Recommendation letters are important. When applying to a PhD program, one of the initial means of understanding who you are and if you would be successful in the program is through people who know you. That is, recommendations from people who know you and have had interactions with you in the past.
Those interactions may be with your previous or current professors, lecturers. These are typically the recommenders that count the most. However, you could also receive recommendations from people in the field of interest (e.g., data scientists, accountants).
Try not to use recommendation letters from your friends and relatives, unless they are also professors in a program you have attended in the past.
Some universities will request the recommendation letters through a web portal, where you add the names and email addresses of the potential recommenders. The university will then send a recommendation request to the individuals. You may need around 3 or 4 letters. You want to have at least 5 potential recommenders incase one does not show up.
A few things to consider as you request recommendation letters from people.
- Be sure to have emailed the prospective recommender beforehand to ask if they would write you a strong and positive recommendation letters. Emphasis on strong and positive. Sometimes we forget that relationships are tricky. The relationship we think we have with someone may not be the relationship they believe they have with you. So, make sure you receive a yes to the question before you proceed to include their names in the portal.
- Be sure to give the potential recommender a semblance of a timeframe or due date for the recommendation letter. That way they know if they have the time to write you a letter. If you don’t get a response, that’s your answer that you should not use this person. If you receive a delayed response (e.g., 1 or 2 weeks), this may also be an indication that they may not be keen on this activity, or they are too busy at the time. There is little sense in receiving a recommendation after the due date, right?
A few things to consider including in your email to the recommender to help them write you a strong letter:
- Your resume/CV
- If, applicable, a synopsis of previous research activities (e.g., published papers)
- If possible, your previous classes
- If possible, a statement of purpose. This gives the recommender a good idea of your goals