1. Not finding help here? Sign up for a free 30min tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Grad School Letters of Recommendation: Professors only?

Tags:
  1. Sep 30, 2013 #1
    I recently did an internship at my university in which I worked more closely with the engineer in charge of the lab rather than the professor. Would it be okay to ask the engineer in charge to write a letter of recommendation for grad. school since he is more capable of detailing my performance? Or do grad. schools only want letters of rec. from professors? I'm applying for Cornell, UCSB, Stanford, and Univ. of Illinois.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 30, 2013 #2

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Would he know whether you are a good fit for graduate school or not?
     
  4. Sep 30, 2013 #3
    Well he may not be able to talk about my class work but he would be able to go into greater detail about the lab work I've done. He's also seem examples of my writing and he has a copy of my transcript (which I needed to turn in to get the internship) so he has some assessment of my capabilities in the classroom. Is that not enough to determine whether I am a good fit for grad school?
     
  5. Sep 30, 2013 #4

    Choppy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I think what Vanadium 50 was getting at wasn't so much about how well this person knows you, but whether or not this person can effectively evaluate anyone's potential for graduate school.

    He may be extremely intelligent. He may know you extremely well. But has he been through graduate school himself? Has he mentored any other students in an academic capacity?
     
  6. Oct 1, 2013 #5

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Exactly. The letter writer needs to write about how good a fit you are, so he needs to know about you, and he needs to know about what you're fitting into.
     
  7. Oct 1, 2013 #6
    I don't get it. If the letter writer succeeds in convincing that the student is very good at labs then isn't it good enough? I mean, a part of the requirement of being a good fit for grad school is to be good at the labs. So, proof of one of the parts is coming from the writer. Other qualities would be proved from other sources.
    Basically, you are saying,
    "I don't know what you want from him as a grad student, but he is very good at the lab works."
    won't work, even if being very good at lab works is a very desirable feature of a grad student.

    Sorry if my ramblings didn't make sense.
     
  8. Oct 1, 2013 #7

    Choppy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    In the reference letter forms that I've filled out, they are usually looking for an overall picture of the candidate. Usually they will include specifc questions along the lines of:
    How does this candidate rank among his or her peers in terms of (insert quality X):
    bottom 50% top 50% top 25% top 10% top 5% no basis for evaluation

    There will be a list qualities such as scholarly aptitude, research potential, teaching ability, independence, etc. to which these questions apply, and then questions about the pool of candidates the referee is experienced with.

    There is also usually an opportunity to write any general comments.


    So when selecting someone to fill these out, you ideally want someone who is in a position to evaluate you in each category. It's okay if they can't judge you on EVERY one, but if there are mulitple "no basis for evaluation" boxes ticked, that's not going to do much to support your application.

    Now, with all of that said, I realize that not everyone is going to have a research-based, long-term relationship with three different, well-respected full professors who have been mentoring graduate students for the last 20 years.

    Ultimately you have to choose the best people from the pool of those willing to write you a reference letter.

    There is no reason why a lab engineer couldn't write Bunbun3x a reference letter. It's not like the letter would be thrown out or the opinions disregarded where they are valid. Admissions committees do pay attention to the position of the referee though and will weight the opinions accordingly.

    One thing Bunbun3x may want to do is simply ask how many reference letters this person has given in the past, and (perhaps subtly) whether or not they worked out.
     
  9. Oct 1, 2013 #8
    I went to a grad school info session at my college recently and heard that it's almost always a better idea to ask the supervisor. Although your supervisor might not know you as well, he/she would be able to make a more convincing case as someone with more experience. If the supervisor doesn't know you particularly well, then they will probably ask the engineer in charge.
     
  10. Oct 1, 2013 #9
    Thanks for all the feedback. The engineer in charge of my lab has mentored a lot of other undergraduates before and has been responsible for the maintenance of the upper division physics lab course at my university for over 15 years so I believe he does have a good gauge of students' academic abilities; I've seen him talking to students and working with them plenty of times when I took the lab course myself. I guess the best thing to do now would be to ask if he has written any letters of recommendation before and how they turned out.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook




Similar Discussions: Grad School Letters of Recommendation: Professors only?
Loading...