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What is the best combination of recommendation letters for PhD application?


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I have completed my master’s degree. I’m currently working on research projects with a professor. I may be able to get a positive letter from him addressing my research ability and potential. I am also considering one from my undergrad professor. I took his classes four times and he gave a strong letter for my MA application. I am worrying about whom I should ask for the third letter. I think that my third letter will not be strong, maybe a DWIC letter.


Option 1:  A big guy in the field. Took one class (got A) and got advice from him about my research paper for MA graduation requirement. Last year, I talked to him about PhD application and asked for a rec letter (This was time before completing the research paper). He said his letter wouldn’t be that helpful because he may not be able to tell much about my research ability because we didn’t do research together but he could write the letter only based on my class performance. He suggested me to do research if possible. I followed his advice. My concern is a DWIC letter from a big name may hurt my application. Considering his previous response that his letter wouldn’t be helpful, should I not ask him for a letter?

Option 2: Took two class (got As). The professor is from another field. I asked questions pretty many times but class size was big and there were no class projects and only exams. It may be DWIC letter.


Which one is the better option? Will it be okay that not all three letters are strong?

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As long as the first two letters are strong, it's okay if the third one is just okay. Based on your description, I would think option 1 is better, since it's a well-known person within your field, as opposed to someone from another field. Talk to this guy again, maybe there are ways to help him write you a stronger letter that you could utilize between now and the application deadline (meet with him a few times, show him some of your recent papers, etc). 

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