any art of asking for a rec?

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any art of asking for a rec?

Postby phoenix » Thu Mar 29, 2007 3:22 pm

i am now working for a prof., who is famous in his field...
luckily, i got to meet him a lot..on a weekly base...and he knows that i am doing a good job...
the problem i got here is, my boss is at the same time an extremely busy person...he is not only a prof., involved in many projects, and also is in charge of some school faculty stuff...i feel so bad for him when i see him so busy...
but i am about to ask him to write a rec for about 12-14 schools' applications...
i am so worried about how i should word properly and make him not feel it's a big burden to go through those tedious process...??
anyone who has this kind of worry?..
i mean, if your rec person is not so busy, you worry about his fame..
if he is so busy anf worry about how to ask for a good rec..
appreciate any kind of idea....!!! =)

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Postby braindrain » Thu Mar 29, 2007 7:23 pm

The biggest time factor is in writing the letter in the first place. The rest should be a cut and paste job. Once he writes it, it should be easy and mindless to replicate it any number of times, but still some time is involved. Make sure you ask with ample lead time. But, what I did was get a 4th recommender and split my schools up between 4 people and not 3, so each had a smaller number of schools to write for. That was before I discovered that some schools actually say its okay to send 4 letters. Maybe ask for less schools at first and then add some later so he doesn't feel overburdened all at once. But if there is enough lead time, your prof. can choose to pace himself on his own. Some of the people on this site said they told professors how many schools they were going to apply for and the profs. said to cut it down. If it were me I wouldn't listen, but a prof. may comment on the number of schools. If you are applying to that many, then you can use this prof. for your best schools and not burden him with the safety ones if you need to cut it down (only if he reacts to the number of schools). You shouldn't feel too bad from the perspective of you are doing work for the guy. You should get some benefits for doing hard work in his lab. But, the last good thing is, usually busy people actually get more done. Its a strange phenomena - the more you have to do, the more you get done. He may not squinch at all and just say he would be happy to. Good luck!!

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Postby phoenix » Thu Mar 29, 2007 9:33 pm

thanks so much for the refreshing SPILTTING idea...=P
actually, my case is a bit different..
my research project actually got funded by prof., so strictly speaking, he is also my boss, who pay me for my work...
will that kind of employer/employee relationship changes things in rec????
another concern...of course..i want to show best of me in front of top letters go to best recommenders..
but make sure got into safe schools...shouldn't i also show best of me?.....
by the way..i am an international student...who is now in a one-year program in application may even more difficult...
those "safe" school may just not that least in my case..

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Postby tnoviell » Fri Mar 30, 2007 1:18 am

Asking for a rec is like asking a girl just ask them, and the worst thing they can say is no.

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Postby schmit.paul » Fri Mar 30, 2007 7:43 am


I've been in a similar situation (extremely busy, well-known prof who is paying me as a student researcher). These guys are used to writing letters, so when they hire you they sort of expect that situation to come up at some point...seriously, your prof. won't be shocked when you proposition him. If you're asking this time of year, I assume it's for grad school for next year, which is WAY more than enough head's up time for him to take his time and write it when he has a moment. He's only going to write you one letter and for the most part it won't change from school to school, so there's really not as much work that goes into it as you'd think. Just make sure he's willing to write a *strong* letter of recommendation for you (when you ask him it's sort of an indirect way of asking him "how did I do?"). You should be fine.

ps- sorry if I repeated anything anyone else said, I read your initial post and skipped to the response because it's 4:45 in the morning and I'm having a hard time sleeping.

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Postby braindrain » Fri Mar 30, 2007 2:54 pm

Actually, nowadays, I think any supervisor is ecstatic and tickled pink if a student indicates they are going to stay in science. I think they still feel a great loss if a student goes to Wall Street, law school, or something else. He might just write a great letter to help the cause.

I don't think asking for a letter will affect your working relationship if that's what you were asking. He might be eye-balling you more within the next few weeks after you ask him, but I'm sure his impressions are well formed already. It could actually be the best time to ask for one, since you are fresh in his mind. But, what I've found, is letter writers are very agreeable when they still need you for something. He might want you to publish later and continue getting results, so he still needs you for something.

The only sticky situations I have found of if they want to stay on with them and then you ask for a letter to go to another opportunity. I've had those offers from supervisors, i.e. if you stay with me then I'll write a glowing letter. Those would be bribe letters. But, I don't think you have this situation.

Speaking of @tnoviell's comment: there's a young Adam Sandler in He said the same thing - a friend told him to ask a girl out and the worst that can happen is she will say no. But, when he did that the girl said 'no, you loser'. That guy is very funny.

But, with letters, I've heard of other worsts: they say yes and never write the f'in letter, or they say yes and don't write a strong one. But, this won't happen if you are working for someone because of the 'they still need you' thing and because since you are still there he wouldn't keep on someone who wasn't good.

I think profs. also tend to take graduate school seriously, like its a big thing and a big step.

Don't worry. Just ask. You might start by telling him your plans etc..

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Postby phoenix » Fri Mar 30, 2007 8:10 pm

your comment is extremely useful, actually!!!!! i am really looking forward to anyone who shares similar case give me some advice...

i am considering asking my bossing soon in a proper time next that he still can keep an eye on me for a while...since i am going to leave the school to another summer research,..then heading back to my own country to finish my final year...and i have been committed to my boss that even over summer and the coming semester..if there is anything coming up in my part in research collaboration..i will take care of that even without some sense...i should be in the game of "still have some function for boss"...ha...

what you said is correct...but if you lose the rec letter from a have been working with approx. over 8 months, (will be in total probably the whole year) will lose a HUGE chance to show those application committees what kind of researchers you are in a long run...

actually, i think this post is kind of useful for ppl like me who is going to apply for grad. school in the coming years..
i mean, everyone knows, a famous prof. is better than a warm-hearted postdoc, everyone knows to find a chance let prof. know you on a regularly frequent base of your research attitude and progress...etc... to execute that?
how to practically accomplish that, it's kind of an art that us rational probably intelligent physics students lack...


though its one of the major reasons why i escape to ideal physical world...still..need to overcome this pain in the neck in this process...

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Postby schmit.paul » Fri Mar 30, 2007 9:32 pm


Actually, w/ regards to social networking and the rest of your last comment, the last thing braindrain said bears some credence. A really great way to have a professor get to know you is to first engage them in a conversation regarding their own research, and then try to segue into a discussion about the research you would like to do in grad school/for your career, and while you are discussing *your* future make sure you set up a context in which you are asking for the professor's advice/sage wisdom. One thing about profs is that they love talking about themselves and their research, so if you divert the conversation toward your own future and goals, you need to maintain an atmosphere where they feel like their commentary and guidance is important. That way, while you are getting good advice from them as accomplished academic professionals, you are simultaneously informing them of your own plans and your enthusiasm for your field, which they will undoubtedly recall later in their letter....a couple of these conversations and at least a modest performance in your research and you're golden. Good luck!

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