Letter of recommendation from postdoc?

sakurai
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Letter of recommendation from postdoc?

Postby sakurai » Wed Apr 06, 2011 12:51 am

Hi! I'm new to the forum.

I'm currently doing research, officially, under the supervision of a professor, but unofficially, I'm actually working with a postdoc/junior research scientist at my University. I actually don't ever meet my professor, and I don't think he even is aware of the technical part of my research, since my postdoc is not working directly under her group. H only provides funding for me.

I was wondering, since graduate school admission relies heavily on letters of recommendation, can I submit one from the postdoc instead? Is it advisable to do so? I think he'll have a good idea of my abilities, since we meet weekly and debug a lot of problems together.

Thank you.

bfollinprm
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Re: Letter of recommendation from postdoc?

Postby bfollinprm » Wed Apr 06, 2011 12:59 am

sakurai wrote:Hi! I'm new to the forum.

I'm currently doing research, officially, under the supervision of a professor, but unofficially, I'm actually working with a postdoc/junior research scientist at my University. I actually don't ever meet my professor, and I don't think he even is aware of the technical part of my research, since my postdoc is not working directly under her group. H only provides funding for me.

I was wondering, since graduate school admission relies heavily on letters of recommendation, can I submit one from the postdoc instead? Is it advisable to do so? I think he'll have a good idea of my abilities, since we meet weekly and debug a lot of problems together.

Thank you.


The standard practice is to ask the prof for the rec. If he/she doesn't know enough to do a good job, the postdoc will be asked to write it and the prof will sign it. Postdocs don't have clout, so no point in asking him/her for a grad recommendation.

a1613395
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Re: Letter of recommendation from postdoc?

Postby a1613395 » Wed Apr 06, 2011 5:10 am

But if the professor isn't that well known, you're in the same position. Postdocs, depending on their position and experience in the field, will know faculty at other institutions, especially if the field is rather small like in astronomy. I'm guessing that's what's meant by clout. A great letter from an unknown is nowhere near as good as one from a known scientist (which in some cases can be a postdoc).

gobalicious
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Re: Letter of recommendation from postdoc?

Postby gobalicious » Wed Apr 06, 2011 5:17 am

One of my three recs was from a postdoc and I still got into "top 10" schools. Clout will help you, but lack of it will not hurt you as long as you show solid research experience. Most recommenders will be unknown to the committee anyway. My view of recs is that they are used to confirm the qualities presented in the app and discover any negative traits that might not show up in the app. My guess is that a well-written postdoc rec is more valuable than a hastily written one by a professor who isn't too familiar with you.

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midwestphysics
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Re: Letter of recommendation from postdoc?

Postby midwestphysics » Wed Apr 06, 2011 5:47 am

In general, I'm with bfollinprm on this one, chances are if you're still in a postdoc position your clout is relatively minimal, unless he's on the outs to a tenure track position and even then it's a gamble. But my reasoning isn’t really about their clout as much as it is about their documented staying power in an academic setting. Schools want to hear from people who have the already earned a title involving some form of "professor", and the less there is in front of that title the better, i.e. assistant, associate, visiting, etc (excluding distinguished). The Department Chair and advisors are also great, but usually they're professors as well so that covers the prereq in that area. In the end though this really depends on your other LOR's, if the others are really good I could see using the postdoc. Still as bfollinprm pointed out, the postdoc may end up writing you the glowing letter signed by the prof. It can help that their known, but in the end it's just about them being at the point of an established member of the academic community, not necessarily a leader yet or even ever in that community. The reason that doesn't really matter is because you're just starting out yourself and to expect you to already be a superstar working with superstars is a bit ridiculous, but to be working with someone who has earned or is on their way to earning a permanent spot in that community is expected. I wouldn't worry too much about everyone telling you to pick those who are really well known. Being known has its ups and downs, yeah people will probably know a famous profs work, but as history points out some of these people HATE each other, so don't worry about the "well known" issue, don't avoid it but certainly don't worry about it. Just try to pick those who have shown they can gain a permanent position.

admissionprof
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Re: Letter of recommendation from postdoc?

Postby admissionprof » Wed Apr 06, 2011 6:07 am

gobalicious wrote:One of my three recs was from a postdoc and I still got into "top 10" schools. Clout will help you, but lack of it will not hurt you as long as you show solid research experience. Most recommenders will be unknown to the committee anyway. My view of recs is that they are used to confirm the qualities presented in the app and discover any negative traits that might not show up in the app. My guess is that a well-written postdoc rec is more valuable than a hastily written one by a professor who isn't too familiar with you.


I don't fully agree with midwestphysics and bfollinprm. I would much rather see a detailed letter from a postdoc than a low-information letter from a professor (although having the postdoc write a letter that the professor signs is obviously the best, as they both say).

If someone has been a postdoc at a major lab or top ten school, and can compare the applicant with other undergraduates who have gone on and done well, I don't care about the rank. I probably haven't heard of 90% of the professorial letter-writers, so fame isn't that critical (except in extreme cases, of course). It shouldn't be your main letter, of course, but for discussion of your contribution to a research project it's ok.

a1613395
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Re: Letter of recommendation from postdoc?

Postby a1613395 » Wed Apr 06, 2011 6:11 am

Thanks to admissionprof for weighing in on this. Unless others has also served on an admissions committees, I'm pretty sure most of us can't say what schools actually care about.

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midwestphysics
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Re: Letter of recommendation from postdoc?

Postby midwestphysics » Wed Apr 06, 2011 6:22 am

admissionprof wrote: If someone has been a postdoc at a major lab or top ten school, and can compare the applicant with other undergraduates who have gone on and done well, I don't care about the rank. I probably haven't heard of 90% of the professorial letter-writers, so fame isn't that critical (except in extreme cases, of course). It shouldn't be your main letter, of course, but for discussion of your contribution to a research project it's ok.


There's the "if" in it all though. "If" they can compare you to others who have gone on to do well, most postdocs haven't been that far which is why we have our reservations about having them write a letter. The exception as you pointed out is a postdoc at a major institution, but that accounts for very few postdocs. In general, someone who knows you well is best if they can compare you, and prof's are the best in that category. I guess a mesh of what we're all saying is to try to combine them. You might even ask the professor if it would be good to have the postdoc attach a letter of their own to the prof's own letter as a supplement. I would think of that as a reference letter from previous work, where a VP might write a letter for you and include an attachment from your direct report or group leader.

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midwestphysics
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Re: Letter of recommendation from postdoc?

Postby midwestphysics » Wed Apr 06, 2011 6:24 am

a1613395 wrote:Thanks to admissionprof for weighing in on this. Unless others has also served on an admissions committees, I'm pretty sure most of us can't say what schools actually care about.


Well take it or leave it, I could say I'm the President's science advisor, that doesn't make it a fact. So take EVERYTHING here as suggestions.

a1613395
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Re: Letter of recommendation from postdoc?

Postby a1613395 » Wed Apr 06, 2011 6:59 am

midwestphysics wrote:So take EVERYTHING here as suggestions.


Thank you.

tady
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Re: Letter of recommendation from postdoc?

Postby tady » Wed Apr 06, 2011 10:20 am

a1613395 wrote:
midwestphysics wrote:So take EVERYTHING here as suggestions.


Thank you.


Haha. Thank you Captain Obvious!

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midwestphysics
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Re: Letter of recommendation from postdoc?

Postby midwestphysics » Wed Apr 06, 2011 12:26 pm

tady wrote:
a1613395 wrote:
midwestphysics wrote:So take EVERYTHING here as suggestions.


Thank you.


Haha. Thank you Captain Obvious!


Yeah, it's real obvious, that why if you look around here a majority of people treat some things said by people who claim certain things as facts not suggestions...Oh wait, that would indicate that to the majority it's not too obvious. I'm not saying someone is or isn't who they say, I'm just saying be smart, because a good amount are not.

a1613395
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Re: Letter of recommendation from postdoc?

Postby a1613395 » Wed Apr 06, 2011 1:15 pm

Wait, can we derail this thread a bit more, please?

bfollinprm
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Re: Letter of recommendation from postdoc?

Postby bfollinprm » Thu Apr 07, 2011 12:45 am

midwestphysics wrote:Schools want to hear from people who have the already earned a title involving some form of "professor"

^^^what I meant by clout.

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grae313
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Re: Letter of recommendation from postdoc?

Postby grae313 » Thu Apr 07, 2011 1:15 pm

This situations is fairly common and I believe the standard practice is to have the postdoc write you the letter and have the professor co-sign it.

I actually wrote a letter of recommendation for one of the students I TAd last year and had the professor who taught the course co-sign it. Obviously this isn't ideal and a letter from a full professor who knows the student well is preferable, but in many cases this just isn't possible and it doesn't make sense to ask someone who doesn't know much about you or your work to write you a letter.

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InquilineKea
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Re: Letter of recommendation from postdoc?

Postby InquilineKea » Sat Apr 30, 2011 9:17 pm

One idea: ask the postdoc which professors he has worked with in. Also, look at the postdoc's CV to see which professors he has collaborated the most with. A recommendation from a postdoc would carry more weight with professors who are familiar with the postdoc. That being said, these professors might not be serving on the admissions committee, but you can always ask the postdoc to (maybe) send an email to the professor at the institution you're interested in.

Also, this is small unproven speculation, but there are some cases when people who aren't too-far removed from undergrad will be in a better position to compare the undergrad to other undergrads, simply because he will have the proper context to put the undergrad's achievements in. Most professors don't know the significance of many modern undergrad achievements, but a postdoc (and a graduate student, even more so) might be more likely to know them. Finally, younger people may not have forgotten the years when they were constantly comparing themselves with each other, so that might make them think more about comparisons.




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