you did an MA in the mean time... You did not take any poli sci classes in the past 5 years with professors that could address your skills? who would be excited about you ?That could be a problem...Maybe you can still take some if you are still doing your MA.

Edited by kaykaykay
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No, I have not taken a political science course since undergraduate. I am finishing my MA now (as in this semester, as in a few weeks from now), so I can't take one. I intend to study political economy, so I don't think the MA is irrelevant to my ultimate political science phd goal though. I could absolutely replace the undergraduate professor, I would actually really like to, but would that send the wrong message? I know there are two previously untapped professors who would submit letters on my behalf. Can I just have three letters from economists?

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I can almost guarantee that you will not have a successful cycle with three economists as your LOR writers. 

 

This is very false. Someone I know personally was admitted to all the T5 Poli Sci programs with 3 letters from economists last cycle. The person also never took a political science class (not even a political economy class in the econ dept). If you're interested in doing quant research, a letter from an economist is going to carry a lot more weight than from a Poli Sci professor who has never ran a regression in his/her life. 

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I would say it is better to have people who saw your work recently and maybe know where you want to be as a scholar (you wrote a political economy paper for their class etc). I am not too sure what you mean by replacing your undergrad professor would send the wrong message... even if you apply to the same schools a new committee will see your applications. even if it was the same committee they will not compare your application to the previous one.  even if they did they saw more people vouching for you.  and I would assume you apply to new places too... (this is not to say you cannot mention your undergrad class in your SOP if you want to )

just my  2c. In any case your circumstances may be unique with this prof for some reason (you wrote a paper with him/her etc..) so ultimately you have to decide.

Edited by kaykaykay
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I can almost guarantee that you will not have a successful cycle with three economists as your LOR writers. 

 

I strongly agree with kameldinho, this is totally backwards. Many top political science professors see an econ degree as basically the best possible preparation for a Polisci PhD.   And depending on the prominence of the recommenders, they may know the person.  

 

Moreover, the admissions committee will want to know what kind of a student you are now.  Letters from 5 years ago won't be that informative.

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This is very false. Someone I know personally was admitted to all the T5 Poli Sci programs with 3 letters from economists last cycle. The person also never took a political science class (not even a political economy class in the econ dept). If you're interested in doing quant research, a letter from an economist is going to carry a lot more weight than from a Poli Sci professor who has never ran a regression in his/her life. 

 

But these situations aren't really the same. 

 

The OP has an undergraduate degree in political science. The person you are talking about decided to switch disciplines going into a Ph.D. program, it wouldn't be expected at all for him or her to have an SOP from a political science prof.

 

Furthermore, during the OP's senior year he failed an entire semester. I am thinking that not having a political science prof be a LOR to help him explain that or at least show that he is capable of succeeding in a political science program or environment is a mistake.

 

Maybe I am wrong? I don't know but I think it is a risk personally. Especially from someone who hasn't succeeded in two cycles already. There is something in his application that is signalling to admission committees that he isn't a good fit for a Ph.D. in political science...moving further away from that is probably not the way to go IMO. 

 

There is more background here:

 

 

This isn't a question of "economics vs. political science LORs" I am more referring to his personal situation.

Edited by victorydance
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Regardless, from my perspective I think we're missing the major question by focusing on one minor part of the question. Whether I ask the political science professor for a letter, should I worry about asking too much from professors? If so, do you have thoughts on approaching the topic with them?

Also, I was foolish to ask the question about letters from economists anyway. There is no secret formula to applications. No one, including me, can possibly know what is going to work for me and what isn't.

Edited by Doe comma John
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No, you shouldn't worry about it. It's really not much work to change the address on a letter and upload it to a different site. 

 

Exactly. Once the letter is written, the marginal work is minimal.  Plus, faculty think of it as their job. Especially if you're a good student, this just isn't a big deal.

 

And to victorydance, OP has more recently done an MA in economics.  That's going to be the most important part of the application.  If he's a successful MA student, the fuckup 5 years ago just isn't gonna be a big deal.  Might be good to have a letter-writer explain it, but if he just explains it in his statement, I'm sure that'd be fine.

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My goal wasn't to turn this into a Poli Sci vs Econ letter thread; I was simply responded to what I perceived to be a universal statement that you need at least one letter from a Poli Sci professor to be successful. I've had the pleasure of knowing a handful of people who were econ undergrads and successfully transitioned to top doctoral programs in other social science disciplines and the vast majority of them had 3 letters written by economists. 

 

Judging from the OP's profile I suspect the issue lies with his SOP and/or Writing Sample. While s/he isn't technically switching disciplines (due to being an undergrad poli sci major), I think your most recent education in economics may have played against you. When you "switch" disciplines the number one challenge is bringing credibility to your application: specifically you need to demonstrate that you understand the current research agenda in the discipline and demonstrate how your background will allow you to bring a fresh perspective. Speaking a bit from personal experience, a lot of research that economists refer to as "political economy" probably would get a desk reject at most 2nd tier Poli Sci journals. If your writing sample fell into that category then it may have been what led to your downfall - it probably communicated a lack of understanding of political science research.

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1) For good serious students, I write a ton of letters. For the rest, I don't. Only you know which of those two categories you fall into for your letter writers.

 

2) The econ vs polisci bit is just flat wrong in my experience. If you can articulate an interesting question and display an analytical frame of mind, your background is pretty irrelevant.

 

3) More recent and research-intensive experience with a student makes the letter stronger. Letters that remember a student as being good in class count for very little.

 

Best of luck.

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