Should you ask me for a recommendation letter?

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….

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 🙂