For Former Students and Letter-of-Rec Seekers

If you're a former student, do stay in touch! All of us in the department like to know what you've gotten up to after you've left Park Hall. Don't forget that the Park Hall Monitor (available on the department's home page) can help you keep up-to-date with department events and kudos.

If you're coming back to my webspage, though, odds are it's because you're wanting a letter of recommendation from me. So if that's what you need, here's what you should do:

  • Make sure you were one of my students to begin with. If I have not had you in a class for the entire course, I cannot write you a satisfactory letter of recommendation (mainly because I do not have the data to go on). If you're currently in a class and are asking me for a letter, keep in mind that I can only speak to your work to date - it's possible that a former professor, having seen you through a full semester, could write you a stronger letter.
  • Ask yourself whether I saw your best performance in my class. If mine was the class you were always sleeping through, or had to let slide at times because you were working so hard in another, then be aware that I probably won't write as strong a letter as other of your professors.
  • Make sure that you're giving me at least three weeks, better yet a full month, to complete the recommendation letter. My schedule is at least as busy as yours, so if you contact me on a Monday for a letter of recommendation that needs to be in Seattle by Friday, I won't have time to turn it around.
  • Ensure you still have copies of the work you did for me, certainly in digital form and hopefully in hard copy, with my comments, as well. I will need to see these to write an effective letter.

If I cannot write you a strong letter of recommendation, I will refuse to write it. This does not speak to you as a person or indicate that I dislike you, nor should it otherwise threaten your sense of self-worth. It does mean that I do not believe I have seen you at your best, and that I do not want to undermine your application package with a lukewarm letter. So it's in your best interest for me to refuse.

Having thought through those issues, you can email me to see if I can write the letter. Remind me of which course(s) you were in - I will remember you, but it's still wise to jog my memory! Before that initial email, though, you should prepare for me this information, as you know I'll ask for it :

  • Digital copies of all the major essays you did for me. If I had you do a portfolio assignment, have that to hand as well; if I hand-wrote especially exciting or positive comments on a paper, let me see that too. I don't always remember the details of why I thought you were such a grand student, so anything concrete you have to remind me of what I thought will work in your favor.
  • Concrete information about the job or position to which you are applying. Links to the job ad or a description of the scholarship/program are a must, as is any information in hard copy that you might have.
  • The specifics of whom I am writing to, for what position, when it needs to be in their hands, and in what format. Give me full postal mail addresses and contact name information, even if it's a digital application.
  • Any documents that you have produced for the application (CV/resume, letter of intent or purpose, narrative about your fitness for the position). Even if these are still rough drafts, they will be very useful to me.
  • Ideally, you will also give me your own, informal, even off-the-record story about why you're applying for this position -- why you're suited for it, what about it excites you, why it will help you fill your long-term goals . . . all the things that you WISH you could put in your application letter or statement of purpose, but don't quite fit. In person is great, but an email narrative will work just fine. If you're hoping I can speak to certain of your qualities, let me know that as well. All of this allows me to triangulate your performance in my class with the position, which works in your favor.