Guidelines for letter requests - PLEASE READ THIS PAGE IN FULL before contacting me.

Some basic rules before requesting a letter from a professor:

1.     Do not assume the professor will write you a letter. Your first contact should be in request format. For instance, do not use language like this: “You should send your letter here.” Also not acceptable: “Thanks for writing my letter.”

2.     Please write at least 6 weeks in advance for a letter. Others may differ; I generally say no to any requests that show lack of planning.

3.     Do not ask for a letter before a class is finished. The professor cannot comment on your performance mid-stream.

4.     I only write closed letters – i.e., letters that you cannot see. Rest assured, I only agree to write letters for students I think are capable.

In your first request:

5.     This first request should be brief – a short email should suffice.

6.     Clearly indicate what fellowships, grants, or schools you are applying for, briefly explain why, and write the deadlines for each in bold.

7.     Undergrads from large classes: Begin by asking your TA. If your TA agrees, I will gladly co-write a letter with her/him. I only co-write letters for students in large lecture classes. (This means I will write a brief introductory and conclusion paragraph, and your TA will write the body in which she/he explains your performance in section.)

8.     Please state what class(es) you took with me, what grades you received in the class, and your overall GPA. Grads: Please explain exactly what stage you are in your process (“third year, preparing for orals,” “6th year, second time on the job market,” etc.)

Wait for the professor and/or TA to say yes.

If I agree to write the letter, please immediately send:

9.     All waivers and links including any signatures. Stamped, pre-addressed envelopes are required if you need hard copies. All should be put in an envelope in my box on the 5th floor of HSS.

10.  A concise document with the following info:

o   List of all our specific interactions with dates (I took XX class Spring quarter, 2010, and earned an A+ in the class. I wrote a paper on X topic and received a grade of __. My midterm grade was ___. etc.)

o   Undergrads: A list of what you’d like me to highlight in your letter – what you learned in my class, what skills you’d like me to discuss, your performance on essay assignments, etc. Don’t be shy. The more explicit you are, the better.

o   Grads: A very clear, one paragraph summary of your project thus far, what stage you’re at, what archives you’ve looked at, which you plan to look at, the names of your committee members, your previous awards (if any), and a brief timeline for future work.  If you are applying for jobs for the first time, you should probably schedule an appointment to discuss details.

o   Optional: personal-professional details that you think explain why you are particularly well suited for this fellowship/career. Tell specific stories that you think make your case unique or that highlight your accomplishments beyond the transcript. For instance, are you a first-generation college graduate? Or - did you grow up in a family of astronauts and now want to study the history of space exploration? These are personal details that are still professional. The opposite: telling me very personal stories without any connection to your work. No confessional tone, please.


11.  It is definitely advisable to send a reminder email the week before the due date if you are concerned. One reminder email is sufficient and appreciated.

12.  Please do let me know the results. I’m always happy to hear if you’ve succeeded, but I also want to know if you didn’t. Ask for advice. Don’t get depressed if you don’t get in where you applied. It’s completely normal and often does not reflect the quality of your work or your abilities. Failure does mean you need to strategize and come up with a new way of approaching your goals, though. \