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Students: Asking me for a letter of reference

Updated: May 29, 2019

If you are a student of mine thinking of asking me for a letter of reference (for jobs, further studies, fellowships, etc.), please note the following guidelines:

1. It is generally in your own interest to ask me to write a letter for you only if you are confident that I can write you a strong letter. At the very least, this means that you should have taken courses with me in which I have been able to get to know your work first hand, and that you have done well in these courses. (If you are an undergraduate student who has only taken an introductory course such as POLI 231 with me, you cannot expect a strong letter because, given that several hundred students were in your class, I am not likely to be able to say much beyond reporting your grades. Your TA will be in a much better position to write you a substantive letter; if the letter must be from a professor, and you want a letter based on this course, then I suggest you first contact the TA asking him or her to write a letter about you to me; I can then quote the TA's substantive comments in my letter. But you will be better off asking a professor who is personally acquainted with your work and potential.)

2. You should give me at least one month's notice to prepare your letter. The exception is if I have previously written a letter for you, which I will have on file, and the letter does not require major updating.

3. If I agree to write you a letter, you must send me the following items by email:

a. a copy of all of your official university transcript(s)

b. the list of courses you have taken with me

c. scanned copies of the papers you have written for me, including my comments on the paper

d. a list of the destinations for the letters, including the relevant deadlines

e. an indication of whether the destinations want hardcopies or whether they take letters electronically

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