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grokos

Help! Has too much time passed to use a professor for LOR?

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I got my BFA 10 years ago this Spring, and have been almost entirely away from academia since then. I decided (unfortunately, sort of last-minute - the timing has never worked out until now) that I wanted to try applying to a specific MFA program this year, and because of how long I've been out of school, I'm concerned about professor recommendations. So far, I have 1 current teacher recommendation (I'm taking a class at community college in the field I'm looking to apply for), and 1 former employer (not really related to my field, but we had a long working relationship).

My third recommendation was going to be from my BFA thesis advisor. She recently replied to my request email to say that while she'd be (tentatively, from the tone of the email) happy to do it, she recommends finding someone who is more familiar with my work, and with whom I have a more current relationship. (My tendency to not keep in touch with people is now biting me in the butt.) The problem is that aside from the 2 other recommendations, I don't really HAVE anyone that fits the bill. I'm not sure what to do in this case. So far, the options I can see are as follows:

-Ask another former teacher with whom I had fewer classes, but have (sort of, ish? we're friends on Facebook?) kept in touch with more over the years

-Ask another former supervisor at the same job as my other former employer, so I would have 2 employer recommendations from the same place

-Go with this teacher and provide really thorough supplemental materials for the application

-Is there something else I'm not thinking of, here? (Besides going back in time to deal with past-me's mistakes?) Advice is appreciated!

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So professors generally do expect to get requests not immediately after they have had a student. It helps to keep in touch, but I do have some questions...

Is the person who did the BFA thesis advising within the field of your MFA? Are your former employers related to this MFA? I'm not in the arts, but I've been told that in my area (chemistry), when applying for a PhD, you don't want to have more employers than professor writing your letters... But I don't know at all if that's true for the arts.

I think in general, if a professor has shown hesitation, that's not a good sign. One tip I had was to specifically ask if professors would write you a strong LOR. If you think that this person is still the best choice you have (i.e., they are within the field for your MFA whereas a recent teacher is not, they're famous, idk, maybe it's preferred to have university letter writers than community college letter writers) , you can ask if there's anything you can provide (transcript, maybe write a summary on what you've been up to the last decade, etc) that might help them. Otherwise, I think your best option would be the ask another former teacher with fewer classes.

 

EDIT: to say that again, take my advice with a grain of salt as I am in a completely different field from you. Hopefully you will get some more specific to you advice.

Edited by scientific

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Is the person who did the BFA thesis advising within the field of your MFA? Are your former employers related to this MFA?
Not exactly. I'm switching from one concentration (animation) to another (graphic design), but they're both still arts fields. The same goes for the other teacher I would be using as a reference.

As for the employers: the particular job I was in wasn't directly related to design, but I did have occasional design-related duties. One of the supervisors I know I'm already using doesn't do anything related to design, but I worked with him extensively; the other supervisor is basically the design director, but I didn't work directly with her as much as the first guy. Unfortunately, I haven't contacted her at all since I left that job 1.5 years ago. (I really need to get better at this communication stuff.)

I think in general, if a professor has shown hesitation, that's not a good sign.
I tend to agree. My concern is that the other teacher might have the same hesitation. Since it's been so long, some of my other teachers have retired, too, and I don't know how to get ahold of them, or if it'd be appropriate.

Thanks a lot for your input - you've given me some things to think about!

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Best of luck. I would maybe ask one of your current letter writers for advice, since I know nothing about your intended/past fields, if you feel comfortable doing so.

What I also think helps, is if you are ABLE to, ask to meet in person to chat... I wrote to a teacher I had in classes 5 years ago, asking to meet for graduate school advice (I asked his opinion on some programs, but that may not be as helpful here since it'll be in a different field for you... maybe they will know reputation stuff, though), and then asked about letters. We met, chatted and he was very candid, and it also belayed any concerns I had about tone.

 

I definitely do relate about the communication stuff; it always feels very odd and  I put it off because it seemed awkward. But now we know better and can learn from our mistakes!

 

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It seems to me that this teacher might still be the best option. I think the hesitation is entirely natural, and I'd be concerned if such hesitation wasn't expressed. It's been 10 years after all, and as a result, there is only so much that the letter can say, especially if you didn't ask for a letter back then. If you did, then the prof will perhaps have something on file to refer back to. If not and this is a new letter, I think it's safe to say that this person probably doesn't remember you, or at least won't be able to share details and anecdotes. Strong letters are ones that are detailed and can give examples, which this one won't be able to do that. 

So here are some suggestions for next steps. First, since you're targeting a specific program, have you thought about reaching out to them and asking what they would prefer? They might want two academic letters, or they might tell you it's best to have two detailed recent letters, even if that means that they're not academic. I could see it going either way. Second, I'd look into submitting four letters: two more detailed/recent ones that won't be academic, and two academic, including the recent one and your advisor. Even if it's technically not allowed, since you have a special case, it's worth asking about explicitly. Third, if you do ask your advisor, you need to help her write you a strong letter. That means providing her materials to rely on (your SOP, writing sample, a summary of things you think she can say, your transcript, etc), and offering to talk/Skype with her, if she'd like. Again, strong letters are ones where the person can say they know the student, think they're a strong candidate, and can provide details about their opinion; if she can't remember you from 10 years ago (which is quite likely), help her generate some opinions/memories now. 

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