I consider writing a letter of recommendation--for a fellowship, graduation school, or a job--an integral part of being a teacher and a mentor. If you ask me to write a letter, I probably will write one. That being said, here are some general guidelines that I expect all students who ask me to write a letter to follow:
- Relationship. I should probably know who you are. I cannot write a strong letter for a student who never visited me in office hours, never participated in class, never worked with me as a research assistant, or took only a lecture class with me.
- Success. I write better letters for students who submitted excellent, written work for me. This includes essays and intricate problem sets. The best letters are for students who received As in my class or, better yet, in more than one class of mine.
- Timeliness/Advanced Notice. I need at least three weeks notice before your application deadline to submit a letter. If it's a week before the deadline and I have not submitted a letter for you yet, please feel free to nudge me to submit the letter.
- Application Information. I need a link to the program, fellowship, etc. that I can look at as I'm writing your letter.
- Materials. I expect you to send me all of your application materials. At the very least, you should be sending me your application letter/cover letter and your CV/resume.
- Memo. Include a brief bullet-point memo with 5-10 items you think I should reference in your letter. These are the things you think make your application unique. This will help me frame the letter and get a better sense of your application profile. You can also use this memo to explain some of the weaker parts of your application.