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Am I incapable of getting recommendations?

  1. Aug 5, 2010 #1
    I know that everyone says that one should talk to professors after office hours and get to know them and whatnot, but I think I am totally incapable of this. I wish to apply to graduate school in mathematics in the winter and I need three letters of recommendation. I have done some research (if you can call it that) but I don't think it's anything impressive (some programming) and I have really only talked to one professor outside of class (not counting the professor in charge of the research). I find myself just asking trivial questions that I sort of already know the answers to just to have an excuse to try and chat with professors in higher level courses, but I am just too awkward at times. I have a 3.7 gpa in math and am taking some higher level undergraduate analysis courses next year but really only one will count towards my application. Is there any way I can make up for lost time and actually find someone to get to know my work and who would probably write a letter for me?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 5, 2010 #2

    3.7 implies that you are had some A/A-.

    Basically if you had A/A- with a certain professor, it should be no problem for him/her to write you a recommendation letter.
    Such a letter should be from someone familiar with your work, hence if u had a course(s) with him/her then this would suffice.
  4. Aug 5, 2010 #3


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    I understand it's difficult to get to know some professors the way you described, so maybe it's time to try a different tack.

    Instead of trying to get a professor to get to know your work, find a professor whose work you find interesting, and get to know his/her work. Formulate some questions about it, and go ask them. Maybe after doing this a few times, the topic will change to your work.

    Most people like to talk about things they find interesting, so keep that in mind as a tactic when you're in situations where common interests are difficult to find.
  5. Aug 5, 2010 #4
    I do agree with lisab, but remember that writing reference letters is considered to be one of the duties of the professors, he won't say NO I CAN'T, so do not hesitate to ask him, preferably through an email, that if he could recommend you, he's not going to refuse. But in almost all the cases the problem about recommendation letters is not: whether he will write it for me or not? but: how good it will be?!? Ultimately it depends on how you convey your interests for graduate study, ambitions and what you really have done that he can write about in the letter!
  6. Aug 5, 2010 #5
    Oh and one more thing, no, you are not incapable of getting recommendations at all, you just need to stop thinking that you are!! ;)
  7. Aug 5, 2010 #6
    So you think that taking two upper level courses with a professor and getting a B and an A- really qualifies as grounds for asking for a letter? I am squeemish.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2010
  8. Aug 5, 2010 #7
    There is no specific thing that can "qualify" you for asking a letter, you only have to make sure that you convey your points as clearly as possible you are responsible for that. I would recommend you to read this page fully, I hope it will help you get out of the confusions http://math.mit.edu/~kedlaya/recs.shtml [Broken] written by an MIT professor!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  9. Aug 5, 2010 #8


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    If you want to apply to graduate school, you're going to need those reference letters regardless. Letters from someone whom you've take a couple of upper-level classes with are better than none at all.

    I disagree somewhat with Doodle Sack. Professors do refuse to write reference letters for all sorts of reasons. It's not a duty - although many will sympathize with your situation (after all, they were once students too).

    Also, you don't need to get all buddy-buddy with a professor to get a reference letter. The last thing you want is for him to say: Dmator is a good student, but somewhat of a brown-nose.

    I've always wondered about how much weight is given to a subjective reference letter anyway. I think the main point of the exercise is whether or not you can get 2 or 3 people to say that they believe you would be a good student for graduate school. Beyond that there may be some weight given to the specifics of research experience, or bonus points for name recognition, but ultimately, the letters are very subjective.
  10. Aug 5, 2010 #9
    Ofcourse it is one of their duties, they can refuse to do their duty after all for some reason, but IT IS one of their duties, click on that link to read what's written by the MIT professor, he has highlighted......
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