Letter of recommendation requests

Hello! If you are thinking about asking me for a recommendation, please read the following in its entirety.

I am thrilled to write a letter for anyone who has taken a class with me and I want to encourage you to pursue further academic study, apply for scholarships, and find jobs. The purpose of this page is for students to get a feel for the process of asking for a recommendation, since it is often not taught, and to also outline conditions under which I will not write you a letter.

I will NOT write letters of recommendation for internships, jobs, or other programs involving any of the following:

  • Policing (including predictive policing, recidivism prediction, etc.);
  • Military applications (such as internships with DoD contractors);
  • Intelligence gathering (such as jobs with the NSA, CSE, GCHQ, etc.);
  • Weapons manufacturing, broadly construed.

I am very happy to discuss this policy with any student who has questions. However, this policy is non-negotiable. Therefore, if it is invoked when I am asked to write a letter, know that this decision is not personal. The Just Mathematics Collective has compiled a list of resources for students on making career decisions.

Firstly, consider if I am the best choice to write this letter for you. Have our interactions been extensive enough that I can say more than “this person got a grade in my class”? Letters that only speak to a grade often do more harm than good.

As an additional note: when asking for a recommendation, it is both reasonable and advisable to specifically ask, “Will you write me a strong letter of recommendation?” Weak letters can be catastrophic to applications! Moreover, if we decide that my writing you a letter is not for the best, this is not a personal judgement on my part or a reflection of your capabilities. It probably just means I didn’t get to know you well enough to be able to confidently write a strong letter!

Next, the key to effective recommendations is making them as detailed and specific as possible. I will write as many honest, positive, and professional things as I can based on what I know of you and your work. You should provide me with any other information that you think will help me write an even more detailed letter: e.g., transcript, resume, relevant application essays, personal statements, etc.

Finally, my colleagues and I all write many letters each year. It’s a very important part of our job and we want to do it as well as possible. So, when requesting letters from any of us, please give as much advance notice as possible (ideally more than one month)! And please do be thoughtful and send your writers thank-you notes for this work; it goes a long way to show that this labor is appreciated.

Now that you’ve read through this material, let’s chat about it! Then you can submit all the relevant information here.

This page and the associated form borrow heavily from Chad Topaz and the JMC.

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