Should you ask me for a recommendation letter?

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A number of students have approached me to write recommendations for their internship, exchange program, and other types of applications. While I’m generally happy to do so, it doesn’t mean I will or can agree to all requests. Ultimately, I will only do it if I can write strong recommendation letters for the students — and this is what students should aim for too.

If you are thinking of who you should ask to be your academic referee, here are some advice. Do not simply look for the professors who are nice, friendly, and approachable, and/or whose classes you aced. Instead, the main criteria should be those who know you and your performance very well and in depth, such as professors who:

  • taught you recently (who can better recall your performance)
  • taught you in a relatively small classes (which allow for deeper interactions, and better observations of you)
  • taught you an advance course

In my opinion, it is better for you to get a recommendation letter from the professor who taught you, say, Advance Linear Programming in the previous semester (in which you get a B grade among 30 students) than from someone who taught you Introduction to IS in your freshmen year (in which you get an A among 100 students).

So, should you ask me to be your academic referee? If you completed an independent study under my supervision, or worked on one of my research projects, you can consider asking me, especially if you had performed well. However, if you simply attended my lectures, did well in the exams, and score an A for the course, I strongly suggest you look for someone else for the recommendation letter. After all, I could only say that you did well in my course and attained a good grade, which is what your transcript would say anyway. I’ll not be adding any new information about you to readers of the recommendation letter, which doesn’t serve its purpose for you.

Now, if you decide to ask me to be your referee, drop me a note and I will let you know if I can do it. Also, refer to what you can do to help me help you.

And the winner is….

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I’m delighted that Prof. Percy Dias from my department is one of the winners for this year’s teaching award. Many students whom I know rated him very highly, and he is consistently one of the best instructors in our school. If I’m not mistaken, this is his third or fourth time winning the Franklin Prize. Heartiest congrats to him!

And because there are more deserving winners, it means I didn’t win this year :)

Nominated for Teaching Excellence Award!

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Just as I’m wrapping up my teaching for this semester, I received a note that says I’ve been nominated for The Franklin Prize for Teaching Excellence by the business school. This is an annual prize to recognize business faculty contributions to teaching excellence in undergraduate and graduate courses. The Franklin Prize has 6 awards: three for undergraduate, and three for MBA/MSc teaching. I have been nominated as a candidate for the Undergraduate Teaching category.

This nomination is based on my teaching performance in Spring 2014, but I’m sure evaluations for my Spring 2013 course help too. (Student evaluations for Spring 2015 course has yet been officially released… perhaps I will have another shot next year). I’m glad students generally enjoyed the course, and I’m grateful for their positive evaluations. Receiving this nomination shows that I’ve been doing something right in my teaching — now I just need to figure what these right things are.

My teaching changes lives…

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A student who attended my very first “Introduction to Information Systems” course in HKUST (Spring 2013) just sent me an email:

I am happy to share with you a piece of good news – I got a graduate offer from PwC Consulting. Actually I want to thank you for your support and teaching where you created a platform to us to learn proactively and freely. It was also the business-related technology information you taught that led to my interest in “IT in business” and then I kept learning more about this. Since IT actually has over-whelming power in business now, I got well prepared for the interview, where I shared the related ideas in the business case study. It’s definitely a pleasure to be your student and learn IT from a business perspective. Thanks again!

Simply wonderful! Such news make all the efforts that I put in preparing and delivering the course worthwhile.

P.S. Sorry for the dramatic post title :)

Awarded an early career research grant

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My project proposal for HK Research Grants Council’s Early Career Scheme (ECS) has gone through successfully. This project focuses on the use of crowd-based contests to acquire graphic designs. Specifically, I plan to examine how the heterogeneity among contestants and in the information provided by contest clients affect the attributes and performances of the design submissions. This project is an extension of my research in crowd-based design contests.

The ECS is for PIs who are in their first three years as Assistant Professor in HK institutions, and I’m glad to be successful in my first attempt applying for this “rookie” grant. I’m also happy for my colleagues whose grant applications went through as well.

Do you need a recommendation letter from me?

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Students have asked me to write recommendation letters for them. It is nice to know that I’m contributing a little to some exciting new chapters in their lives. Generally, I’m happy to do that for them even though it’s quite time-consuming.

In case you would like me to write a recommendation letter for you, here are two simple guidelines.

 1. Give me time to write a good letter

If you like to have a strong and credible recommendation from me (and why wouldn’t you?), you need to give me enough time to work on it. A rush job usually means a poor job — and that’s not going to be helpful to you. So give me at least 7 working weekdays, and more if your request comes in during my peak season. And please don’t bother to ask me for a letter to be done within one to two days. No matter now polite you ask and how valid your reason is, I will not entertain  “urgent” request.

2. Give me information to write a good letter

Tell me what the letter is for. Is it for a job application, graduate school application, exchange program application, or telling your girlfriend’s father why he should let you marry her? You should also provide me information such as an updated CV or resume. In addition, it is useful if you can let me know what you would like me to focus on in the letter. Your leadership quality? Communication skills? Sense of humor? The more information your provide, the easier it is for me to craft the letter. However, please note that (i) I may not use all or any of the information that you provide, and (ii) I don’t rubber stamp or simply sign off on a recommendation letter that your write for yourself.

You should also let me know whether I should send the letter directly to the requester or pass it to you. Letters for graduate school applications and prospective fathers-in-law tend to bypass you — so give me details about where to send these letters. And tell me upfront whether you want the letter in hard or soft copy.

The above-mentioned little things that you do will help me in helping you.