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Letter of recommendation from father

  1. Feb 20, 2015 #1
    Hi all, this may seem like a silly question to you, but nevertheless:

    I am considering having my father write me a recommendation for applying to graduate level programs in ocean engineering. The reason for this is that although I have two professors who can attest to my merit in terms of academic potential, character, and work ethic, I have not conducted any research at my University or taken part in any internships. Instead I founded a start-up with my father and have been full-handed in running it since sophomore year.

    I am currently the chief scientific officer amongst other things at our firm, and we have had success insofar as we have patented multiple inventions and brought one of them to full scale verification -- we are now courting paying clients for our technology. In this role my father and I are full partners with equal shares, and we are both named on every patent since I joined him. In fact, this experience is my primary motivation for pursuing ocean engineering at the graduate level.

    The reality of the situation is that my father is the only person capable of evaluating my research potential in writing.

    Do you think I should submit his letter when I apply?

    If not, I have other professors who will write me a recommendation, although I am not as close with them as to the other two I mentioned. I can also simply order one of our associates to write me a brilliant recommendation, but that seems dishonest.

    What do you guys think? Am I naive in thinking I can simply back up his review in an interview -- or will any admissions committee simply trash my application when they spot the matching surnames?

    Thanks for the advice!
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 20, 2015 #2

    Quantum Defect

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    I would see if you could find someone else. How about one of the clients? I just think that nobody would think that your father could provide an unbiased appraisal of your abilities--which is what these letters are supposed to provide.
  4. Feb 20, 2015 #3


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    Letters of recommendation typically shouldn't come from family members. There's a lot of bias in there, and they're far more likely to simply write a glowingly positive recommendation instead of being more honest and open with it. Many programs specifically require letters of recommendation to come from people that are not family members.
  5. Feb 20, 2015 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    Such a letter would be worse than useless. It would not be seen as unbiased, but worse, people will draw the conclusion that nobody else is willing to write one for you.
  6. Feb 21, 2015 #5
    Thank you for the advice guys -- this is more or less what I imagined.

    Hopefully we'll have started commercial installations for our tech by the end of March, so I may be able to get an objective letter of reference from the engineering team of one of the companies we may be working with. If not, I suppose I'll reserve this topic for my personal statement/letter of intent.

    Just one last question: does it matter which subjects my recommenders are specialized in? The ones I am considering so far are simply the ones I am the closest with, those who know me best.
  7. Feb 21, 2015 #6


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    A reference letter for graduate school is not a work reference.

    Admissions committees are looking for opinions on your potential for success in graduate school. This means they want an independent assessment of how you compare to other students in your chosen field with respect to things like ability to conduct research, background preparation, level of independence, etc. your referees need to be in a position to do this.

    That said, you generally have three referees. If two of them come from an academic background in your field, a third could come from elsewhere and emphasize your non-academic strengths.
  8. Feb 21, 2015 #7
    Thank you for clearing that up Choppy.

    So it seems that the dilemma on my part is that I don't have anyone who operates in my field of interest specifically, aside from my professional contacts who are either related to me, or dependent on me for licensing rights. Ocean engineering (or equivalent) is only offered through ~15 programs nationwide from what I'm aware, and I'm not at one of those schools. Moreover my alma mater has 4 year plans laid out for their engineers, and the choice of switching into an engineering program became impossible after my third semester in college. Perhaps naively I chose to explore the sciences rather than repeating much of the engineering curriculum that I experienced as a student in Germany (Abitur with specialization in electromechanical engineering) -- I was premed before starting this business and wanted to have a thorough understanding of the basics.

    So the best I can do is to have recommendations from professors in "unrelated" fields -- mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology. Combined with a 3.9 GPA, top GRE scores, and letter writers of high academic status who I believe support me thoroughly, do you think I have a shot with any graduate program in ocean engineering? The subject seems interdisciplinary by definition, and I'm willing to attend the lowest tier schools so long as I can get in, if that makes a difference.

    Would it help me to have commercial success in the mean time (taking a gap year)? I've been led to believe that doing research that leads to a commercially viable product is more indicative of potential than purely academic endeavors -- although the people telling me so have a pronounced incentive in my developing new products for them to sell.

    One last question: is a PhD in an engineering discipline even proper for someone who wants to do research in an industrial setting? I believe that research is research, but I'm not sure whether an admissions committee would see things in the same light.

    In any case, thank you all for the help so far. You've saved me from a huge blunder.
  9. Feb 21, 2015 #8


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    Even engineers have to do research, which is why there are doctorates in these fields. There is a lot of research which goes on in industry, which is how different companies stay ahead of each other and compete. Not all worthwhile research must be performed in a university or think tank somewhere.

    Do you think if IBM or Hewlett-Packard wants to make a new widget, they sit and wait for Dr. So and So at the University of Whatever to do the research to invent it?
  10. Mar 10, 2015 #9
    Thanks for the reality check Steamking, I think I may let myself get turned around too often looking for advice online. Now to get into one of these PhD programs so that companies like IBM or Hewlett-Packard will consider me... Thanks again all!
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