Reference Letters

Almost every undergraduate and postgraduate student will require letters of reference for future posts.  Requesting such letters from faculty members is a process that will go smoothly for the requesting student and the letter writer if several procedures are followed (with thanks to N. Koven & H. Boucher at Bates for their clearly worded letter requesting policies).

The first and most important point is that I only submit letters of reference directly to the PI, programme director, institution or company that requires such a letter.  Please do not ask me to give my reference letter directly to you for you to include as part of your application.  When I write letters of recommendation, I treat them as confidential documents whose destination is a relevant third party (e.g., prospective employer, graduate school). By asking me for a letter, you are giving me permission to discuss your performance, both quantitatively and qualitatively, in my courses or laboratory (or as my tutee) and to provide the third party with an honest accounting of your academic abilities and your promise for future success.

The better I know you and your academic performance, the stronger your letter will be. Every year I receive many requests for letters of recommendation, so please do everything in your power to make my job as easy as possible:


  • Make your request and get any of your materials to me at least 2 weeks before the deadline. This means if I am mailing the letters myself, give me stamped and addressed envelopes. If I am supposed to fill out a specific form either in hard copy or online, make sure I have the required document/link. If you are applying for multiple programmes or positions, please send me spreadsheets with due dates, websites of programs, etc.

  • Don’t ask for a recommendation letter unless you’re certain you’re going to follow through with the rest of your application. First, be sure that you’re eligible for the position by reading the fine print. If a summer clinical internship wants applicants who are fluent in Welsh and you do not speak any Welsh, then you are not eligible and should not be asking me to write a letter for you. Second, do as much homework as possible to make sure that you like the job/position enough to warrant an application. If the job involves you working solo in the wilderness for long periods of time and you hate nature and can’t stand being alone, then you probably should not be applying and should not be asking me to write a letter for you. Finding a job in the current economic climate is difficult, and it makes sense to cast a wide net. However, casting wide is different than casting frivolously and impulsively; be mindful that writing support letters takes considerable time and effort by faculty.

  • I  write letters only for students who waive their rights to read their letter. If you do not wish to do so, then please do not ask me to write a letter for you.

  • Tell me clearly what you need the letter for (e.g., study abroad at the University of Florence, an internship program with the United Nations, an MSc program at UCL, etc.). The more information I have, the more easily I can tailor the letter to your needs.

  • If you are applying for a PhD (or postdoctoral) position, supply a statement of purpose (or an autobiographical statement, essay, etc.) and your CV

  • Typically, I complete my letters of recommendation close to the deadline. Please send me one reminder e-mail 2 days before your letter is due.

  • It is your responsibility to check with the school / program / company to make sure that your letters of recommendation have been received.

Best of luck with your application process!