Letters of Recommendation

Advice and Instructions for Students Requesting Letters

Published

November 27, 2019


Hello!

If you are reading this, you have requested a letter of recommendation.1 Tentatively, I will do so, but I would like to make you aware of a set of policies that I adhere to when navigating the letter writing process. Please read all of the following carefully. Letter writing usually happens during breaks or the busy parts of the semester, so you will need to communicate effectively and quickly. Please keep email communications concise. Bullet points are better than paragraphs. When emailing:

First, you need to know a little bit about me. I am a Teaching Assistant Professor. This is a non-tenure track position, where I spend the majority of my time focused on teaching, as opposed to research. You need to know this because it (negatively) effects the strength of my letter. It also makes a letter from me less appropriate for PhD programs.

Next, the most important thing you need to know: I will only write about information that I obtained myself. That is, I will not take suggestions from the applicant about what to write. I may request some information from you, but it will mostly be used to help my memory. It is possible that the only information I know about you is the course you took with me, the grade you received, and how you ranked compared to your peers. I will often be asked to submit the information seen in the image below. Unless we discuss otherwise, I will likely select “No Basis for Judgment” for many or possibly all categories. I am willing to write a letter that says this, but this is not a strong letter.

Also, unless we have directly worked together beyond a student-teacher relationships, a letter from me will likely not be individualized to specific programs. Instead, I will use the same letter for all applications. If you have worked on an individual research project or served as course staff, you can expect a much more detailed letter that may be tailored to individual programs.

Finally, in order for me to agree to write a letter, three conditions must be satisfied.2

  1. You must have completed a course with me.
  2. You must have received a grade of A or A+.3
  3. You must give at least two weeks notice. Earlier is better.

If you have any questions about the above policies, you should come see me in person if at all possible.4

If you have read the above and would like to proceed, please read on.5

Email Zero: The Ask

First, send an email (or come speak to me in person) asking for a letter of recommendation, even if you happened to read this website first. Please be sure the first condition above is satisfied before asking for a letter.6 This email should be concise, but include enough information for me to understand how we know each other.7

Email One: The Information

After requesting the letter, and you have been made aware of this information, and I have agreed, send an email with the following information:

  • State the following: “I agree to the listed terms and would like to request a letter of recommendation.”
  • State the following: “I agree that David Dalpiaz can release my grade information as a part of the letter writing process.”
  • Your name.
    • Your full legal name.
    • Your preferred name. That is, the name you would like me to use.
    • Your preferred pronouns.
  • A list of classes we have shared. You must list:
    • Course number (i.e. STAT 400)
      • Full name of course (i.e. Statistics and Probability I)
      • Semester (i.e. Fall 2014)
      • Grade (i.e. A+)
  • A list of any other experiences we have shared.
  • The number (or rough estimate of) the number of school you intend applying to.
  • (Optional) A photo of yourself.
    • Sometimes it is helpful to put a face with a name. I’ve had a lot of students!

Please simply type this information in the body of the email. Do not use attachments.

Interlude: Start Your Applications

If I agree to write for you after your initial email, it’s time to add me as a reference to all of your applications. While adding my information to applications, please note:

  • When listing me as a reference, I expect you to fill in as much information as possible. See my Statistics Faculty page for any of that information.
    • My title is: Assistant Teaching Professor
    • My address is: 725 South Wright Street, Champaign, IL, 61820
    • My phone number is: (217) 333-2167
  • You must waive your right to view the letter. This doesn’t mean I’m going to write anything bad, I’m simply following the lead of other faculty in the department.
  • Be aware that you do not need to complete your application to list me as a reference. With that in mind, please add me ASAP so I can complete them whenever I have time.
  • Please attempt to send as many notification emails in one group. Receiving these emails on the same day will help me track them.

Email Two: The First Reminder

After you have added me to each of your applications, send me an email letting me know you have done so. In that email, re-list everything from Email One, as well as:

  • A finalized list of schools as a bulleted list. You should verify this information is correct. Whatever you write here, I might write into your letter. I will not proofread your work. Use exact, proper names. For example do not use “MS”, use “Master of Science,” or whatever the school calls the degree. Use full school names, for example do not use “UMich,” use “University of Michigan.” If you are applying to multiple programs at the same school, you should give each a separate bullet. You should list:
    • Name of School (i.e. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
      • Name of Program (i.e. Statistics)
      • Name of Degree (i.e. Master of Science)
      • Deadline

Please simply type this information in the body of the email. Do not use attachments.

Email Three: A Second Reminder

You may not hear from me after Email Two. I will likely file it away in a folder of many other letter of recommendation requests I have received so that I can batch process them on some weekend where I have time to do so. If I have not submitted a letter within a week of the deadline, it is your responsibility to send me a reminder email. Do not hesitate to send reminders. I often receive hundreds of notification emails about letters I need to submit. The probability of me missing one or forgetting something is high.

Email Four: Follow-Up

At the end of this process, please share the results with me! I write so many letters, but rarely am I told about the result. Also note that, in the past some students have been so kind as to attempt to thank me with a small gift. Please note that ethics rules prohibit me from accepting any such gifts, so I will need to decline any such offer. However, knowing that a student of mine was accepted to a graduate program is all the thanks I need. So please let me know the result of your application process!

Footnotes

  1. Or for some weird reason you are reading my website.↩︎

  2. Exceptions are possible if discussed in person well in advance of application time.↩︎

  3. Note that obtaining a grade of A does not guarantee a high rank in the class.↩︎

  4. In reality, it would be best to ask me for a letter in person.↩︎

  5. Apologies if these policies seem authoritarian and harsh. Given my difficulty denying letter requests, I often end up writing a lot of letters. These policies were created to become efficient enough to process as many letters as possible.↩︎

  6. If you ask before this condition is satisfied, I will not give you an answer until the condition is satisfied and it probably isn’t a great idea to wait that long to solidify one of your letter writers.↩︎

  7. At a minimum, what classes did you take and when did you take them.↩︎