Letters of recommendations are a crucial component in all applications. They provide unique insights into your ability and character that are not apparent in other parts of your application.
Who should you ask to write for you?
Faculty are the main source of letters of recommendation, particularly when you are seeking to undertake a research project. Faculty members should be able to talk about your intellectual interests in a way that sets you apart from others and confirms your ability to conduct research on a particular topic or in a specific field. Ideally, they would be able to talk about your project and its significance as well.
How to ask for a letter
When approaching potential letter writers, consider the goals of each particular research opportunity; letters should reflect what the selection committee sees as their core values. People are usually enthusiastic to write a letter when they have gotten to know you well and when you help prepare them. Here are some guidelines:
• Request the letter no fewer than three weeks before a deadline and offer an in-person meeting.
• Give letter writers an outline of your research proposal or plan of study.
• Remind them of your relevant interactions with them.
• Provide them your written work to help them write an informative, enthusiastic letter.
• Instruct them about deadlines, application processes, and the focus of the opportunity at hand.
Don't forget to thank your recommenders (by e-mail) for writing on your behalf, and keep everyone posted on how the competition goes!
Getting to know faculty
Office hours are the best way to get to know your professors outside of the classroom. Use these hours to build relationships with them and to learn more about your field. Relationships with faculty members make you a more thoughtful and directed student. This will benefit you as a student as a potential fellowship applicant.