Letters of recommendation

  • Thread starter kylem
  • Start date
  • #1
62
0
How important is it to have a well known professor write your letters?

Is it better to have a lesser-known professor write a letter that says "this is the best student I've had (jr level class)" or is it better to have a slightly-better-known professor write a letter than says "this is a very good student (sr/grad level class)"?

The lesser-known professor is a lecturer and the slightly-better-known professor is an associate professor that has advised graduate students here.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
fss
1,179
0
I'd rather have the stronger recommendation than the name, especially if he or she is only "slightly-better-known", whatever that means.
 
  • #3
22,089
3,297
Well, of course, if the better known professor is somebody like Wiles or some Fields medal winner, then I wouldn't hesitate to ask him.
So the point is, what is "slightly better known"?
 
  • #4
CompuChip
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
4,302
47
And having both recommendations is even better, I presume :-)
 
  • #5
62
0
Well, the problem is the limit on number of letters of recommendations.

By "slightly better known" I mean slightly more prestigious academic position (associate professor) and currently active in researching vs lecturer whose main responsibility is teaching. Neither is a "big" name in the field.

The situation is basically this:

I was the best student in my class of ~200 undergrads in a 300 level numerical analysis class this semester (highest grade out of everybody, participated most, helped the TA's with quizzes/assignments). I'm certain I could get a really good letter of rec from my teacher.

I'm considering taking a 400 level class in numerical analysis in the fall, but am unsure if I will be able to earn as good of a rec in that class since I'm going to be really busy next semester and have to apply for grad school during the semester. Would it look bad to have a letter of rec from my professor that taught the 300 level class even though I am enrolled in the 400 level class?

"Why does this student have a letter from the teacher that taught the intro level class instead of the teacher that taught the advanced class?"
 
  • #6
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
26,996
10,827
It will be impossible to answer this question, since there is no way to quantify how much more better known, and no way to quantify how much better the letters would be. We can only guess. There may be value in guessing, but don't expect anything definite.

Also, remember "best student in his year" is good, but not overwhelmingly strong. Since one has to take several dozen classes to get a degree, it's not that difficult to find one professor who will write that.
 
  • #7
6,814
15
Would it look bad to have a letter of rec from my professor that taught the 300 level class even though I am enrolled in the 400 level class?

No one is going to know enough about the details of your situation to care.

"Why does this student have a letter from the teacher that taught the intro level class instead of the teacher that taught the advanced class?"

That letter is going to be one of several dozen that the committee is going to read and no one is going to read things that deeply.

There is another problem in that most professors in an intro class don't have much interaction with their students, so the real danger is that your letter is going to be a generic letter. It's usually better to get the letter from a professor that knows you better.

One other thing is that you usually have no idea what the professor is going to write. One reason for having a professor that knows you well write a letter is that you know the professor well so you can guess what they will write.
 
  • #8
62
0
No one is going to know enough about the details of your situation to care.



That letter is going to be one of several dozen that the committee is going to read and no one is going to read things that deeply.

There is another problem in that most professors in an intro class don't have much interaction with their students, so the real danger is that your letter is going to be a generic letter. It's usually better to get the letter from a professor that knows you better.

One other thing is that you usually have no idea what the professor is going to write. One reason for having a professor that knows you well write a letter is that you know the professor well so you can guess what they will write.

Thanks. The main problem I have is that I transferred here this year and am graduating next year, so it's difficult to get to know 3-4 professors well in that short of a time span. I know one pretty well because of a research project I did with him this semester and am going to do another with him in the fall, and another professor I will be doing research with this summer. I figure my 3rd letter will probably be a fairly generic "exceptional student" letter since it's unlikely I find a better alternative in the next 6 months.

If it matters I am applying to masters programs at top 10 schools (applied math/scientific computing).
 
  • #9
Choppy
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
4,687
1,860
With reference letters you ultimately do the best you can with what you've got to work with. It's all fine and dandy for us to speculate on what the optimum refereence letter should say or who it should be from, but when it comes time to apply for something - you know who you know.

Sometimes, I can't help but wonder if the reference letter thing is more of a "minimum cutoff" exercise, ie. you put it in place to make sure the student has 3 academics willing to vouch for him or her. The content of the letters, provided it's positive, is more or less more or less irrelevant because its too subjective. One referee could state that a student is in his opinion "above average" but be a stick in the mud who's actually talking about the best student in the history of students, while another could write five letters a day that all claim their students are the best students in the history of students.

It all depends on the system at the school/business in question, I suppose.
 

Related Threads on Letters of recommendation

  • Last Post
Replies
4
Views
756
  • Last Post
Replies
5
Views
5K
  • Last Post
Replies
2
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
5
Views
6K
  • Last Post
Replies
4
Views
3K
Replies
2
Views
185
  • Last Post
Replies
7
Views
3K
  • Last Post
Replies
0
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
3
Views
3K
  • Last Post
Replies
5
Views
3K
Top