Spring break + A Little Effort = Better Recommendation Letters


Spring break + A Little Effort = Better Recommendation Letters

— from the PI’s desk

Whether you’re pre-med, pre-grad, pre-dental, pre-vet, or headed for the job market after graduation, you will need letters of recommendation. Be prepared to invest 1 hour during spring break to do a little prep work that will pay off in better letters.

Step 1: Update your CV or resume. Set aside 20 minutes. Update your resume or CV or start from scratch if you don’t have one. The first draft is never as good as the last one, and you’ll want to give a polished version to every potential reference. True, it might be a couple of months before you need it, but it’s not fun to do, and so easy to put off. Over break, at the very least, start a list of what you’ve done, and what you’ve won. (The week after spring break, follow up with the undergrad research office or career center for professional guidance). Do this first, and you’ll use it to draw inspiration for Steps 2 and 3.

Step 2: Build a reference list. Set aside 10 minutes. The list length depends on the number, and quality, of the professional relationships you’ve developed in college. If three potential references immediately come to mind (based on your previous interactions with these individuals) you’ll be done fast. If not, take more time to make a longer list—you might need to ask as many as 5 or 10 potential references.

Step 3: Customize. Set aside 30 minutes. If you plan to ask your research advisor for a recommendation letter, write three to five short statements (each one or two sentences), detailing what you learned or gained from your research experience.

Those who invest time in training, advising, or mentoring appreciate it when it a student is aware of the benefits they’ve gained from their research experience. It’s always nice when a student says, “I really appreciate everything you’ve done,” but when accompanied with specific examples that can be incorporated into a recommendation letter, it’s more genuine and meaningful.

In addition, it’s easier for you to remember what your accomplishments are than it is for your advisor to remember them. Whether or not your PI asks you to write a self-assessment letter, putting together a few statements of what you have gained will make it easier for her to write a stronger, more thorough letter.

Plus, the sooner you start thinking about what you have gained from your research experience, the more realizations you’ll have before you officially ask for the letter. You’ll have time to add more statements, or edit them if you think of something better.