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the truth about letters of rec?

Posted: Wed Jan 17, 2007 5:07 pm
by braindrain
What is the real scoop on letters? Is it neutral or not useful to have a letter from a professor you took a class with? Does a lab class weigh more than a lecture class? Is it not useful to have a letter from research that wasn't completely physics? Does it matter if letters come from a physics research supervisor at school or on an outside lab? Does having more than 3 really make a difference? So many questions, so little time. Actually no time, since all the deadlines have passed except if you fund yourself. I was just wondering what people thought.

The only real thing I heard about letters was that if they heard of the letter writer then it helps.

I just imagine they sit by an open window and throw out the window all the irrelevant things from your application folder. :) Or they throw all the applications up in the air and whichever land on top are the ones that get in. :)

Posted: Wed Jan 17, 2007 5:29 pm
by tnoviell
I know my letters of recommendation were very important. Think of it like you were getting a job, do you think someone is going to hire you if you have no quality recommendations from people you worked for?

Posted: Wed Jan 17, 2007 6:14 pm
by braindrain
I know they are very important, but are the ones from just a lecture class valuable at all even if you got to know the professor?

Posted: Wed Jan 17, 2007 6:50 pm
by tnoviell
Probably not...I'd think researcher advisors are most important. Unless that lecturer happens to be a man with great connections at some school, then it's different.

Posted: Wed Jan 17, 2007 7:40 pm
by Daharoni
From what I have heard, the admission staff use letters of rec to find out how you will do in graduate level classes and in research.

I think the most important person to get a letter of rec from is a research adviser because they will be able to say how good you are at doing research. Professor from a lab would probably be next because they also have experience on how you do research. Lastly comes a prof you took a grad class with or a prof that knows you well.

Posted: Wed Jan 17, 2007 9:45 pm
by somebody
I don't think you should underestimate the importance of the ability to get through the education component of graduate school. Thats where alot of people drop out and they are of almost no use to graduate programs since they are primarily taking classes while there and contributing little research. Somebody who passes the qualifier and does some research but never gets a phd is much more valuable then somebody who doesn't get through classes (who would be seen as just a waste of the department's funding)

Posted: Wed Jan 17, 2007 10:43 pm
by braindrain
Sometimes it seems like the best person to accept into physics graduate school is someone who already has a phd in physics !! :)
-if we had to have graduate level classes and lots of physics research.

But I guess the grant system works that way. They have to have done lots of the research before applying for the grant.

Posted: Wed Jan 17, 2007 11:54 pm
by Richter
What you said about the recommenders absolutely mean something. I heard of a Chinese students who got recommendation from Chen Ning Yang, and was admitted in nearly every schools even though he never took the GRE and TOEFL.

Posted: Fri Jan 19, 2007 7:38 pm
by quizivex
I don't think letters from profs who taught you are a bad thing. Coursework is just as important as research in school and students should have someone who can attest to their in-class abilities beyond what the ABCDF transcript can show. Maybe the prof who taught you once back in soph year wouldn't be very useful. But for instance I've had a prof for a class each of the last 3 semesters, <deleted for anonymity>. So I think he'd be a very valuable reference (assuming he liked me).

Yeah I think it's kindof comical that students are expected to have had all kinds of research accomplishments when they're only applying to grad school rather than being a postdoc already. We're undergraduates only beginning to learn the basics of the basics, so how could we really be expected contribute to push the frontier of physics, beyond just helping out in a lab? Profs who feel the same way would value a recommendation that praises a student's ability to solve problems with bricks oscillating on cylinders and such, and ask good questions in class and always act interested etc...

Furthermore, you're expected to have 3 recommendations anyway. So certainly one or two could come from an instructor. It's unusual to have researched under 3 different profs anyway.