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Recommendation letter way too short? (electrical engineering grad school)

ClefgenClefgen Registered User Posts: 3 New Member
edited December 2008 in Graduate School
I'm doing a 5-year program at a Tier-1 engineering school, and this is my 5th year when I do my MS thesis. My thesis is jointly supervised by my school and a company. I've been working pretty closely with my company thesis supervisor since Jan. 2008, and I find him to be a supportive mentor who's always willing to help.

I'm applying to EE Ph.D. programs this year, and long story short, I inadvertently came across his letter after signing my waiver forms. I don't think he realized I came across it. It goes like:

<i>I am Chief Scientist at [Tech Company], and I am based at [School]. I advise a few students at [School], and I advise [Student] for her MS thesis. I have been advising her for about a year.

[Student] is doing well at [School], and I have no doubt that she will do well in her PhD research wherever she goes. She has done a good job on her thesis work. She has worked hard, and gotten good results. She is effective in working with me and with her peers. She is a pleasure to work with.

I have not known or supervised other NSF Graduate Research Fellows, but my
impression is that [Student] is in the top 25% of MS students at [School].</i>

It's obvious that he sent the same form to all the schools I'm applying to. I specifically asked him to describe my thesis work, and sent him all my NSF essays which I told him was to "help him in writing the rec". I know he read the essays because he commented on them....

I'm not sure what the admissions would make of this... any thoughts would be very appreciated!
Post edited by Clefgen on

Replies to: Recommendation letter way too short? (electrical engineering grad school)

  • apumicapumic Registered User Posts: 1,529 Senior Member
    It sounds kind of bland to be honest. Pretty much like a form letter he might send on behalf of any student (just change the gender and maybe the percentile as needed). Still, though, he's only been your advisor since Jan. 2008? That's a pretty short period of time. My primary advisor has been supervising me for a year and a half and we've done multiple projects, conferences, papers together, as well as having TA'd for her and taken 2 courses from her over the past 2 1/2 years and I almost question whether she's supervised and known me long enough to be my primary letter-writer.

    Even if you've worked closely with him, he may not really know you well enough over such a small amount of time. Nevertheless, I agree the letter could be FAR more thorough. I'm sorry he disappointed you on this!
  • HT2010HT2010 Registered User Posts: 26 New Member
    I'm sorry to hear that as well. Although, if the schools are interested in you, and your other recommendations are strong, there is a chance they will call your supervisor and ask for more details. Since January does seem like a short time to have known someone though.

    Good luck!
  • lotf629lotf629 Registered User Posts: 703 Member
    On the one hand, it's unlucky, but on the other hand, I don't think you should lose sleep over it. Here is my attempt to make you feel better:

    There are tons of posts on this forum from students in the sciences whose professors seem to have spent a minimum of time on their letters. My impression (from having read these and other boards compulsively for the last three months) is that some professors in lab sciences just don't write very good letters, period, even for their better students. Descriptive writing is just not as key an academic skill in the sciences as it is in the humanities. Ph.D. programs in the sciences must see bland letters all the time. I'm going to guess that in the sciences, a bland letter in the context of an otherwise strong application is not going to do any harm.

    If your other letters are good and the rest of your application is good, I'm going to guess that this one will be water under the bridge.

    The only thing I can think of is that the letter you saw is the kind of reference that you might get in a corporate context: it's possible that your supervisor just doesn't know what's expected of him in an academic context. If you are very close or you feel like taking a risk, and if you feel like he would have time to write a longer letter if he so chose, you might bring up the letter of recommendation. Just trying to brainstorm...You could, maybe, bring up some specific thing that you were hoping one of your recommenders would mention and ask him to revise his letter to say something about it as a favor. You could say something like, "One of my professors just mentioned to me that it's helpful if my letters of recommendation mention X research project. I hope you feel comfortable saying no if you don't have time, but I wonder if you would be willing to add some mention of that project to your letter if you haven't included it already: it would be a big help to me because it would tie my application together." Or something.

    If you feel like he really does want to support you in your career, it's worth sitting down and pondering whether you might have the time and opportunity to bring it up tactfully. That's what I think. A strong letter can only help.

    Otherwise, however, I think you should relax about it.
  • VincentandLisaVincentandLisa Registered User Posts: 4 New Member
    Mine English is poor, so i can't say english for you.我真心希望你可以成功!!!
  • ClefgenClefgen Registered User Posts: 3 New Member
    Thanks guys, you've been helpful! But too late about losing sleep since I already did :-P though I'll try tactful prodding.
  • mws1717mws1717 Registered User Posts: 5 New Member
    My advisor who's known me for 4 years, taught me 2 classes and also my senior project advisor wrote almost the same thing! Even worse, the dean of department even use a recommendation template but i have to send them anyway. narrow options.
This discussion has been closed.