April 2018 Bulletin Cover

The Bulletin is the student newsletter of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Printed eight times during the academic year, and updated continually online, the Bulletin profiles PhD and master's students and reports on GSAS news and events.

From time to time, when students request a letter of recommendation from a faculty advisor, they are asked to provide a draft of the potential letter. Typically, students cringe at this assignment: How can they sing their own praises, how can they avoid overstepping the bounds of good taste while providing the necessary positive input for a strong letter of recommendation? We would argue that this dilemma is always present, even when the assignment of a draft has not been made, and that it is perfectly good form and even a kindness to help provide the letter writer with sufficient concrete documentation to write a good letter.

Two key issues should be addressed in such a letter: one, the importance of the proposed project, and two, the student’s qualifications to implement that project. Ideally, you will have communicated already with faculty members in your field about your project and the necessary preparation to implement it, but if not, best to get started as quickly as possible. You will probably get some excellent advice once you engage with faculty.

When the time comes for actually applying, be sure to give your letter writers as much advance notice as possible, at least two weeks prior to deadline, if possible. When making your request for a letter, set up an appointment or take advantage of office hours to be sure that you and the writer are giving the application the serious attention it deserves; do not rely on a casual encounter in the hallway to make your request. Faculty are delighted when their students get funded, so they are likely to be forthcoming in providing the requisite support. It’s a good idea to provide the letter writer with a CV and perhaps a fairly clean draft of your proposal as a reminder, as well as a description of the fellowship and its priorities; be sure to provide instructions for how and when to submit the recommendation.

To put all this another way: Try to take an active stance in the application process; do not just sit around hoping your advisors will come through. Do whatever you can to make it come out all right. YES, YOU CAN!

Yes, You Can! Providing Input on Letters of Recommendation