Screwed up with this recommender - what should I do?

fc_pga
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Screwed up with this recommender - what should I do?

Postby fc_pga » Tue Nov 10, 2009 9:32 pm

I am an international Asian student with an otherwise strong portfolio, from an unknown school in my home country in Asia.

I took the opportunity to work in a research lab for 10 weeks over the summer, at the university where I was a one-semester exchange student (a very good public university in the States, anyway). The PI is a big name in the field. He told me two times (one was on the last day of my stay there) that he and his postdoc were happy with my work. At one point he even urged me to stay for another semester - he said he could write a petition to my home university so that I could extend my stay - which I turned down after careful consideration (one thing was I wanted more time to focus on my grad school app).

Now I emailed him three times over the past months asking him to write a strong recommendation for me, and urging him to confirm whether he would be able to do so. But so far, I didn't even receive a single response. I start to doubt if he was really that happy with my performance, or if he simply didn't bother to write one.

My portfolio is otherwise reasonbly strong (I took a number of grad classes and got very good grades, and I did my senior thesis with the VP of my university, a reasonbly well-known person in theoretical physics, and I can certainly get several strong recommendations from my home university). But then, since I worked with this big name there, the admissions committees probably expect a letter from him.

What should I do now? Should I insist that he write a letter for me (and how)? Would it work if I simply register him as a recommender online? What happens if I fail to solicit this letter from him?

Mataka
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Re: Screwed up with this recommender - what should I do?

Postby Mataka » Tue Nov 10, 2009 9:49 pm

Now I emailed him three times over the past months asking him to write a strong recommendation for me, and urging him to confirm whether he would be able to do so.


First of all, I think you need to reconsider the way you ask a recommendation letter. I don't know how exactly you asked him, but you're not actually supposed to ask him for a strong recommendation, you're suppose to ask him if he would be willing to write you a letter of recommendation, period. Don't give him unnecessary additional pressure. Sorry to be picky about the choice of words, but put yourself in his position ...

That being said, why don't you just call him ? This way you'll get a definitive answer ...

fc_pga
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Re: Screwed up with this recommender - what should I do?

Postby fc_pga » Tue Nov 10, 2009 11:41 pm

Mataka wrote:
Now I emailed him three times over the past months asking him to write a strong recommendation for me, and urging him to confirm whether he would be able to do so.


First of all, I think you need to reconsider the way you ask a recommendation letter. I don't know how exactly you asked him, but you're not actually supposed to ask him for a strong recommendation, you're suppose to ask him if he would be willing to write you a letter of recommendation, period. Don't give him unnecessary additional pressure. Sorry to be picky about the choice of words, but put yourself in his position ...

That being said, why don't you just call him ? This way you'll get a definitive answer ...


Well, I simply followed what Donald Asher outlined in his book in asking for recommendation letters. I was trying to be courteous, though Donald Asher did in fact suggest that we ask kindly for a strong recommendation letter. You know, an average or mediocre letter could be detrimental.

I did not use the word 'strong' in at least one of the emails though, but used 'honest' and 'positive', etc, instead.

Mataka
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Re: Screwed up with this recommender - what should I do?

Postby Mataka » Tue Nov 10, 2009 11:44 pm

Yeah I know, but as foolish as it may sound, I always though that the recommender was supposed to decide what kind of letter he writes ;)

fc_pga
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Re: Screwed up with this recommender - what should I do?

Postby fc_pga » Wed Nov 11, 2009 12:01 am

Mataka wrote:Yeah I know, but as foolish as it may sound, I always though that the recommender was supposed to decide what kind of letter he writes ;)


I'm not sure - Donald Asher's book suggested that it's always better to find out what the recommender writes before the admissions committee does.

You're right, maybe I should call him, but he's really busy and I gotta make a long-distance call across the pond...

Btw, I updated my profile. Would you think that failing to solicit a letter from this guy could kill my application?

Mataka
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Re: Screwed up with this recommender - what should I do?

Postby Mataka » Wed Nov 11, 2009 12:11 am

You are suppose to know what kind of letter he will write based on his appreciation of your work, not by telling him what kind of letter to write ;)

You should indeed call him, even if he is busy and it's a long distance call ... he should understand, and you should understand that the money this call will cost is really insignificant.

If you don't get a letter from him it will not kill your application, but it could hurt it, and you need to do everything you can to boost it... it's just common sense.

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noojens
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Re: Screwed up with this recommender - what should I do?

Postby noojens » Wed Nov 11, 2009 12:30 am

I second (third?) the recommendation to pick up the friggin' phone.

Call him, call his secretary, call his postdoc. If he's a big name prof then he's extremely busy, especially this late in the application season (dozens of students have likely already asked him for letters). Be assertive.

And for what it's worth? I agree that asking for a "strong" recommendation sounds pushy. I err on the side of politeness when I'm asking people to do *** for me that they have absolutely no obligation to do.

Best of luck.

nathan12343
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Re: Screwed up with this recommender - what should I do?

Postby nathan12343 » Wed Nov 11, 2009 2:16 am

I think it's ok to politely ask if the recommender will write a strong letter. Your future is partly in their hands and I think it's within your rights to make sure that they will write good things. On the other hand, it's probably best not to have to ask and just be sure that the letter will be glowing.

It sounds to me like the prof is just busy. Keep in mind that the due date for the application is for YOU and not the prof writing the letter. They can get the letter in up to and including the point when the admissions committee is reviewing your application (probably in January or February).

fc_pga
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Re: Screwed up with this recommender - what should I do?

Postby fc_pga » Fri Nov 13, 2009 3:57 am

Okay, so I got in touch with the postdoc who supervised me instead. She told me that she was not sure how to write a positive recommendation because the project I worked on 'didn't really work'. (That's a fact; despite the amount of time I spent on it, nothing really worked out perfectly and we didn't get any useful results, and to be honest I had one or two safety violations in the lab, though I believe that has nothing to do with my potential.)

This is despite the fact that both the PI and the postdoc told me multiple times that they were 'happy' with my performance.

This means that it's hard for me to get a recommendation from the PI anyway, though I didn't call him on the phone yet and am not sure whether I should, in view of the present situation.

Fortunately I still have the VP of my college who would be able to comment on my research and would presumably write a very strong recommendation for me - my senior thesis work with him has been going pretty well and I managed to spot a mistake in his paper and solve a major inconsistency on my own. Another one of my recommenders (who recently got a major paper in Nature) might also be able to comment on my research potential (I showed him a paper in which I tried to reformulate a problem in classical mechanics two years ago, though that paper failed to get published).

In view of these, would the letters from my college VP and perhaps that other professor be sufficient to demonstrate my research capabilities and make up for the absence of the big-name PI whom I worked with over the summer? In this case, what would the possible consequences of not soliciting the letter from the big-name PI be?

Btw, I did have one single publication - I was the sole author of a short note on a rather trivial problem in one of the more or less rubbish journals, period. I have some chance of getting a publication with my senior thesis though, but that would be too late.

mobytish
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Re: Screwed up with this recommender - what should I do?

Postby mobytish » Fri Nov 13, 2009 7:45 am

I had a professor I had asked for a recommendation not respond to me for two weeks (first he was sick, then he was just really busy). In the meantime, I had sent him a polite e-mail in which I explained that I had set him up in the online system for each of my applications since I needed to fill in all the recommenders to have them send out the e-mails and told him he could write me back if he was uninterested and I would change it. It was shortly after this that he e-mailed back apologizing that he hadn't had a chance to respond before. A different situation, I know, but it was a away of e-mailing him a reminder without again asking him the same thing and sounding super pushy.

Mataka
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Re: Screwed up with this recommender - what should I do?

Postby Mataka » Fri Nov 13, 2009 11:47 am

Even if your project didn't work you should still get a LOR from him, I think.

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grae313
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Re: Screwed up with this recommender - what should I do?

Postby grae313 » Fri Nov 13, 2009 2:11 pm

Rereading your original message, I think it's really time for you to give this guy a phone call. The worst he could do is say no. You're profile seems excellent otherwise, but you don't want to give them reason to doubt you. If he seems hesitant or indicates somehow he won't write you a strong letter, then you should look elsewhere because I think it's more important that you have three very strong letters. However, a strong letter from a big name in the states that you did research with for 10 weeks looks really, really good.

As for the post doc, that seems really strange to me. If we knew the answer beforehand, it wouldn't be research. Everyone goes down dead end sometimes, that's just the nature of research, and doesn't necessarily reflect poorly on your abilities... But if your PI said he would write your University to have you stay, I think you better give him a phone call and find out for sure what his stance is on you.

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noojens
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Re: Screwed up with this recommender - what should I do?

Postby noojens » Fri Nov 13, 2009 2:24 pm

Grae are you advising the Cornell AdCom yet?

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grae313
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Re: Screwed up with this recommender - what should I do?

Postby grae313 » Fri Nov 13, 2009 3:36 pm

noojens wrote:Grae are you advising the Cornell AdCom yet?


Not yet ;) Uh... to that effect let me just restate my usual disclaimer: I'm not a member of any admissions committees and this is just my opinion!

fc_pga
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Re: Screwed up with this recommender - what should I do?

Postby fc_pga » Tue Nov 17, 2009 9:29 pm

OK, I tried to call him on the phone a couple of times and still didn't manage to reach him.

FYI, I just heard that he had another summer student last year, whom he was also very happy with (and he told him that if he had funding he would take him for PhD study). That student also asked him for a recommendation letter, and he didn't reply. The student subsequently registered him online, and he didn't write one anyway, and in the end he was notified by the respective schools that one of his letters was missing, and he had to find another prof (who taught him a class) to help out.

He was lucky enough to get into MSE at Michigan, one of the top programs in that field, anyway. If I heard of this story before I probably wouldn't have sought to work with him.

Twigger
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Re: Screwed up with this recommender - what should I do?

Postby Twigger » Wed Oct 12, 2011 2:23 am

I've received the letter from Adcom saying: Thanks for your email. Your GMAT score is in the bottom 10% of our class profile. Our average GMAT of a matriculating student is 700. Only you can make the final decision of whether you will apply; however, if you do, I would highly recommend retaking your GMAT so that your application is as strong and competitive for consideration. A bit harsh. but that's it.. don't even know if that makes any difference to write them something back..




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