Grad School Letters of Recommendation: Professors only?

In summary, the reference letter should be from someone who is experienced in evaluating candidates for graduate school, and the candidate should be good at the labs.
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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.
 
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  • #2
Would he know whether you are a good fit for graduate school or not?
 
  • #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 into 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?
 
  • #4
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?
 
  • #5
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.
 
  • #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.
 
  • #7
I_am_learning said:
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.

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.
 
  • #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.
 
  • #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.
 

1. What should I include in my request for a letter of recommendation?

When requesting a letter of recommendation from a professor for graduate school, you should provide them with a clear and concise summary of your academic and professional achievements, your goals for graduate school, and any other relevant information that will help them write a strong letter on your behalf. It is also helpful to remind them of specific projects or assignments you worked on with them, so they can speak to your strengths and skills.

2. How should I ask for a letter of recommendation from a professor?

When asking for a letter of recommendation, it is important to do so in a professional and respectful manner. You can start by sending an email or scheduling a meeting with the professor to discuss your request. Be sure to give them enough notice, at least 2-3 weeks, before the deadline and provide them with all the necessary information they will need to write the letter.

3. Is it better to ask for a letter of recommendation in person or via email?

It is generally considered more appropriate to ask for a letter of recommendation in person, as it shows that you value the professor's time and effort. However, if it is not possible to meet in person, sending a formal email with all the necessary information and a polite request can also be acceptable.

4. How many letters of recommendation should I ask for?

It is recommended to ask for at least three letters of recommendation for graduate school applications. These letters should come from professors or other academic professionals who can speak to your academic abilities, research experience, and potential for success in graduate school. It is important to choose recommenders who know you well and can provide detailed and personalized letters.

5. Should I waive my right to see the letter of recommendation?

It is generally recommended to waive your right to see the letter of recommendation. This shows that you trust and respect the professor's opinion and that the letter will be an honest and unbiased evaluation of your abilities. Most graduate schools also prefer to receive confidential letters of recommendation. However, if you have any concerns about what the letter may contain, you can always discuss it with the professor before they submit it.

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