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Should I ask a graduate student for a Letter of Recommendation?

  1. Jul 19, 2010 #1
    I'm currently in an REU program after finishing my freshman year of college majoring in Physics. My mentor is a graduate student, and I see him every day and we are working on an engineering project together. I see the lab's PI a couple times a week, and he is following my project, and occasionally has quite useful suggestions on how to proceed. He hasn't commented on my work, but he is aware of it, and probably occasionally discusses it with my mentor (a grad student). My work has certainly been satisfactory, but we most likely will not finish the project by the end of the summer, which was the original goal. This is not my fault, but I feel it will hurt my impression on the grad student and the PI.

    This Fall when I apply for other REU programs or internships for next summer, who should I ask for a letter of recommendation, if anyone at all? Is it reasonable to ask a grad student to write one, since I'll have worked under him for 2.5 months? Or should I go ahead and ask the PI, who has limited knowledge of my potential? I wouldn't ask either, due to the limited time frame for them to get to know me, but I'm afraid that mentioning research on an application without a supporting letter of recommendation could hurt me. Thoughts?
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 19, 2010 #2


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    The letter of recommendation should come from the professor, not the graduate student (or at least, nominally it should be from the professor). The professor's letter will carry much more weight than one from a grad student, plus he/she in all likelihood has much more experience writing them and knows what the recipient is looking for in the letter.

    It is entirely possible that the professor will assign your grad student mentor to write a draft of the letter first, which he/she will then modify after discussing the details of your work with the grad student. Even still, you should ask the professor for the letter, not the grad student.

    Although you may have only known these people for a couple of months, an REU supervisor's letter can still be a strong addition to future REU / grad school programs you might apply to in the future. Mine have served me quite well over the years.
  4. Jul 19, 2010 #3

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    Don't have the grad student write the letter. It's not what's expected and he/she has had little practice writing them. Ask the professor.
  5. Jul 19, 2010 #4
    Alright, I'll see if the professor will be willing to write one. Kind of what I expected. Thanks.

    Still, is it okay to do this even though he doesn't know me that well? Is it expected to get a letter of recommendation out of an REU program, even from a professor who doesn't have all that much contact with you?
  6. Jul 19, 2010 #5
    If the professor doesn't know you super well, obviously he won't write as strong of a recommendation as he potentially could. But you have to take what you can get. Most people have to submit something like 3 letters, not everyone has 3 people they know super well. The professors understand this and probably expect to be asked for letters even if you didn't work together super closely.
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