Non-research LORs (2 out of 3)

<p>Of course, it's preferable that you get your LORs from a prof you did research with.</p>

<p>But many people can only get one LOR from research. They still need two other LORs. </p>

<p>Of course, those LORs can preferably come from classes where the student did well in. Okay, like, there was one class where I got a 4.0 in, and where my grade was a clear outlier compared to those of everyone else. But I didn't talk to the professor much, and there will be a 2 year-gap between my taking the class and my asking for a recommendation. (although the professor is one of the contributing authors of the famous Cosmic Variance blog - she doesn't have much time for chatting though). There are other professors who I probably fraternize better with, even though they taught classes where my grade didn't swamp the grades of everyone else. Anyways, I really LIKE planetary science, and can chat with professors on hours about it. But I didn't do exceptionally well in those planetary science courses (3.7 in one of them - didn't do better since I was intensely focused on harder classes and was too complacent for midterm [though final was among top scores in class], 3.6 in a grad-lvl planetary atmospheres one). The professors in those courses are also quite famous (one's a member of the National Academy of Sciences), and they seem to have more time for chatting.</p>

<p>Alternatively, one could seek for LORs from professors who one didn't even take a class in. </p>

<p>So what is the preferred option? You should seek LORs from professors who think that you're exceptional. But it's hard to demonstrate that you're exceptional in a class, unless your grade swamps the grades of everyone else (and that can be said in one sentence), in which case a 4.0 doesn't just say enough.</p>

<p>Here is my situation and how it turned out:</p>

<p>I have 3 LOR as well,

  1. A professor whom I worked with over the summer. He was my PI.
  2. A research scientist in the lab who was my mentor. He and I got along very well and it was great.
  3. My PI at my home institution. </p>

<p>I have been successful so far in getting interviews, and since my GPA is subpar I know my recs are helping me a ton.</p>

<p>Also, previously, to get my summer fellowship, I specifically asked if a graduate student could write one of the recs. I told them I believed he was a good judge of who I was and saw me work closely. I almost choose 2 non-research professors I had who liked me, but I thought well… how much can they really say about me? During my interview, the professors actually told me that the rec written by my grad student was phenomenal and really was a huge factor in my application.</p>

<p>What I have gotten from this is: Choose people that know you and don’t worry about how high and mighty they are or if they are a professor, research scientist, or even just a grad student. In both cases my non professor recs were actually my strongest. But they were so strong ONLY because they saw me work in lab and talked to me every day, literally. So my advice is stay away from non-research recs even if it means just getting a post doc or a grad student whom you know very well.</p>

<p>One more thing! When the grad student wrote the rec, I told the PI that his grad student was also writing one for me. The PI actually included in his rec that I was working with one of his grad students. The grad student wrote I was working with his PI. This sort of double confirms both recs and actually sort of validates the grad student’s rec.</p>


This is pretty unsound advice. Of course the post-doc or grad student you directly worked with will be able to offer more detail on your capabilities and successes than the PI you interact infrequently with. But having a non-professor name (and only a non-professor name) attached to the letter makes it much less meaningful, since the recommendation is not coming from an established researcher and peer to the admissions committee members. Most PIs are willing to have the student’s post-doc or grad student mentor contribute to or draft the LOR, and then the PI will co-sign it. This is much more preferable to having only the direct mentor write a letter. It’s also preferable to sending two recs from the same lab, which are bound to say redundant things about the applicant.</p>

<p>I realize people may disagree with me, but it worked for me and I got direct comments about how the rec actually helped me.</p>

<p>I think it just depends on who you have access to. Since I only worked in two labs, I had 2 PI’s. I got a great rec from both, but for the third my argument is I rather have another non prof rec from one of those labs than a random prof whos class I got an A in. It may seem redundant, but the recs they write are very different. My grad student commented a lot about how I would stay late to finish things when everyone left, and take over small projects on my own. He even commented how I fit well with the rest of the lab and the minute details of things I did, including my personalities when communicating with him. He even commented on the tiniest details. (The reason why I know this is because he let me read it after I submitted all my stuff even though I waived it)</p>

<p>To each is own I guess. I was just offering a possible alternative. I do agree with you, without the Dr. in front the rec may look weaker, but since I have the PIs from both labs praising me it is sufficient to prove that in the eyes of professors, they think I am qualified for graduate school.</p>


Most people’s letters from PIs will say all this. That’s because the PI will usually consult the direct mentor for input (or have the direct mentor draft the LOR), or the applicant will have provided these details him/herself. PIs want to write strong, detailed letters for their good students.</p>

<p>And if you do request two recs from the same lab, redundancy is preferable to none. If the direct mentor’s letter is the source of important details, and the PI’s letter doesn’t corroborate those details, the direct mentor’s letter will be met with scepticism.</p>

<p>I realize that the PI and mentors will consult and there may be redundancy, but there will be redundancy on different levels. I think it matters a lot how it is written. I know my PI wrote more about my overarching traits as a researcher and basically commented on my overall engineering abilities to conduct science. He did go into detail, but there’s only so much a PI’s voice can say. My mentor covered more about tiny details that if combined with the PI’s rec would be redundant in the fact that they do reiterate the same points, but in a more detailed light. When I said they weren’t redundant I meant they don’t say exactly the same thing just worded differently, but rather they make the same point through two points of observations. In the end I basically got a super rec from 2 people which if combined, would probably be much too long for just a single rec. I know for a fact that they coordinated my two recs so maybe thats why it worked out.</p>

<p>The original argument was basically 2 recs from 1 lab is probably better then 1 rec from a lab and 2 from classes. Those with close connections to 3 professors should take advantage of it for sure. I agree that 3 solid recs from different areas is great and most likely superior to 2 recs from the same lab. However, some of us either do not have that luxury or failed to get close to a third professor due to our own downfalls. In this case I advise the OP to get an additional one from the same lab rather than his initial plans.</p>

<p>Once again, my advice was directed specifically at the OP, and I wanted to provide an alternative and try to help him with some of my experiences. It may or may not work for him, but given his situation I was just offering another option which may be helpful in helping him at least secure 3 recs. Overall, I do agree that your advice is better in most cases. However, in his case, I think he needs some more options even though they may not be optimal.</p>

<p>Oh okay, thanks very much for all the advice! I appreciate it a lot!</p>

<p>Hm - let’s see - what do most people look for? Do they look for you being a hard worker? (for example, might they prefer it if they know that you can work VERY long hours?) Or would they prefer ingenuity? (that you propose lots of novel ideas?) And that you understand things quickly? What about curiosity? </p>

<p>Of course, they want to know that you’re one of the best that your professor has ever had. But sometimes that is hard to show in a research project.</p>

<p>My references were all people I did research with. Two advisors from my home school and one advisor from a summer research program.</p>

<p>But of course not everyone will have that, so getting 2 references from professors with whom you took classes is fine. I will say that you do need to worry about WHO the references come from. It’s better to have a reference from someone who knows you well. But, all other things being equal, famous professor > professor > post-doc > grad students. Speaking as a graduate student, we’re not finished with the program nor have we worked in the field yet. So we can’t really adequately comment on a student’s potential to fully succeed in a graduate program, much less to do great work in the field.</p>

<p>So the best option is to get three professors to write your recommendation, and if allowed, add a fourth from a post-doc or grad student that knows you well. I would only make one of the three be from a grad student if you have absolutely no one else appropriate who can recommned you (I mean like your next choice is the priest or your mom). And what kryptonsa says is correct - in my lab, the grad student or post-doc essentially writes the LOR but my PI reviews it and signs HIS name to it. But let’s not mince words: a recommendation from a graduate student is definitely weaker than a rec from a professor, even if you only took a class with that professor. BUT 3 recommendations is better than 2.</p>

<p>What are things that professors look for? I’ve actually asked some of my grad professors this, lol.</p>

<p>-They do want hard workers - people who have shown evidence of persistence and perseverance despite obstacles.
-Creativity/curiosity. Research work requires someone who can formulate interesting (and fundable) research questions.
-Follow-through. Ideas are great; people who can actually carry out ideas to fruition are better.
-Emotional stability. Graduate school is long and arduous; 5-7 years is no joke. Professors want mature, stable students who can take the long haul without breaking down and/or leaving and wasting their funds.
-Sense of purpose; a student who knows what s/he wants and goes after that. Someone who isn’t going to decide one year in that s/he’d rather be a lawyer or a nurse.</p>

<p>Oh wow, thanks SO much for this. :slight_smile: I really really appreciated it. =)</p>

<p>Interesting though - what about intelligence? Or analytical ability? Those things are often important for research too (sometimes grad students end up not being able to do something and then the professor has to figure it out for them). Are they often mentioned?</p>