Thursday, April 24, 2008

On Recommendation Letter Etiquette

As noted in previous blog entries, I am still fairly new at the ins and outs of Grad school. The latest curiosity I have encountered involves the existence--or lack thereofof some secret system of etiquette surrounding the request of letters of recommendation; more specifically, once requested, how does one gracefully inquire after their progress? On the one hand, you don't want to haggle the prof kind enough to write one for you (lest they use some faculty code on the letter to indicate "student was impatient"--ala Seinfeld's Elaine Bennis, the "difficult" patient); on the other hand, its not going to do you any good if the recommendation doesn't meet its destination in a timely fashion.

If there is anyone out there reading this, please feel free to leave advice.


Notorious Ph.D. said...

It all depends on the professor. What I did was, three days before the deadline, I sent out an e-mail to all the profs I had asked for recommendations (to avoid the appearance of any particular nagging), saying something like, "Thank you for agreeing to write a letter or recommendation for X for me. I'm just dropping a line to remind you that the deadline for X is May 1. Thanks again for your support."

Sure, someone *might* be offended, but your professors really do have a lot going on, and some might actually appreciate the reminder. I keep this in mind as I work with my own students, and tell them to feel free to send me a reminder before the deadline if they haven't heard confirmation from mel

I got an "A" in Crazy Beeyotch said...

I appreciate the idea of avoiding "particular nagging" because that was precisely what I was dealing with. Knowing how busy my professors are makes me fearful of appearing pesky. Your advice makes much sense, and its so simple! Thank yoU!

Dr. Crazy said...

Ok, the best advice that I can give is the following:

1) Ask for the letter first time 6-8 weeks before you need it. When you ask, do it in person, but then follow up in writing with the following: all relevant info about what the letter is for and the deadline, the paper that you wrote for the professor (if applicable), a cv (need not be formal, but some document telling all about you professionally), and a brief synopsis of why you're applying for whatever the letter is for (job, fellowship, etc.) and why you think you're a good candidate. If you provide the prof with all of this stuff, it makes it *so much easier* to write the letter, and it makes you appear really on the ball (which will make for a better letter).

2) When the prof has agreed to write the letter, discuss with the prof whether he/she would like a reminder a couple of weeks ahead the deadline. Frame the discussion as, "I know how busy you are and how crazy things can get. Would it be useful if I sent you a reminder email about two weeks before the deadline, or would you find that irritating?" (When students ask me for letters, I typically am the one who starts this conversation, telling them when to remind me, just so that they don't feel put off by doing so, but I know not everybody does this. I always feel like it's a less fraught situation if the student and professor talk about this before hand.)

3) What Notorious said about the 3-day thing and how to put it is good.

4) Remember: writing letters of rec. is *part of the job* for your professors. You're not asking them to do something above and beyond - it's totally part of the gig. If they've agreed to write for you, it's not wrong of you to expect that they'll meet the necessary deadlines. You're not being pesky if you give a respectful and professional reminder. You're acting like a colleague.

I got an "A" in Crazy Beeyotch said...

Thank you, Dr. Crazy. I'm sorry that it took so long for me to respond; I only just saw this very helpful response. I will be sure to share all of my newly gained advice with my peers!