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Other Requesting a letter of recommendation from a Research Advisor

I'm applying to physics graduate programs this fall. I volunteered with an experimentalist in my hometown (at a small undergraduate-only physics program) over this past summer (I'm going to keep it intentionally vague for privacy reasons, but let me know if you really think the response depends on omitted details). The project experienced a number of setbacks, and my advisor was very understanding about them and confirmed that I could ask them for a letter of recommendation in the future. However, I am uncertain if I should ask them for a letter.

Something that's frequently mentioned is that if you did research under someone, but fail to include a letter of rec from them, people might assume that the project went poorly, unless you've had several advisors (too many to reasonably expect to ask at once).

However, I'm a little bit confused by what is generally meant by "poorly"?

Before I started working, a key piece of equipment was damaged and had to be replaced. On the one hand, from my assessment, there was a significant loss to their research progress during that summer (started with a fully-operational apparatus assembled by previous undergraduates, ended with one that still needs to be reconfigured substantially). On the other hand, I made contributions in computational work, helped with work on restoring the experimental setup (testing the replacement component, re-inserting it into the rest of the setup, etc.), and kept detailed records in my lab notebook. Overall, I think it was good experience for me to learn about the models for an unfamiliar subfield and pick up some experimental techniques.

Is this type of experience unusual (that was my first time working with an experimentalist)? Have you asked for letters of recommendation even if your projects had numerous unprecedented setbacks that were beyond your control?

I might just go ahead and ask them if they'd be willing to write me a strong letter of rec. This feels a bit too direct, but it's been suggested to me many times as general advice. Thanks for any suggestions.
 
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I'm applying to physics graduate programs this fall. I volunteered with an experimentalist in my hometown (at a small undergraduate-only physics program) over this past summer
...
Something that's frequently mentioned is that if you did research under someone, but fail to include a letter of rec from them, people might assume that the project went poorly
...
Overall, I think it was good experience for me to learn about the models for an unfamiliar subfield and pick up some experimental techniques.
...
Is this type of experience unusual (that was my first time working with an experimentalist)? Have you asked for letters of recommendation even if your projects had numerous unprecedented setbacks that were beyond your control?
..
I might just go ahead and ask them if they'd be willing to write me a strong letter of rec. This feels a bit too direct, but it's been suggested to me many times as general advice. Thanks for any suggestions.
1) I think it is not usual to have a formal recommendation letter issued to undergraduate students. My first recommendation letter was at PhD graduation only, and i also went in experimental field (electrical engineering).
2) Any sane scientific supervisor should not link success of failure of project to capabilities of beginner student researcher. Stress your experience and learned skill, and leave the setbacks or progress of project you participated as irrelevant.

As my personal experience, during postdoc time i have one case when the semiconductor foundry my lab collaborated with went bankrupt, ruining the project. It did not adversely affected my career at all - i got the best recommendations and position in aerospace agency immediately after project termination.
 

Choppy

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That's how research goes.

A research mentor shouldn't fault you in a letter of reference for things that were beyond your control.

So long as you were diligent in the work that you did and put in a solid effort, the reference should be fine.
 

Dr. Courtney

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Ask for the letter. My recommendation letters for undergrads, as well as those from all the other professors I know are based on honest effort and ability rather than research outcomes.
 

DEvens

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1) I think it is not usual to have a formal recommendation letter issued to undergraduate students. My first recommendation letter was at PhD graduation only, and i also went in experimental field (electrical engineering).
Maybe this depends on the locale or program? Maybe I have a different idea of what a formal letter is? I'm thinking a letter the prof sends directly to the school or hiring company or scholarship agency. I got a bunch of those in undergrad. Two jobs, scholarships, then entry to grad school.
 

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