Recommendation Letters Policy

Should you ask me? What should you provide? How much time do I need?

Please read this entire post before contacting me.

Finding and cultivating references was one of the hardest things I had to do as an undergraduate student. I hope this helps make the process easier.

You must contact me to check if I will serve as a reference for you before you submit any specific requests for letters.

As of 2018, I estimate that I have taught over 1000 students. Every term that number will keep growing. Compared to many teachers this is a tiny number. But for my memory it's rather a lot, and it is a challenge to remember every student after they leave my classes, even if they excelled. This is why it is extremely important to be as active as possible during the time(s) you are in my classroom, and to maintain an active correspondence with me once you leave.

There are two kinds of reference requests I receive: 'academic references' and 'other references.' I am willing to write either kind, if I feel that I can add something to your application profile.

  • 'Academic references' = graduate school applications, admission to study abroad programs, etc. These are the easiest for me to write because the receiving organizations/institutions are primarily concerned with your academic performance, about which I have something to say.

  • 'Other references' = employment, character references for the bar, and so on. These are nearly impossible for me to write unless you have taken the time to make yourself known to me. Even so, these are still difficult to write, so do not be surprised if I have to say no anyway.

The details...

Timeline for requests: I need at least six to eight weeks’ notice if you want a letter from me. If I have been writing you letters for multiple applications, then subsequent requests can come as short as one week in advance. Again, though, if I have not yet written you a reference letter, you must provide six to eight weeks before the first deadline for me to draft a letter. Most likely I will have to consult my records, re-read your work, and perhaps even consult with you more than once to fill in details for things I cannot remember. 

I will consider reference requests from any student who has written an Honours Thesis under my supervision; any student who scored a B+ or higher on an Independent Study paper; or any student who performed in one or more of my courses at a grade of B+ or higher. An A- or higher is preferable, since most academic references require that I compare you to all other students I have taught. The more times you have taken my courses, the better I can write for you. If you are still completing an HT or ISM, I will certainly consider a request.

Many schools and organizations give you a choice whether to waive access to my letter or not. Always select this option when you are filling out applications. Most schools or employers will not take a reference letter seriously unless you waive access. 

If I agree to act as a reference for you, then you should move on to the following steps. It is extremely important that you follow these instructions for EVERY request.

You should send me one email for every application. In the subject line of the email, please include the name of the school/organization/employer and "Due dd/mm/yy". This is essential for me to schedule multiple requests from multiple students.

In the body of the email, please include:

  • Clear instructions for each letter, including:

      • A deadline (may be the same as or different from your application deadline)

      • The name of the specific program, fellowship, or job. I need to be precise in my letter.

      • The name of the individual to whom the letter should be addressed (always try to find a specific name)

      • An address for the person and/or program (even if I am submitting electronically)

      • The type of submission (by email, online, snail mail)

      • Any specific submission requirements (signed envelope by mail? attachment to a secure web portal? something else?)

  • A very brief description of why the program, fellowship, job, etc. interests you. Why are you a strong candidate?

  • For graduate school, include a list of professors who you are interested in working with

  • A very brief description of what you did in my classes that I might talk about in a letter. Are there particular assignments, projects, or activities that you would like me to emphasize?

  • If you have graduated and some time has passed (more than a full semester), please include a short statement updating me on what you've been doing. You should include in this why you have chosen to either a) change career paths, or b) go back to school. 

In an attachment, please include:

  • Resume or curriculum vitae

  • Statement of purpose or essay that you are submitting to the program/school or the job description

  • All necessary forms. If I have to fill out forms on the web, make sure there are links directly to the proper web form. (Do NOT link to a page where I have to download a form. You should do this yourself and attach it to the document.)

And perhaps most importantly, if you wish to maintain a good relationship with me after all of this... let me know how things work out! If you get accepted to a school, let me know. If you are accepted to study abroad, let me know - and definitely contact me at some point to let me know how it's going (pictures are good too!). If nothing works out for you, it's important for me to know that too. If I never hear from you, but you contact me a year later for more letters, I'll probably say no. So, no matter what happens, keep me updated!