Letter of Recommendation

This is a set of instructions if you would like me to write you a letter of recommendation (much of the language and the general idea for this section comes from Gary King).

Am I the Right Person?
First, make sure you ask yourself if I am the right person to write your letter. Have we had some substantial interaction (multiple classes, preceptor, co-author, advisee etc.)? Is there something unique that I can attest to? The best letters are those which can share some unique information about the candidate. Thus you probably only want me to write a letter if we have had enough experiences together that I will be able to offer that perspective.

What to Do?
If you still think I am the correct person- send me an email as soon as you know you will want the letter along with the deadline and any similar deadlines you think will follow. In a timely fashion, please followup with the following information

  1. the deadline and procedure for submitting the application
  2. any special requirements of the letter (length restrictions, criteria for what is to be covered etc.)
  3. a “sliced bread memo" (explained below)
  4. PDF versions of all documents you are sending to the organization (e.g. CV, research proposals, personal statements, transcripts, test scores). If you are still writing these, feel free to send me drafts, but please followup with the final version.
  5. optionally: any excellent examples of your work (a great paper, your replication paper from my class, a challenge problem you did great work on etc.)

Sliced Bread Memos
The idea of the “sliced bread memo” (i.e. why I am better than...) comes from Gary King. This isn't a draft letter- it is a set of bullet points that you want in my mind as I write. Please do send me an actual PDF though as it is easier to keep track of than an email. Please include:

  1. A brief statement about who else is writing your letters and what if anything that you are hoping my letter will speak to that your other writers cannot (e.g. I am the only statistician and you want me to speak to your quantitative skills, or I am familiar with a particular project you worked on but no one else is, etc.).  
  2. Any application specific-requirements or suggestions about what the letter should contain.
  3. A short description of you see your research agenda being pitched.  I won't use this directly, but it is helpful for me to see how you are representing yourself.

What else do you include? I quite like Gary’s description which I quote here:

“these items can include how I got to know you and standard cv items (prizes won, etc.), but should also include relevant anecdotes that might make useful stories to illustrate characteristics of you or your work ... This is not the time for modesty (only you and I will ever see it), and don't assume I will remember something if you exclude it. Include a very short (2-3 sentence) abstract or main finding of your thesis or other current work. If your record includes something negative (such as if you were in graduate school for too long), include your plausible explanation for what happened, if there is one."

Timelines
Please give me as much lead time as possible (minimum 2 weeks!).  Sending me a reminder a week before the deadline would be advisable. My assistant or I will send confirmation once the letter has been submitted.  If you haven't received a confirmation (or can't see it in the system), please don't assume it has been sent.  Professors send a lot of these all about the same time so it is easy for things to be lost.