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Earning Recommendations

  1. Oct 4, 2006 #1

    mrjeffy321

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    The other day I got a very interesting, and potentially lucrative, scholarship offer in the mail. While reading through the application process I came across a requirement which was not entirely surprising but none the less all but disqualified me from applying. I need letters of recommendation.

    I am not the type of person who likes to go up to professors outside the classroom environment (or even inside for that matter) and talk about ‘unrelated’ things such as my personal scientific interests or brag about that I do at home in my spare time. Never the less, somehow, someway, I need to find a way to convey these things to these people which I will one day need to ask to put their name to a letter recommending me for something.
    At this point I would say that I have no one, at the university level, which I would feel comfortable asking for a recommendation…that is to say that no one whose opinion matters really knows me well enough to do so. However, this needs to change, if for nothing else than to apply to grad-school in a few years (forget the scholarship), I need to start building a relationship which will allow me to do this one day.
    The question would be how I am going to go about doing this.

    In order to get the best recommendation possible, one needs to do more than just what is expected of them as a student (show up to class, get good grades, occasionally participate, …), one needs to go above and beyond. Maybe just being an excellent student is good for something; however this matter of going ‘above and beyond’ stuff is where I likely will fail.
    I figured I would join a research program within my area of interest’s department. By doing this not only do I build up research experience doing something I am interested in, but also I would also be building up that out-of-class relationship to show that I am not just some ordinary student but rather someone who deserves to get into the positions I apply for. I think this is a good start (when I get around to doing it), but even then, that still leaves me with a very limited ‘pool’ of choices of those to ask.
    They are very busy people, I am busy, it does not seem reasonable to show up at their office on a regular basis in order to ask them unrelated questions or talk about my interests when it may or may not have to do directly with the class they teach. After all, it is [part of] their job and the reason they set aside those times is to talk with students about the class, not to talk with someone who they may or may not recognize about what the student did over the weekend.
    But is this what it needs to come to?

    Also, the goal should ideally be more than to do all these things just in order to get something in return. I once over heard a student asking a professor, “I’d like to talk to you sometime about your research”…to which the response was to the effect of, “Okay, what about it? What part of it interests you?”, leaving the student unable to answer since he clearly was not actually familiar with anything the professor did, he just thought it sounded like a good thing to ask. I fear that my attempts will come off sounding as disingenuous as this other student sounded when in reality it is not the case.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 4, 2006 #2
    Research. Do a quarter of research for them, and I've been told that's enough to get a letter.
     
  4. Oct 5, 2006 #3

    berkeman

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    You don't get letters of recommendation for having similar personal interests with your professors (well, unless you are a page in congress I guess :surprised :mad: ).

    You earn letters of recommendation based on your initiative, intelligence and work ethic in research or other work that you do at school. Not homework, real-world research or design work or other work that your profs see and are impressed with.

    You should seek out work at your school that involves technical work with an opportunity for contribution, and work hard at making valuable contributions. That work will earn you some good letters of recommendation, and will start to prepare you to excel in real-life work and research assignments.
     
  5. Oct 5, 2006 #4
    Obviously you must have some personal interest in your field/area/major outside the classroom. Ask about recent developments in the area, or exciting areas (say, if you're a physics major, you can talk about the recent nobel prize winners in physics, or string theory, or about whatever new particle accelerator they're building) If you talk about something you're interested in then it's easier. There's no reason to be "fake" about yourself or what you're interested in.

    you don't have to talk about anything you don't want to (if you don't want to talk about your weekend, fine). A couple reasons you want to let professors get to know you, is so they can see that you're: 1, self motivated, 2, a dedicated and interested learner, 3, has good interpersonal and communication skills, 4, would work well in a research environment (i.e., is creative and open to ideas), etc.
     
  6. Oct 5, 2006 #5

    ZapperZ

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    I have written something related to this, so you may want to give it a quick read:

    https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=897048&postcount=102

    Secondly, I'm sure you have an academic adviser. Now, if you don't think that even your academic adviser could write you a letter, then there's something wrong. Of all the people there that you should have talked to and should know you a bit more, it would be this person. In many schools, while you're assigned a "generic" adviser for your first year or two, you are allowed to select a faculty member as your permanent undergraduate adviser after that. So this person should be someone who is familiar with your ability and your interest. If this is not the case, then you need to figure out what you have not been doing.

    Remember, only you can initiate this. Your adviser cannot go around checking up on you or give you recommendations on what you should do. I have described in the essay certain definite steps that you can do yourself. You may want to consider those.

    Zz.
     
  7. Oct 5, 2006 #6
    Actually, I have a similar question. I'll be applying to grad schools soon (in EE), and I need three letters of recommendation. I know I have at least one good one, because I've done research with a professor for about a year, a professor who's extremely well-known and has told me that he would like me to go to grad school here. I have some prospects for the other two (a professor who knows me from class, and my academic adviser) but they kind of seem a little weak to me, since I don't feel like I know them very well. Anyone have any suggestions?
     
  8. Oct 5, 2006 #7

    ZapperZ

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    Talk to the professor that you wish to ask for the letter of recommendation. Ask him/her if there's anything he/she wishes to discuss with you in writing the letter of recommendation. Many professors would sit down first with the student that is asking for such letter. Some would even ask if the student wouldn't mind providing a transcript (this is a privacy matter and you should not feel uncomfortable to refuse to provide such a thing). If that professor cares enough, he/she will try to get to know you a bit more to be able to write something more than just a generic letter.

    In any case, you are the one who has to initiate everything. Always make it known that you'd be more than willing to sit down and talk to the professor so that he/she could write you a more accurate and better letter of recommendation.

    Zz.
     
  9. Oct 5, 2006 #8

    mrjeffy321

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    Quite so, and up until now I have been somewhat lacking.

    I need to start talking more with the professors and get some name-face recognition out there.
    More importantly, I need get involved in something that will allow me to demonstrate those qualities “jbusc” spoke of. The only thing I am waiting to join a research project is for the event which should be held in about a month or two where the faculty members will ‘advertise’ their research and how many available undergrad positions they have available. I did not consider myself very marketable last year but perhaps now I will be able to contribute even if only to some minor degree.

    I do not think that I have an official advisor, I used to but now due to what letter my last name starts with I have been moved around from one person to another with no single advisor to call mine. I have not heard of the possibility of selecting another faculty member to be more specialized, permanent, advisor, although it might be possible.
     
  10. Oct 5, 2006 #9
    Typically in an undergrad system, you have both a "general advisor" and a "major advisor." The "major advisor" is usually a faculty member in your major's department. You should think about touching base with your faculty advisor since they can be a very valuable asset to you assuming this person exists in the system your school uses.

    Another way to network, that is what we are talking about here, is to join a society at your school associated with your major. You haven't mentioned what your major is yet so it is hard for us to know what student societies exist for your field. These societies will have a faculty mentor. You should get to know this person also as they can be a source of recommentdations and summer research jobs.
     
  11. Oct 5, 2006 #10
    I have a somewhat related question, which probably does not deserve its own thread.

    Should I try to get an advisor that I have taken classes with, or done something with? I switched my major to math last spring, and I have yet to take anything with my advisor, and it does not look like I will ever get to take any class with him. Is this bad? Should I switch advisors to a professor that I have had for a class or two? Thanks.

    Sorry for somewhat stealing the thread.
     
  12. Oct 5, 2006 #11
    Wait wait wait... you can change advisors? Huh...

    Well, I guess it's too late for that now, but well, I don't even know. That's good to know, though.
     
  13. Oct 5, 2006 #12

    mrjeffy321

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    Certainly that is good advice, “Norman”, to join one of the societies which focuses on my area of interest. I am a Physics major so of course the obvious choice would be the Society of Physics Students.

    Advising must work differently at my school. Students with declared majors see a single advisor in their area of study, but this person is a professional advisor, not a professor acting as an advisor. There was a time when these advisors would specialize within the broader range of majors (i.e. the Natural Sciences / Mathematics advisors would focus on Physics, Biology, …, but I think this is no longer true).
     
  14. Oct 5, 2006 #13
    My advisor is also a professor in my major field of study.
     
  15. Oct 5, 2006 #14

    0rthodontist

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    I guess advising varies widely. At my school if you have a liberal arts type major, you get a generic professional advisor. If you have a science or math major, you get an advisor who is a professor in the department, based on your last name. What this means, as far as I can see, is just that you see the person for half an hour every semester and talk to them about what courses you might take. They make a few suggestions, but don't really do much advising and you don't get to know them (at least you don't get to know them just because they are your advisor). Anyway the best person to work out your schedule is you, so I wonder why the university has them.
     
  16. Oct 6, 2006 #15

    ZapperZ

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    Please double-check your department's policy. While many schools will start out that way to freshman and sophomore students, often you ARE allowed to choose your own adviser by the time you are a junior or senior, i.e. when you have a definite idea of what you want to major in. They give you some generic adviser during your early years because many students tend to switch majors at that early stage, or can't make up their minds what they want to do.

    So check with your department. You'll be surprised that, in many cases, you ARE allowed to choose your own adviser.

    Zz.
     
  17. Oct 6, 2006 #16

    JasonRox

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    Someone you have taken classes with would be good.

    I don't have an "official" advisor, but I do talk to someone. I talk to one of my second year professors. I stop by his office every now and then to just talk about anything I guess. He gives priceless advice and I no doubt thank him for that. If there is anything I like about this school, it is the fact that you can talk to professors. They are busy sometimes, but when they have time to spare, they really do like to share. :biggrin:
     
  18. Oct 6, 2006 #17
    Profesors aren't these demi-gods who are constantly busy working on their own projects, or have an everlasting contempt for students. Most of them you can talk to like everyone else, the key is to treat them like a normal person, your not trying to impress them or do anything else like that. If you treat them like everyone else.

    ironicly tat will impress them more than anything else
     
  19. Oct 6, 2006 #18

    JasonRox

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    That's true, but I still wouldn't recommend just walking up to them and start talking about the weekend. Most older folks (professors or not) like to socialize with their own age group. Therefore, you have no choice but to make a connection through interests.
     
  20. Oct 6, 2006 #19
    oh of course, I would never start talking about the weekend (unless I blew did something fun involving physics) however they still aren't superbeing's whom you should try to impress nor should you feel graced by their presence. I've known quite a few profesors who would laugh at a good science related joke (even if its a tad bit dirty)
     
  21. Oct 6, 2006 #20

    JasonRox

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    I hoped they laughed.

    Besides, where do you get the impression that we feel this way around them? I do not feel like that, and I don't see many others who feel like that.
     
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